Aoshi the Groom, the Husband, the Lover

By Shin Sankai

I was up in the attic with Misao as we moved boxes of old clothing, toys, furniture and general equipment downstairs. She had asked for my help, those blue eyes pouting cutely at me and I gave in to it too. I was a strong leader, no one could ever effect my emotions and yet I crumbled against the youngest ninja in the Oniwabanshuu. Ten years separated us and yet she still weakened me with her cute pouting, those bright eyes, her beautiful laughter and smile. In general, everything about her. I weakened her as well. She hated me not speaking or opening up to her and yet she loved it when I'd acknowledge she was around or when I looked her way. She had caught me a few times glancing at her and she'd blush lightly and a cute yet shy smile would etch those pink lips of hers. I am cut from my thoughts as Misao and I stop what we are doing and listen to the excited cries of Okina.

"MISAO-CHAN QUICK! WE FOUND SOMETHING QUITE INTERESTING FOR YOU TO READ!" I watched a confused expression cross her face and she stood still looking up at me. I nodded my head silently telling her I would finish bringing some boxes down and she walked out the door and down the stairs.

Minutes passed by and I heard some excited squealing coming from Okon and Omasu. I headed downstairs with a few boxes in my arms. I had come around the corner and caught a bit of the conversation.

"Are you all nuts! I mean this is Aoshi-sama we're talking about here!" I arched an eyebrow hearing my name and leaned slightly against the doorframe and heard Misao speak once more.

"He's right behind me isn't he?" I watched comically as Okina, Okon and Omasu nodded their heads in unison and came over taking a box each from my arms and left in a hurry. I stood at the doorway facing Misao's back. I cleared my throat and spoke to her.

"Shouldn't we finish up in the attic?" I watched her shoulders loose the tension and she turned around stuffing the old and worn paper into her shirt. Misao placed a forced smile on her face, walking past me and around the corner to head upstairs to the attic once more.

xxxxxxx

Hours passed as I now sat under a shady tree over looking the garden. It was in full bloom and small birds chirped around hopping from tree to tree. It was rather warm in the attic and I was glad for the cool change as a breeze swept through the Aoiya grounds.

Misao and I had not spoken since I over heard her saying my name. I was curious to know what the paper was about but didn't press the matter. I knew she waited for my question but I never spoke it as I grabbed more and more boxes and walking downstairs, hoping to finish up quickly.

I closed my eyes taking away the brightness of the sun that peeked through the swaying branches of leaves. I could feel Misao's presence but she seemed hesitant to proceed any closer as though thinking I forbid her to come near.

Many minutes passed and I heard the rustling of clothes as Misao sat along side of me. I opened my eyes and glanced at her to see she was looking over at the garden. Her small hands were clasped together rather tightly but I didn't want to press the matter so I kept quiet.

"I-It's a beautiful day Aoshi-sama." Misao spoke in a shaky tone.

"Aa, that it is." I spoke back glancing down at her. She gave a quick smile and then turned her face back to the garden. I took a deep breath and spoke again in my usual low tone of voice.

"Is something troubling you Misao? You seem…rather tense." I was trying not to act curious about the paper, just wanting to ease into it slowly. I turned my head to look at her and she spoke back.

"What gave you that idea Aoshi-sama?" Ah this was so Misao… I spoke inside my head. I brushed my fingers lightly over the smooth skin of her fisted hands and she bent her head looking at how deathly pale they were and quickly unclasped them. An embarrassed blush covered her cheeks for a few seconds but they turned back into their original colour. We fell silent once again, as Misao really didn't want to speak about the matter.

"A-Aoshi-sama?" This was it; she was going to tell me what was bothering her.

"Hai?" I had spoken and watched her flinch slightly and then she stood up, her back to me and spoke.

"Thank you for helping me in the attic today." And with that spoken she left, running back into the household. I sat under the tree still confused at her latest display of emotions and watched the shoji door slide open and Okina came walking out towards me.

"What did you say to her?" I arched my eyebrow hearing his demanding voice and I spoke a reply.

"There is something troubling Misao and she won't tell me." I watched Okina open his mouth as though wanting to start an argument but he closed it looking strangely at me and spoke once more.

"You mean, you don't know what's wrong with her?"

"She will tell me in her own time." I spoke back and stood up walking in the direction of the temple.

"Probably when you're both old and on your death beds." I turned hearing his quiet grumble but he waved me off speaking once more.

"Oh don't mind a silly old man like me talking to himself. Have a pleasant day, Okashira." I stared at his retreating form as he walked back into the Aoiya and slid the door closed behind him. It was strange hearing him call me the Okashira, as I hadn't heard that in many years. I wander what's going on? A small voice inside of me spoke curiously. I shrugged my shoulders and began the small trek to the temple.

xxxxxxx

A week had passed and I sat on the small desk looking out the window in the small room I stayed in at the temple. Misao hadn't been around all week and I was beginning to feel a little agitated. She was avoiding me and I had no idea why. For Kami's sake Aoshi, be stubborn and go seek her out for once. A voice inside of me spoke. I stood up sliding the door closed and walked out of the temple and down the main path towards the Aoiya.

xxxxxxx

I opened the gate to the household and noticed Shiro smile at me and point around the back as to where Misao would be. I nodded my head in thanks and made my way around the back noticing she was sitting on a low branch of a tree, reading that damned piece of paper again. I moved silently towards her, undetected as her mind was filled with the contents that were written on that document.

"So are you going to tell me what that's about?" I watched her gasp; her head snapping up to stare wide eyed at me and in a blink of an eye that paper was folded and tucked back into the front of her shirt. She sat frozen in one spot, her head bowed and not saying a thing.

"I thought I'd be stubborn this time and come pester you for a change." I heard a small giggle escape her lips even though she was still tense and I sat down on the branch with her and looked back at the Aoiya not saying anything more. Her shoulders slouched a little and she took in a deep breath and spoke not taking her eyes off of what ever she stared at.

"My birthday is coming up in less then a month Aoshi-sama…"

"I know." I spoke back and watched as she turned her head looking up at me. I watched those eyes frown slightly and her head bowed again. Misao spoke once more in a slightly shaky voice.

"I-I'll be 18, a young and independent woman."

"Hai…" I had spoken quietly not looking at her. That she would be. Independent? She has been that ever since she was a small child. Many minutes of silence passed between us once more and I glanced down at Misao's hands noticing she held the folded paper in them.

"Okina found this last week in some old books. This is from my father, his final decisions on what must be done when I turn 18." I watched as Misao stood up now standing in front of me and she placed the paper in my hands. I looked up at her and froze as her fingers came up brushing my long bangs away from my eyes. This was very bold of her to show affection for me. However I found it quite interesting, as I had not brushed her hand away from me.

"I-I have to be married." She had blurted out. My usual expressionless face was covering my true feelings about what she said. Misao was to be married! That was her father's decision! Did we even know who this scum was? Could the man even be trusted in the Oniwabanshuu? Could he be trusted with Misao? My mind was filled with questions and yet I said nothing as I stared up at her.

"Its been written, an agreement, signed and everything. The youngest Oniwabanshuu is promised to…to…" To who Misao to who? My mind spoke desperately to her and yet I still stared up at her not saying a thing.

"To…the Okashira…" To the Okashira! The Oniwabanshuu didn't even have an Okashira! There hasn't been an okashira for many years not since… 'Have a pleasant day, Okashira.' Okina's words circled in my mind and it soon dawned on me who she was talking about.

"Oh…" I spoke coming to terms with the fact that in less then a month Misao was going to be my wife. I watched as Misao pried the paper from my hands opening it up and pointed at what was my name and my own handwriting back when I was a lot younger.

"Aoshi-sama, is that your writing? Did you sign this paper with my father?" I nodded my head looking down at the former Okashira's name and spoke.

"I remember this day. Your father had called me into a meeting; I was about 12 I think. He wanted me to sign a document, an agreement on letting me become Okashira. He said I had great talent, potential and leadership skills, but I'd only become the leader after he retired or was killed and only if I signed this with no hesitation, so I did, not even reading it. I had completely forgotten about signing anything since it was so long ago. Now was the only time I actually got to see it again and actually read it this time."

"So you mean to tell me I was the bargaining chip for you to sign the paper and become leader! I don't understand! How cou-" Misao had spoken rather angrily. I had grabbed her hands and she soon stopped her rating and looked down at me.

"I didn't even read it Misao, remember that. I didn't know who you were; you didn't arrive until a few months later. Your mother had to leave the city, as it was unwise for her to live there without protection. Your mother introduced me to you even though you were about 2 years old and had no idea who I was, but you giggled and laughed tugging on my pant legs as you were walking around. You wanted me to hug you and so your mother picked you up and handed you over to me. I totally freaked, but I got used to it after awhile. I never knew about the actual agreement not until this day." I looked up seeing Misao was blushing slightly as I still held onto her hands. It felt nice but I abruptly let go and stood up towering over her.

"What do we do Aoshi-sama?" I took a deep breath looking down at her slightly frightened eyes as though I were going to reject her.

"Okina and the others have seen this and so we cannot back out of it. A signed agreement is an agreement, your father's wish for you. I am a man of word and honor and I cannot dishonour him again."

"A-Aoshi-sama? You must think this through. I mean you'd be spending your life with me of all people, can you handle that? Can you handle spending forever with me?" I looked down into those pleading eyes, asking me silently to show any emotion whatsoever. Could I spend forever with Misao? Could she spend forever with me? I placed my hands on her shoulders turning her around to face the Aoiya and spoke softly into her ear.

"Tell the others they have a wedding to plan." Misao silently nodded her head and walked back into the Aoiya. I sat down on the branch rubbing my fingers over my temples. What have I gotten myself into? I spoke inside my head.

I stood up in alarm when I heard a scream and watched as the door flew open and a sprinting Misao came running over throwing her arms around my waist holding me tight. My arms were up in the air as I was not sure about what to do and watched as Misao, who was still hugging me around the waist, stood behind me as though hiding herself from the others.

"Misao come on!" I watched Okon and Omasu run out of the household and towards us.

"Don't let them Aoshi-sama…please!" Misao spoke desperately to me. I finally pried her hands away from my waist feeling uncomfortable with an audience and she stood half hiding behind me.

"A kimono isn't going to kill you Misao-chan." Okon spoke placing her hands on her hips. So that's what this was about. I realised inside my head.

"Tell her Aoshi-san." I looked at Omasu and then turned half way to stare at Misao. She has never had a kimono before, always wanting to go on missions, to be adventurous; she is a tomboy after all. This was something new and very strange for her. I placed my hands on Misao's shoulders looking down into her uncertain eyes and spoke.

"I know it will feel uncomfortable at first Misao, but its tradition and besides I'll feel strange also, especially wearing clothes like that too." I watched as her bottom lip stuck out as she pouted cutely at me. Don't give in! Silence fell between us as we continued to stare at one another. I felt Misao's shoulders slouch and she spoke in defeat.

"Okay…" I gave her a small smile and pushed her in the direction of Okon and Omasu who grabbed her arms pulling her into the Aoiya and talking a mile a minute. All I could decipher was 'As long as I can choose the colour.' Yep that's our Misao, soon to be my wife. Wife…that doesn't sound to bad, I guess. Soooooooo how was I supposed to know what a husband does? I spoke inside myself once more. I shrugged my shoulders once again not having the faintest idea and began walking away, heading for the temple once again.

xxxxxxx

Another week passed and I got the occasional visit from Okon or Omasu, even Okina came, asking me questions about the wedding but I never spoke. They became all frustrated leaving in a huff cursing me silently. I smiled looking down at there retreating forms.

Hours past and my eyes widened noticing a new figure walking down the path leading to the temple stairs. She looked up waving at me and soon proceeded to climb the steps. Minutes passed by and I turned facing the shoji door that opened and closed and Misao came walking over wearing a black and dark red kimono she had borrowed from either Okon or Omasu. Her hair was still placed in her usual plait wanting to at least be herself in some way.

"Aoshi-sama? Are you okay?" Misao had spoken to me. I snapped out of my slight daze and turned around sitting on the balcony floor once more. I glanced back over my shoulder seeing Misao's head was bowed and I cleared my throat getting her attention as her head jerked up looking at me. I patted the ground beside me and she soon smiled walking over and arranging her feet to curl out beside her and she sat down sighing contently leaning her back against the wall. Silence filled the area and I glanced at Misao to see she was playing with the end of her plait and looking up into the sky. I opened my mouth ready to speak but Misao beat me to it.

"I wander…I wander if my kachan and tochan could see me now, see us now. The same for Hannya and the others too." I frowned slightly seeing those usually happy eyes frown. I stood up walking over to the edge of the balcony and leaned my butt against the railing, my arms crossed over my chest and spoke, sometimes looking at Misao and sometimes looking at the wall in front of me.

"I remember the day you came to the Aoiya. You were all bundled up in this blanket, only your head and those bright blue eyes could be seen. Your father was a true leader, a tough man and yet when I saw that carriage pull up he had the brightest smile on his face. Something I had never seen before. He prided himself on not showing emotions and yet the day your mother came with you, it made him so happy. He held you in his arms looking down at you and that's when I left, to give him a private moment with just his family." I looked down at Misao to see she was smiling at me listening to my every word. I read the emotion in her eyes, silently telling me to continue on with more stories and so I did.

"I remember when I first held you in my arms. I was sitting down in the back garden, meditating and I heard the squealing of a small child, it was you of course and you came running around to the back and stopped still. Our eyes meet and you hesitantly began walking closer, not fearing me at all. I could have stared daggers at you but your little hands were fisted determinedly as you came waltzing over wanting to know who I was. You had met all the others but I steered clear. That's when your mum came out the back door looking for you and she found us staring silently at each other. It could have been a number of minutes but neither one of us was letting up. Once I felt her presence coming near I stood up towering over you but you began pulling on my pant legs, thrusting your tiny arms in the air wanting to be hugged. Your mum deposited you in my arms and I totally freaked out and went completely white, but you loved every minute of it as you wrapped your arms around my neck hugging me as tightly as you could."

"So I won the staring competition?" I smiled lightly looking down at Misao and she giggled a little as though she could just picture the two of us.

"You look exactly like your mother and sometimes you remind me of your father as well." I spoke softly staring down at her. I watched a saddened look cross her face and I walked over pulling her to her feet. Misao's eyes glanced everywhere but on me as she spoke in a small whisper.

"I…I don't remember…" I placed my hand under her chin lifting her head up and spoke while placing my fingers near her left eye.

"You have her eyes, so bright, full of energy and happiness. She wasn't feisty and outgoing like you are but you could tell her emotions ran deep just like yours do. Her hair was long and beautiful but she always wore it down or up in a bun with a silver pin holding it together. She had this secretive smile etching her lips and it made your father go nuts because he couldn't work out what she was thinking about. I've seen this in you as well. Although your father is one for leadership and hard work, he knows how to relax. If he drank too much sake he would get pretty loud and I remember we even got thrown out of an inn. We were trying to find this ninja clan that hung around seedy bars trying to rob them and beat up on any women that where there. I guess we all got a little carried away one time." I heard Misao laugh at this and she turned her gaze towards the heavens smiling brightly.

"They loved you with all their hearts." Misao's gaze turned back to me and she placed her small hand over mine as it was now cupping her cheek.

"I was in your room, watching you sleep when you began crying and I was about to come over but hid back in the darkness when the shoji door opened and your mother came in holding a lit candle. I watched as she placed the candle on the table and picked you up rocking you back to sleep while humming a small tune. You mother's voice was so hypnotising it was sending me to sleep. I had jolted awake when her hand was placed softly against my cheek. She had known I was there all the time. She had bid me goodnight as I sat in the room watching you sleep and she whispered that she wanted to speak to me when I awoke the next morning."

"You…you watched over me Aoshi-sama?" Misao had spoken looking up at me. I nodded my head and spoke once again.

"I promised them I would. I was called into the dining room by both your parents. I was the only one there and your mum handed you over to me as I cradled your still sleeping form in my arms. You were so snuggled into the blankets, thumb in mouth and gurgling softly. They asked me to never stop watching over you. They asked me to always be around you, that I would always protect you and hold you. I was caressing your forehead with my thumb and watched your eyes open sparkling up at me happily and then you closed your eyes falling asleep once more and that's when I had promised them I would." I looked down into Misao's eyes seeing they were filled with unshed tears.

"Aoshi-sama…" Misao had spoken and her arms wrapped tightly around my waist her head resting against my chest. She was sobbing happily against me, her emotions coming out at what I had said. I placed my arms around her as though uncertain but she tightened her embrace stopping her cries and slightly hiccupped. We stood in the embrace for a few more moments and then separated. I watched Misao wipe her eyes and straightened the kimono out.

"It looks nice…different…but nice." I spoke truthfully looking down at what she was wearing. I was amazed that no blush formed on her cheeks as she smiled up at me and spoke, then turned walking away.

"Arigatoo, Aoshi." I watched her leave the room and watched her form disappear into the landscape as she skipped back to the Aoiya. I fully smiled as she finally called me Aoshi.

Xx TBC xX