Author's Note: This is my baby, my piece of drama. This is inspired by so many many things.

Shinjitsu no Shi the song, Hikaru A, Western Ink, the book 'Across the Nightingale Floor'...

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Shinjitsu no Shi

By Silver Miko

Chapter 1: Forbidden Lover

'One day the heart I've lost sight of
the sins I repeatedly leave behind to be forgotten
that fosters into mistakes in this tainted love
construct my paradise with the rubble
'

1881

13th Meiji

It was early morning, the sky a lavender remnant of night, and the brightest star and the waning crescent still hung in the sky as the sun had yet to rise over the dark green mountains. Pale orange clouds dispersed through the sky like dye being poured into water, stirred.

Along the slash of dirt road through the giant pine trees with their thick trunks, a lone figure walked, a long coat billowing softly in the morning breeze.

He was so close to the city limits, his mind already seeing the familiar brown tiled Touji pagoda striking into the sky. The blue roofed buildings, the busy streets, the river, shabu shabu at Shirobeko...a small girl in onmitsu uniform laughing...

The sweet memories of his past, his youth, felt bittersweet now. Like sake on the tongue, a burn in the back of his throat.

He shouldn't have been making this journey back alone.

There should have been four others by his side, walking with him down this dirt road. Instead they were buried beneath the dirt in the mountains, with only four stones as markers of they great men they were.

To others they make have seemed villians, hired thugs.

To Aoshi, they were some of the finest men he had ever the privilege to know and train.

Beshimi.

Hyottoko.

Shikijou.

And Hannya, his right hand man.

They had been men, like him, whom to most in Tokyo had little to no honor.

But to him, they had died with more honor than he could hope to attain again.

They had died for him, to save him.

He could feel a dull throbbing in his legs, where small scars now marred the skin as reminders of the Gattling gun bullets that had wounded him there.

Whenever, if ever, he smelled gun smoke again surely his stomach would churn.

He would see red, a wash of red. Cries of 'Okashira!'. Blood splashing the clean wooden floors of that den of a devil.

That damned opium dealer. If only he hadn't owed Kanryuu a favor. If only that Takani woman hadn't gotten the Battousai involved, if only...if only...

He would often, when trying not to succumb to the bleakest despair during his time in Tokyo, think of Kyoto...the place for so long that he called home. He would imagine the faces of the people on the streets, and the scent of the air.

He would think of tea, Okina's cooking, anything but where he was.

It was the only thing keeping him sane. He had slowly lost everything.

His pride. His honor. His freedom. His comrades. His sanity had left him too, that fated night. He was possessed then, by a demon of vengeance, he became a shuura.

So much had happened since then, almost a year had past. Now he was on his path back to the place he once called home, mind fragile and still recovering, soul broken.

There was only one thing left for him, the Oniwabanshuu. Those who still lived. They still needed him, did they not? The man once considered a child genius, made Okashira at age fifteen?

He would return, root himself back in Kyoto, rebuild some semblance of life.

And there was still another matter, an old promise that was to be fulfilled.

It wasn't until he heard the clatter of hooves that he realized hours later he was within the city limits, he was in Kyoto once more.

So lost in thought he had been. He kept walking, not even needing to see to know where to go. He knew by instinct where to go, which road to take. Even with a dense crowd, his above average height made people move out of his way as he quietly made his way.

He faintly heard the whispers, people who vaguely recognized him and were making the mental connections as to his identity.

He ignored them.

His only agenda at the moment was reaching the Aoiya.

He came upon the small path, and in the distance saw the oak and sakura trees and a small, lithe figure.

He drew closer until he was but a few feet from her, and a jolt of something he did not want to acknowledge hit him.

She was short, so petite. Probably only reached his abdomen, maybe chest. Her skin was pale, like peach blossoms colored that soft white with a tinge of pinkish-orange. Her hair was like a raven's gleaming wing, blue-black silk.

Her eyes...they reminded him of the ocean he often stole glances of in Tokyo.

How she had grown. Her face was lightly made-up; a red stain on her lips, red shadow kissing her eyelids. She wore a kimono of pale scarlet like a deep blush, her obi a dark crimson.

She looked like a doll, a porcelain beauty...his doll.

He could tell from the bewildered arch of her brow she did not recognize him. Why would she? She was but a child when he left, only knowing him as the person who she had grown up training for.

He drew near, her face turning up to see him more clearly, and she made no move to flee. Rooted like a tree in her spot.

He was close, close enough to smell her scent- a tantalizing perfume of white tea and ginger. Her lips parted as she took a small breath, a small, polite smile on her face.

"Have we...met?" she asked, her voice clear like a silver bell.

He almost felt the corners of his lips quirk, perhaps before...before Tokyo he would have smiled.

Instead with cold eyes baring only the faintest hint of emotion he reached out, fingers tracing her chin.

"It's been a long time, Misao." he murmured, his voice a deep, velvet rumble.

Misao made a soft gasp as Aoshi withdrew his gloved hand.

How he wished he was not wearing the gloves, for he would have memorized the texture of her smooth skin.

"I know you from...long ago.."

"I am Shinomori Aoshi."

He saw her repeat the name silently, and knew the moment she recognized the name as her eyes winded and her lips formed an 'O'.

"You're the Okashira!" she said, her voice tinged with disbelief.

He nodded slowly, feeling a bitterness at the mention of the esteemed title.

Okashira...

The scent of smoke...blood...death.

"Aoshi-sama?"

He looked down at her peering gaze.

"You used to call me that."

Misao blinked.

"I...did? I'm sorry, I don't remember you." she said, bowing her head slightly.

A breeze swept through the air, lifting his ebony bangs as Misao gazed up at him.

Such a face... a most beautifully cold face.

So familiar... a lingering scent of green tea and incense.

Aoshi-sama.

The honorific felt so endearing, so natural in her heart.

His name, etched like a forgotten tattoo.

Okashira. But...she was...

"We..Welcome you back to Kyoto, Aoshi-sama. We must talk."

So serious, unexpectedly. Misao had always been exuberant , un-serious.

She turned, indicating for him to follow her to the Aoiya, the short journey made in silence.

Her stomach turned in unease.

She always wondered about this day, when the long gone Okashira would return...

Wondered...dreaded.

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He wanted to break something.

Grab her, shake her, slip his hands around the pale slim column of her neck, throttle her.

How? How could she? They approved of it?

"Unacceptable." he finally murmured.

She looked up at him, her hands clenching and unclenching as they were grasped in front of her.

She had waited, let him shit in his chair, waited after the strange and surreal greetings from the other Oniwabanshuu.

He should have known from the troubled glances...

"It is...was what I felt best at the time. We weren't sure of your return, and by blood it is my right."

While he was in Tokyo, while he was his own Hell, she had stripped him of his title by her words, taken up the mantle of Okashira, expected her will to be carried out.

Traitorous child. Stubborn woman.

She had rambled, saying she wasn't sure he would return, that the Oniwabanshuu needed a leader again...a Makimachi.

Her pretty words, so rational, made his blood boil.

The one thing he had left, the one anchor.

She had mindlessly ripped it from him on her sixteenth birthday, two years ago. He had lost it all- his comrades, his honor, his sanity.

Washed away in blood and gun smoke, fueled with revenge.

He had stayed in the mountains training, a murderer killing bandits to improve.

All for revenge.

Kanryuu...Himura Battousai.

He had killed Kanryuu so easily.

Battousai.

The long gashing scar on his chest was a reminder, the battle once more against Battousai.

Aoshi was prepared to die, but Battousai, the damned man, gave him a reason to live.

To go home.

'Aoshi, it was not your fault! You are Okashira! The Oniwabanshuu? What of those who live? Who need someone to lead then in this new era?'

Battousai had urged him to wake up.

So he returned. Broken.

Without his comrades.

Torn pride.

Tainted honor.

He made the journey back to Kyoto, one clear goal in mind, to lead once more.

Establish a semblance of life again.

Misao...the girl he long ago signed his future away to.

A blood pact, a valid contract with the previous Okashira. To secure Misao's future, and now...and now...

He supposedly had no title.

Nothing...but her.

Little Misao.

The girl he had years ago, in another era, in his youth, had been sworn to one day marry.

That was the contract, his future. His duty. His promise.

And now...

Did she think her claim would stand?

"You will return the title of Okashira to me Misao, for one- it was not yours to take on your own accord, and two-I will restore it to myself anyway upon our marriage."

"M...Marriage?" she squeaked out.

He stood up, walking towards her slowly, his visage one that often made opponents shake.

Misao did her best to not visibly tremble.

White tea and ginger, such a dizzying fragrance.

"When I was eight, I agreed in writing and word to a contract made by your grandfather. I would marry you when you came of age. You were always intended to be mine."

A gasp.

"No...no! That's not...I always thought...it was a joke. Okon-san and Omasu-san would tease me...saying I needed to learn to be a better bride. I never..."

He was so close.

Once more, he grasped her chin, lifting her face.

"It matters not, treacherous girl. You are mine."

His lips suddenly brushed hers.

A seductive promise, a teasing caress.

Her hands slapped against the black material of his shirt, pushing him away.

"I can't...this..." her hand flew to her lips, her cheeks red like the garment she wore.

His hands came to rest against the wall, caging her in.

"You have no choice, Misao. Okina knows of the betrothal."

She looked down.

Aoshi-sama. Hadn't he been nice?

She vaguely recalled the tall boy she followed everywhere, piggy-back rides...

Aoshi-sama.

"Why?" she asked.

So simple a question. So complicated an answer.

He wasn't even sure, but seeing her...

So grown, so pale, so beautiful.

He had felt it like the strike of a sword- lust. For Misao.

The girl who followed him wherever.

Such shameful lust.

The moment he had seen her in the distance, drew nearer, smelled that fragrance...

He wanted to grab her, kiss her, taste her peach blossom skin, strip her naked and bury himself into her until she was senseless and moaning his name.

It twisted at his soul, troubled him.

To want Misao, he'd never imagined such desire as this. And he'd only been in her presence for an hour.

It would be she who would surrender, she would yearn for him and she would beg.

She would be his, as she was indeed always meant to be.

He decided then.

She wanted to take his title, did she?

Then he would take her to be his. Simple as that.

"Because...you are mine."

And his lips claimed hers again.

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She wanted to hate him, hate the mysterious, tall man who was more a memory who had deemed her his.

She was not a possession!

She was Makimachi Misao, the Okashira of the Oniwabanshuu.

By her own word.

Was it...really valid?

She could understand his anger at having been denounced Okashira. She could understand his dark presence, she had heard word of the matter in Tokyo with Takeda Kanryuu.

But...why was he claiming her? She looked out at the river, her back shifting against the bark of the sakura tree. Her lavender and blue onmitsu uniform now replaced the pale scarlet yukata.

It was warm, not the sticky warm that had yet to arrive, but a balmy and peaceful warmth. A whispering promise of summer.

She closed her eyes.

The moment she saw Aoshi, the more she remembered.

How could she forget that she had fancied herself in love with him?

She had been five, and they had been walking to go fishing when she had suddenly beamed up at him.

'Aoshi-sama, I love you! Someday I'll be your bride, right?'

A fifteen year old Aoshi looked down at her, nodded.

'Aa, one day when you grow up.'

'Okay! I'll learn to be Aoshi-sama's bride!'

It was after that she had asked to learn to prepare tea. Aoshi loved tea. She wanted to know how to make it.

She remembered thinking it was a game, that she was someone's bride one day.

Her Aoshi-sama.

He was different. More silent, more stoic.

Darker.

When he appeared, she had trembled in fear. In something else.

God help her, she had felt her skin burn when touched her chin, kissed her.

It was all too surreal.

She wondered if it was because she took his title or maybe he too felt the startling desire.

But, oh, he was really more a ghost of the past.

And not.

Not the same Aoshi-sama.

And Okina could not get her out of this one. He could not rescind the contract of betrothal. She was bound in writing to marry Shinomori Aoshi.

It unsettled her.

Where were those days? Those happy days in youth?

Gone.

Green tea...incense.

Her eyes snapped open as she looked behind her to see Aoshi.

Damn, she never sensed him approach.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"I'm thinking...I do not want this."

He looked out at the river.

He was so imposing, the beige trench coat a contrast to the black uniform he wore beneath.

"But you have no choice."

She clenched a fist, standing up and wishing Aoshi were not so tall. She looked away, at the water.

"So then, we'll marry. You will demand back your title."

He closed his eyes.

"Marriage has not been something I had on my mind."

She looked up at him, wide-eyed.

"Then..."

"But you are mine. Regardless. Marriage or not."

"Wha...What?"

She felt his fingers against hair, against her cheek, her throat as he pulled her against him.

"It's quite clear. You are my woman."

She closed her eyes, trying to step away from him.

"I refuse to be your whore." she spat out, her nails digging into his skin as she tried to break his hold on her.

He made no indication he was in pain. Amongst the empty riverside, with only the birds chirping, did a struggle of wills commence.

He sent her forward, down to the ground as he pinned her.

Her stomach pressed against the cool blades of grass, a contrast to the warm breath against her ear.

"You can't deny you want this, Misao. Did you not confess love for me often as a child?" he murmured, his teeth nipping her earlobe.

"You are...not the same." she breathed out, feeling his hand move over her, tracing down her side and up...such a guilty pleasure.

She fought the urge to moan, to not show any sign he was affecting her.

His lips, teeth at her neck marking her.

No control. Chaotic emotion.

There was a hardness against her back, and Aoshi's breathing was growing mor erratic.

And then it happened, a broken moan from her lips.

"Aoshi...sama..."

He stopped, lifting himself off of her as she sat up and looked up at him.

His face seemed so...haunted.

Then the cold mask of neutrality returned, and he walked away.

But he had won.

She had called out his name.

A plea.