A/N

Recently, I have been somewhat obsessed with what Aoshi and Misao's relationship would have been like before Aoshi left the Aoiya. How did Aoshi treat little Misao when he himself was merely 15? Was he always cold to her? And how was it that a 'cold' and 'quiet' (or rather, emotionless) person like Aoshi, ended up actually raising a lively little girl like Misao? I just hope that I haven't made a big mess with things, by typing this.

In any case, here it is … and I hope that you like it!

Disclaimer: I don't own anything to do with this story (except for the characters of Kobayashi Ryoken, and Rika-sama) or with Rurouni Kenshin – it all belongs to Watsuki-sama. But I do own Aoshi. It's true. I do. In my dreams.


My responsibility

She walked down the quiet corridors, poking her small head into any room that had its' bamboo-papered doors open. Her deep blue eyes grew wider each time she looked into a room, to find that it was occupied by people she did not know at all. She couldn't spot a familiar face anywhere. She came to a staircase, and as she stared down, she felt her heart beating wildly. Would she find her downstairs? Would she be there, saying that she had been waiting for her? Kachan … will you be there?

Gathering her courage and holding firmly onto the railing, she walked down the stairs as carefully as she could. She reached the ground floor and, upon looking around, all that she saw was another long corridor. People walked past her, some carrying dishes and folded towels, whilst others carried weapons. She felt panic rising in her as she realized that she couldn't recognize any of them. She didn't like this unfamiliar surrounding … and the people that she didn't know at all.

"What do you want?" asked a rather big-made, ugly looking man, gruffly. She gulped as she took in the various scars that were on his face, making him look scarier than he probably was.

"I – I'm looking for – for Kachan …" she said, stammering with intimidation. The man knelt down in front of her, a sneer on his face.

"What was that?" he asked.

"K – Kachan – I – " She stopped, feeling her voice die out in her throat as the man placed a heavy hand on her shoulder.

"Aw, how cute – you're looking for your mummy," drawled the man, sneering at her. "Sorry kid, but this is not place for whining brats like you. Just get out of here – the door's that way." Her deep-blue eyes narrowed as the man spoke to her. How rude! As anger gnawed at her intimidation, she straightened her petite frame, and looked the kneeling man in the eye.

"I am not looking for the door," she said, making her voice as hard as she could. "I'm looking for Kachan."

"Heh, aren't you a brave one?" asked the man, grinning at her. "What's your name little girl?"

"Misao," she said, defiantly. "Maki – Makimachi Misao." She was puzzled when she saw the man's eyes widen, his face paling at the same time.

"M – Makimachi?" he asked, slowly. Misao nodded, getting the impression that he was uncomfortable – or frightened.

"Do you know where my Kachan is?" she asked, politely, putting her hands behind her back in an attempt to look cuter. The man stared stupidly at her.

"Your – your Kachan?" he asked. Misao nodded. "Oh – er – well … er – "

"Yes?" asked Misao, still looking polite, and waiting for an answer. The man stood up, awkwardly, not knowing what to tell the child about her mother.

"Why – why don't you come with me?" he asked, at last, taking the little girl's hand in his own.

"To where Kachan is?" asked Misao, a hopeful gleam entering her deep-blue eyes.

"Y – Yes, to where your 'Kachan' is …" said the man, taking her down the corridor.


Meanwhile:

"Aoshi, I propose that we all stay here for now," said the elderly man, his expression serious. "The Aoiya can accommodate all of us, and, besides, it's not like we have any other place to go to anyway."

"Okina's right, Aoshi-sama," said a young man, in his late twenties. "We can all manage here." The young, black haired male shook his head after taking a few minutes to think over the problem.

"No, I still say that we should send the respective groups back to where they belong," he said, his voice calm and quiet, relaying no emotion.

"Aoshi, if something does happen, we will need all the help that we can get," said Okina, frowning.

"I know that Okina," said the fifteen year old boy. "But we cannot let the people – our neighbours – get suspicious about us. If that happens, we do not know when we will be attacked. If we send the ninjas back to where they belong, we will only be left with a small group of people – and that won't seem suspicious."

"Are you trying to get rid of us, Okashira?" asked a middle-aged man, with a sneer on his face.

"If I was, Kurogawa-san, I would have left all of you to die with the rest of our perished friends," said Aoshi, no trace of anger present in his voice.

"Yes, you would have," agreed Kurogawa. "I mean, you gave up the lives of many of our friends … just to save a single life …" Okina watched as, this time, a flicker of anger flashed in the young Okashira's ice blue eyes, before it disappeared completely.

"Are you saying, Kurogawa-san, that I should have let the family of Makimachi-sama perish, without doing anything to help them?" asked Shinomori Aoshi, glancing briefly at the middle-aged man.

"Think about it, Aoshi, by the time we realized that the houses where the civilians were being kept were being burnt, Makimachi-sama was already dead. He had given up his life in that ferocious battle, and the torch was handed down to you from that moment," said Kurogawa. "And the first thing that you did, with your newfound responsibilities, was to run back, away from the enemy, leaving many men who depended on you for support to die, and to rescue a – what, five year old? – child from the ruins of a house. That child hadn't experienced life, Aoshi, so if she had died there, it wouldn't have affected her. But we lost many experienced men, because you weren't there to help them."

"That is enough," said Okina, his eyes narrowing. "As the oldest surviving member of the Oniwabanshuu, I demand that you apologize for your words, Kurogawa. Not only have you spoken back to Aoshi, but you have spoken against Makimachi-sama."

"No I haven't, Okina, I have merely been telling the truth. How many experienced fighters did we lose because of Aoshi's folly?" asked Kurogawa.

"If they were as experienced as you say they were, Kurogawa-san, they wouldn't have needed to depend on me in that battle. They would have been able to handle it themselves," said Aoshi, his deep voice catching everyone's attention.

"Aoshi's right," said a man in his early twenties, smiling at the fifteen-year old boy. "I feel that he did the right thing. Besides, who knows, one day, another Makimachi will become our Okashira, and lead the Oniwabanshuu again."

"That girl will not be able to do anything for the Oniwabanshuu," snorted Kurogawa, rolling his eyes. Aoshi's eyes narrowed, as he stared at the man.

"She does not need to be able to do anything for the Oniwabanshuu to deserve the right to live," he said.

"Or maybe we can sell her into slavery – that sounds good. And I'm not lying when I say that she will fetch a rather large sum of money. Considering what beauty her mother had, I can only assume that her beauty will be greater, as she grows up," said Kurogawa. "How much would you suggest we sell her for then? A large amount will enable us to buy more weapons, and fortify ourselves."

"Why you – " Okina, rising from his seat, stopped when a blur moved past him, beating him to what he had wanted to do. Kurogawa could only stare into emotionless ice-blue eyes, as Aoshi stood in front of him, one of his Kodachi resting with its point on Kurogawa's throat.

"Don't you dare say anything of the sort again, Kurogawa-san," hissed Aoshi, radiating small waves of anger as he spoke. "Make no mistake - I will kill you if you do." The tense atmosphere in the room was disturbed slightly, when there was a soft knock on the door. Okina looked up immediately.

"Who is it?" he asked, hurriedly.

"Shikijou," came the reply. Aoshi nodded at Okina as he looked at him, not moving his Kodachi from Kurogawa's neck.

"Come in," said Okina. The door was opened, and the big-made man entered the room, looking rather uncomfortable.

"Er – Okina-san … Aoshi-sama – I – there's a slight problem …" he said, not sure how he should say anything without the little girl finding out something she wouldn't really want to know.

"What's wrong, Shikijou?" asked Okina, surprised by the man's strange behaviour. "Is it something serious?"

"Yes, it's – " Shikijou's voice trailed off when he saw Aoshi standing with his weapon at Kurogawa's throat. "Is – Is something wrong here?" Aoshi shook his head, the hand that was gripping the weapon, steady.

"No, now what's wrong Shikijou?" he asked, wondering what had happened to make the man this unsettled.

"Aoshi-sama, M – Maki – " Shikijou was cut off when the little girl who had been hiding behind him, poked her head out from behind his leg and let out a triumphant cry when she saw Aoshi.

"Aoshi-sama!" she called, running towards the fifteen-year old Okashira of the Oniwabanshuu, her arms outstretched. Okina, Kurogawa and pretty much everyone else in the room watched as the threatening expression disappeared from Aoshi's face and as it was replaced with one of surprise. Much to Kurogawa's relief, Aoshi took the Kodachi away from his throat, and threw it on the ground behind him, just in time as the little girl launched herself on him, causing him to almost lose his balance.

"M – Misao …" muttered Aoshi, wrapping his arms around the little girl's frame as she flung herself on him, holding onto him tightly.

"Ao-shi-sama! Where am I? And – and who are all these people here?" asked Misao, her childish voice sounding panicked.

"Misao – "

"Aoshi-sama, where's Kachan?" asked Misao, her face still buried in Aoshi's gi. Aoshi stiffened, and glanced hurriedly at Okina and the others.

"Aoshi …" Okina stopped, at a loss. What were they going to tell Misao? Or rather, how were they going to tell the girl what had happened to her mother?

"Aoshi-sama?" asked Misao, looking up at the fifteen-year old, a hopeful expression on her face as she waited for an answer. Aoshi stared down at the girl's face, unsure of what he should say. He could sense Kurogawa's amusement, but had no time to glare at him, having to deal with Misao.

" … Your mother … has gone away, Misao," he said, at last.

"Gone away? Where?" asked Misao, still looking up at him. "Why didn't she take me with her?" Aoshi felt something tug at his heart as he watched the pout that formed on Misao's face.

"She … she won't be coming back for a while, Misao," he said. "That's why she didn't take you with her."

"Eh?" asked Misao, clearly not understanding what he was saying.

"What he's trying to say, dear, is that your mother is dead," said Kurogawa, smiling at Misao. Aoshi's jaw clenched as he felt Misao tense up slightly, before turning to stare at Kurogawa.

"What do you mean?" asked Misao, her innocent eyes looking confused.

"Your mother was killed, Misao," said Kurogawa. "Your house was set on fire, and you're the only one left." With one glance at the fury in Aoshi's eyes, Okina walked towards Kurogawa, a stern expression on his face.

"We're going outside," he said, the moment he was close to the middle-aged man. "Come."

"Oh?"

"If you don't come with me I will kill you right here, right now," growled Okina. Shrugging, Kurogawa stood up, a somewhat sadistic smile on his face. He was following Okina to the door, when he felt someone tugging on his hand. Looking down, he saw Misao staring up at him.

"Is Kachan coming back?" asked the five-year old girl, innocently.

"Misao – "

"No, Misao," said Kurogawa, interrupting Aoshi. "She is not coming back. She's dead." He sighed as he saw the confused expression on the girl's face. "Misao, do you remember that cockroach that you were frightened of, some time ago?" The girl nodded, shivering as she thought of the insect whose name she couldn't even pronounce. All that she knew was that it was an ugly, fat, and horrible insect. "Do you remember what I did to that cockroach?" Misao nodded again, vaguely remembering the way he had stepped on the insect, causing dark blood to come out of its crushed body. "That's something like what happened to your mother. She can't come back Misao."

He watched, without feeling guilty, as the little girl's eyes widened, and as tears formed in them. A horrified expression formed on the child's face as she stared at him, the image of what happened to the cockroach vivid in her mind.

"Ka – Kachan – no …" she whispered, tears running down her cheeks, as she took her hand away from Kurogawa's. Okina glared daggers at Kurogawa, before turning back to the child.

"Misao – "

"NO!" wailed Misao, running out of the room, not really knowing where she was going.

"Misao!" called Aoshi, taking a step forward, before stopping, realizing that he was still in a committee meeting.

"Aoshi … go ahead," said Okina, nodding at the boy. "I'll join you in a moment." Picking up his Kodachi and slipping it back into its sheath, Aoshi nodded at everyone in the room, before walking out, looking for the little girl. Okina watched him go, a grateful smile on his face. Makimachi-sama had been correct … Aoshi did care for the little girl who had taken to him when she had first seen him, when she was small.

"That was downright cruel, Kurogawa-san," said Kobayashi Ryoken, a 23 year old ninja. "You didn't need to break the news to her like that."

"If, like everyone here seems to think, she should be with the Oniwabanshuu, she should get used to the gruesome facts of life," retorted Kurogawa.

"I think Aoshi was right," said Okina, glowering at the middle-aged man. "We should send the respective members back to their respective homes. Kurogawa, your home is in Osaka, isn't it? Well then … I'm sure that the Oniwabanshuu there will be pleased to have you back."

"You can't make a decision like that with the Okashira's permission," said Kurogawa, frowning.

"I know that," said Okina, walking out of the room. "This is why I'm postponing this meeting, until I speak to Aoshi about this." The other ninjas in the room stood up as Okina left, gathering their weapons and stretching their limbs. With disgusted glances at Kurogawa, they walked out of the room with Shikijou, murmuring about Misao and what her future would be.


Aoshi walked around the Aoiya, stopping occasionally to ask one of the ninjas whether they had seen Misao. As it turned out, no one had seen a little girl running around. He brushed his long black bangs out of his eyes, wondering where the little girl could have gotten to. He wondered whether he should have sent Okina after the girl, and whether he should have stayed to deal with Kurogawa. He knew that the middle-aged man hated him – even more so when Makimachi-sama had named him as his successor, should something happen to him. Kurogawa had wanted his younger brother to get the position, and hadn't been too happy with Aoshi.

He frowned as he recalled what the man had said about him leaving 'experienced men to die' in order to save a five year old child from being killed as her house burnt to the ground. Had he done the right thing, in leaving his men and going to the burning Makimachi-residence? He scowled inwardly. Of course I did the right thing. In-fact, if I had been a bit early, I might have been able to save Rika-sama too. That way, Misao would have had her Kachan with her.

He shuddered as he remembered how he had felt when he had seen the burning house from afar. He would have turned and gone back to where the ninjas were fighting, but something had told him not to give up. Something inside him made him go right up to the house, and inside it, to make sure. He had spotted Makimachi Rika-sama's lifeless body immediately, underneath a pile of burning debris. He had spent a little bit of time trying to push the debris aside to see whether Misao was with her mother, when he had heard a muffled whimper from somewhere. He had found the little girl, curled up and hugging her knees, her face turning white from the smoke she had been inhaling, and with bruises on her face and arms. Freeing her from the little pile of debris she had been surrounded by, he had just managed to make it outside, when the house had collapsed. He remembered shielding the child's eyes, to prevent her from seeing what had happened to her house, when he had realized that she had passed out.

She was unconscious for four days … and even I started to think that she wouldn't really make it. But she did. That itself should show us the strength of her little character. I just hope –

Aoshi looked up sharply as he heard the sound of muffled sobs coming from somewhere. Looking to his right, his expression softened as he glanced at the opened kitchen. In the far corner of the room, huddled against the wall, was Misao. He walked into the kitchen softly, keeping his Kodachi away, before kneeling uncertainly in front of the little girl.

"Misao?" Misao looked up at him, her face tear-streaked, and her eyes still brimming with tears. She opened her mouth to say something, but ended up burying her face in her tiny hands, sobbing. "Misao …" He placed a comforting hand on the girl's shoulder, squeezing it gently.

"K – Kachan … I – " Aoshi found himself placing his other hand on her shoulder and bringing the girl towards him, a small frown on his face. This wasn't right – Misao had always been cheerful and was always smiling. Seeing her like this … just didn't feel right. He mentally cursed Kurogawa again, for telling her cruelly what she should have been gently told. He held her that way, allowing her to cry until she had had enough. After a few minutes, the little girl stopped sobbing and leant back, looking at him with a somewhat serious expression on her tear-streaked face. "Aoshi-sama … he said – he said that Kachan was k-killed like that co – that – that insect …" said Misao, sniffling. "Did … did someone step on her too?"

Aoshi felt his normal, almost emotionless-mask fall away as he stared at the little girl, who was looking at him in all seriousness. He couldn't help but sweat-drop. It was the cockroach that had been stepped on … not Rika-sama.

"No, Misao, no-one stepped on her," he said, as calmly as he could. "There … was a small fire, and your house was burned down. Your Kachan was unfortunately buried with your house…"

"So … she … won't come back?" asked Misao, lowering her eyes. Aoshi shook his head.

"No …" he said. "But … that doesn't mean that you don't have a home. This will be your new home, Misao. The Aoiya."

"Aoi-ya?" asked Misao, looking up. Aoshi nodded.

"You will be staying here from now …" he said.

"Will you be staying here too, Aoshi-sama?" asked Misao, anxiously. Aoshi was silent for a while, as he wondered for the hundredth time, why the little girl was so concerned about him and what he was doing. Why had she taken a liking to him four years ago? Why had she taken a liking to an emotionless, cold-hearted person like him?

"Yes, I will," he said at last, taken aback when the little girl leant forward again and hugged him tightly. "M – Misao …"

"Don't ever go, Aoshi-sama …" she mumbled, not letting go of his gi. Aoshi stared at her small frame, unsure of what he should do.

" … I'll try not to …" was all that he managed to say, hoping that that would comfort the little girl.


Okina stood inconspicuously at the doorway, watching and listening to everything that was going on. A satisfied smile found itself on his face as he stood there, leaning against the door-frame.

Shinomori Aoshi … one day … your cold exterior will be melted by our little Misao-chan … and I hope that you won't let her down.

Quietly turning around, he walked back down the corridor, after closing the kitchen door quietly, so that no-one would walk inside. To think that the supposedly cold-hearted Okashira had become the sole important figure in the life of a cheerful, lively five year old child. He only hoped that the Okashira would continue to look after her … like Makimachi-sama had hoped when he had made him promise to look after his granddaughter.


A/N

Aargh … I have no idea what I have done to this. Should I have ended this differently? I just wanted to portray Aoshi's character before he left the Aoiya with the rest, and before he became 'evil' but I wonder whether I did the right thing.

Oh well … reviews are most welcome! Any comments – good or bad are most welcome too!

Siriusgirl1