A Grey Hair

Disclaimer: Same As Always

Misao pushed herself through the sea of the market, far too small a ship to leave a wake behind her. She shuffled with an odd grace and ease that spoke of years of familiarity, and the way the shops clerks greeted her relayed that these streets knew her too. She made her way through the throng of people to the flower shop to pick up some Morning Glories. The comfort and self assurance for a woman so short of stature to have in the swarming hoard of buyers and sellers spoke volumes of her confidence in her abilities. Misao took her time, leisurely walking from stand to stand. She had a few pressing errands but could still browse. She had an appointment to see the woman who sold kimonos, her daughter was pregnant and the old woman wanted Misao to touch her belly to make sure the baby was alright.

Misao was half amused and half saddened by the odd reputation she had developed over the years. She had almost a matronly mystique about her. If mothers could not help their daughters with a problem they sent them to Misao. She was a Ninja you know, she was a body guard for the chancellor, she was the leader of her ninja clan and even faced the Hitokiri Battousai and now she runs an entire chain of restaurants across japan and acts as a midwife, she'll know how to help, they would reassure their daughters.

"Makimachi-san can you tell if it will be a girl or boy?" The newcomer to pregnancy asked as Misao placed a hand and ear to her stomach. The kimono saleswoman loomed attentively over her daughter and the ninja,

"Kimiko has been very queasy lately and urinating quite frequently, is that a bad sign?" She kept asking, wringing her hands with worry.

Misao was amused about how they trusted her opinion more than the doctor's. She had help to deliver all of two babies in her life and all of sudden she was like some guru on the subject of childbirth. Misao raised her head from the woman's belly and looked at both mother and daughter,

"Kimiko you are healthy and strong, so will be your baby, I can't tell you for certain whether it's a girl or boy but I'd bet a yen on a boy." The mother and daughter lit up with glee and elation.

"A boy, a boy! Koujirou will be so pleased!" Misao sighed, she had given only noncommittal answers and they still acted like she was some sort of oracle. Kimiko's mother, Ashijiwa-san, in gratitude agreed to fix Misao's ceremonial kimono. The poor thing was looking a little worse for wear these days, and there was another wedding coming up. It seemed that Misao always had some role to play in these weddings, so she could never truly enjoy them for they all became a duty that she had to fulfill.

She put checks on her mental list of errands for that day as she walked out of the small shop. Next she had to put in some orders for more of that Sake from Osaka. It seemed to be getting drunk faster than water on a hot day. Misao begrudgingly put in the order for two cases, she had wanted one but stupid Kazuma (one of her chefs) had insisted up two. Misao frowned and walked on. She was beginning to hear the murmurs. It was always like that when someone with a reputation of 'matronly mystique' made an appearance in the market. People began to talk about her great abilities, but stay too long and they started to speculate on her life.

'Oh yes that is Makimachi-san, a very great woman, didn't her grandfather die a few years back?' Misao flinched, another reason why her ceremonial kimono was getting a little more wear.

'No no he wasn't her grandfather, but I hear people are trying to take over her family business because it's doing so well, but she refuses to sell… I hear that they are starting to get violent…' Misao's fists clenched.

'She may be head of an entire restaurant chain, but the woman has never been married! Some say she doesn't care for men,' Misao wanted to laugh at that, that woman didn't know the half of it.

'No no no, she can't ever have children, doctors say it was because injuries as a ninja! Supposedly she was desperately in love with some mysterious ninja but he did not reciprocate and could not bring himself to marry her…'

Misao flinched at that, sometimes the truth stings more that the lies. But she kept walking unfazed on the outside, like she was oblivious to it all. She looked at the sun's angle and realizing that it was noon decided to pay Jiya visit.

She lit the incense and left the morning glories on the shrine. Every week Misao would habitually do this. The beloved Oniwanbanshuu known as Okina had died 2 and a half years ago, devastating Misao completely. But with the support of family she was able to move on to make the Aoiya better than ever and even expand it. She would always feel like she missing a part of herself though.

She would pray and tell Okina about her week and confide to his tomb stone.

"Well Jiya, today I found my first grey hair." She sighed a melancholy tone, "There it was and I realized 'My god! I'm an old spinster'.

And that Kimiko, you know the one that would try to follow Shiro everywhere when she was 10, she's nice and pregnant. She and her mother are complete worriers. That kid is going to be paranoid for life.

Amano and Hatsume are getting married in a week. Crazy kids, I remember when they wouldn't stop fighting and now they're getting married. Of course the two'll never shut up at night after they're married so that means they're gonna have to move out. I've found them a really nice place to move into. I'm going to miss them. They were like my own children…

Business is well, I'm getting some of my men to give those assholes that our business is not for sale, and this time it's going to be the painful message. But I digress. The grey hair…"

It was amazing how a little grey piece of hair could mean so much and bother her so. "It means that I'm getting older. It means I'm past my prime, it means I have really no hope of getting married and having a family. Of course you would say there was only one man I would ever marry anyways… but…" Misao looked at her scarred and calloused hands, they were beginning to begin to wrinkle,

"I'm scared, I'm scared I may die alone… I wish you were here Jiya, I know exactly what you would say to cheer me up, but I wish I could hear it from you." Misao kissed the cold stone and stood, "I should go, remember Jiya, I love ya lots."

Misao walked from the shrine erected in the garden and headed toward the kitchen. There waiting was a tray for her, full all the fixings for lunch. Misao smiled at this small constant comfort and checked that the boys in the kitchen were doing what they were supposed to. She trusted them, sweet boys really, but she needed to put a little fear in them once in a while or else they would get lazy.

Misao took the tray and headed upstairs to the office. The grey hair still haunted her as she climbed the steps. She was not old dammit! It was all psychological. The ache in her knee when it rained was just paranoia, and the crow's feet beginning at the corners of her eyes were just hallucinations from over work and not enough sleep. And the grey hair was…and the grey hair was…

"ARGH!" Misao cried out in frustration, there was no escaping it. She was now officially old.

"Something troubling you Misao?" The small woman realized she was standing right outside the office when she had her little outburst,

"No no, everything is fine." She insisted, mortified.

"Alright then, please come in, you have the tendency to throw things when frustrated and I'm very concerned about the safety of my lunch." Misao slid the door to the office and gave Shinomori Aoshi an unhappy glare. He had seemingly developed a sense of humour over the years. But he was still as handsome as ever, why Misao even thought he got better looking with age (unlike herself).

"Come, take a seat," he invited, Misao put the tray in the middle of the desk and sat at the other end desk, her usual seat surrounded by her usual paper chaos. "So what seems to be upsetting you? You haven't quite been yourself ever since this morning." Misao was not inclined to try and to explain to the man she loved how depressing the discovery of a grey hair is for a woman.

"It's nothing, really."

"Aa." He replied, then taking a sip of his tea, leaving the silence to persuade her to speak. They sat quietly in an invisible struggle that Misao knew she didn't have a chance of winning.

"I found a gray hair." She sighed begrudgingly.

"So?" Shinomori Aoshi's hair had already begun to go white at the temples and was becoming a sort of dusty black.

"So?" Misao echoed, "So that means that I'm old, over the hill, washed up, a fogey, a hag!" Aoshi just stared at her calmly and continued,

"I have grey hair, does that mean I'm old too?" Misao rolled at her eyes at his reasoning,

"It's different for men, they can still have a life, they can still be useful, but for women, once we reach my age, we're not too pretty to look at anymore and society labels you as a spinster" She said eating her rice, while peering over some papers, trying to keep him from reading her like a book.

"Ah I see what's bothering you," Too late, Misao thought, she was read from cover to cover.

"It's the fact your 34 and you're not married." He had hit the nail on the head; she hated him when he did that.

"And who's fault is that?" Misao said still not looking at him. Aoshi let out a sigh.

"You know very well that the Okashira of the Oniwanbanshuu cannot marry unless it's for reasons of alliance that ensure the safety of the clan."

"I know, I know," She tried to say nonchalantly.

"Then why are you still so upset?" Misao pretended she didn't hear that and grumbled at all the reports.

"Misao" The woman in question knew she wasn't getting out of this one. She let out a sad sigh,

"Well what if you did have to get married? And what if she was some beautiful young thing that could give all sons ? What would happen to me? You're still young, and lord knows you're still handsome. But I'm old now, nobody would spare a second glance at me. I don't want to die alone and without you." Her eyes had somehow began to tear up and she had become embarrassed. Misao turned back to her work., not wanting to make eye contact with the man across from her. She felt silly and childish for being so afraid but she couldn't help it.

By now Aoshi had uncoiled himself from his seat and made his way toward Misao. Crouching to her level, he beckoned her to look at him. She would not.

He gently took her face in his hands, forcing their eyes to meet. He always enjoyed the colour of her eyes.

"Misao…"

"I know it's silly but still…" He pressed a finger to her lips.

"I understand. I worry too sometimes that you might find someone you love more" (Misao snorts loudly here) "and leave me. But we must have faith in each other. If there was any woman I wanted more than you then I would be with her. And no matter how young or how old any woman presented to me may be, she's not you. That's why I'm with you, because you're more special to me than anyone."

"But… I can't offer you anything."

"You mean children," His eyes went sad, "I am a greedy man Misao…even if you could have children I would not let you conceive. I saw what happened to your mother, I could not go on if it happened to you. I could not risk you for that happiness." Misao was beginning to cry and wrapped her arms around her partner in life. They stayed hugging like that for a long time.

"You are a greedy man Aoshi," She said suddenly, she could feel him stiffen in his arms, "well atleast with the covers, you are anyways."

He humphed in her hair and began to squeeze the life out her with his hug as she squealed for him to stop.

Aoshi was Misao's and she was his. Misao knew this and would always know it, just sometimes when grey hairs would pop up she needed to be reminded about the fact.

Not all stories go the way we want them to

But it doesn't mean that can't end happily.

FIN

A.N.: I think this might actually be my swan song, please check my profile if you read any of my other stories.

A few facts: Morning Glory is symbolic for Affection and Departure, I thought that was fitting for Jiya… and normally back in the Japanese time of Meiji woman would marry young and once they hit their 20 they would be an old maid, so Misao must have really been feeling it here.

I wanted to write something a little more realistic, and what happens after the confessions of undying love are made. Settle down and have kids? Some how after reading about Rurouni Kenshin OVAs (or is OAV I can't recall) I don't think it would be that easy for Misao and Aoshi. And Misao is so small and her mom died in childbirth (fact or assumed yet again can't recall) then she might have a very good chance to. Not very positive I know. But hey it's still a happy ending in it's own way.

Thanks for reading…don't forget to review, it's good Karma