Konnichiwa, minna! I'm back with a new RK fic! I may be a bit rusty, so forgive me. Tell me what you think!

Disclaimer: Sadly, I don't own RK, but I own all the DVDs…does that count?


"Aoshi-sama!" Misao called cheerfully, breaking the careful peace of the temple. Aoshi did not move, but Misao knew he recognized her presence. She was used to his unresponsiveness. Misao walked in, balancing the tray with her hands, and set it down on the floor next to him. She quietly took the porcelain teapot and poured the steaming liquid into each of the two cups. Aoshi seemed to wake from his meditation at the smell of the drink. "Here, Aoshi-sama," Misao offered the teacup.

Aoshi inclined his head slightly and sipped silently, watching the young girl closely.

Misao drank hers slowly, so as not to burn her tongue, and as soon as it had cooled down enough, gulped it excitedly. She carefully put the cup on the tray again and looked at her mentor.

Aoshi closed his eyes when he felt Misao's attention turn to him. It would not do to be found staring at her.

Misao smiled slightly and leaned back on her hands. This calm silence between them was what she looked forward to all day. These ten, sometimes fifteen or twenty, minutes when she could just be near him.

After what seemed like blissful eternity, Aoshi finished the last of his tea and set the teacup down on the tray next to Misao's, making no sound whatsoever.

Misao gave him one last bright smile before picking it up, it was much lighter now, and leaving the temple and Aoshi in stillness once more.

---

Misao skipped back to the Aoiya, the tray jiggling so the porcelain tea set rattled dangerously. She would not drop it, though. She knew she would not.

---

Makimachi Misao was a young woman of sixteen years. She had the developing body of a girl her age, and a pretty face to match. Her thick, silky tresses reached the back of her knees, black as night, almost blue in certain sunlight. She always wore it in a long braid and tied it with a golden metal band. She had bright blue eyes that reminded many of the sea, rather than a summer sky. There was no doubt as to what her favorite color was. It was reflected in her eyes and her clothes. She usually donned a blue outfit made up of a tunic and shorts. The tunic was navy blue with a periwinkle blue border and reached halfway down her thighs. The shorts were not much longer than the hem of the tunic, and also navy blue with periwinkle blue edges. To keep the tunic closed and to secure a tight fit, she tied a very wide pink ribbon around her waist that tied in a big bow at the back. She wrapped her calves in the same navy cloth as her outfit, and wore navy wrist and knuckle guards. Misao was a ninja-in-training. However, despite that, she was Okashira, or leader, of the Oniwaabanshuu in Kyoto, an elitist ninja squad. The group of eleven kept up a façade of running a successful inn, called the Aoiya. In the times of peace that came with the Meiji Era, this was really all they had to focus their efforts on, and nobody minded in the least.

---------------

Aoshi sighed. He missed her presence already. He hated the feeling, but somewhere inside, he enjoyed a little bit of company once in a while. Pushing such thoughts from his mind, Aoshi settled back into a state of meditation once more. He had more pressing matters to attend to.

---

Shinomori Aoshi was a tall, imposing man. He had black hair that tapered off at the nape of his neck and bangs that covered his eyes. His eyes were cold and uncaring, rarely showing the pain and self-hatred they held. Aoshi was a man of few words, most of which people hung onto attentively as they spoke volumes of importance. He wore a navy shirt and pants. A thin yellow line ran down the front of his shirt. He donned a long beige trenchcoat with a large orange collar and a belt with metal rings at the ends. This was his ultimate trademark. He was loved by all, and a very effective leader. He was the youngest Okashira in the history of the Oniwaabanshuu, but one of the best. His four closest comrades and best ninjas accompanied him on a mission, and died uselessly to protect their leader. Aoshi escaped physically unharmed, but the emotional wounds were too deep to heal. He became a broken man, bent on revenge and nothing more. He lost sight of himself and everyone around him, descending down a path of evil. Finally, Himura Kenshin, a renowned warrior, pulled him to safety, and Aoshi began down a different path, one of redemption rather than vengeance. He was slowly and obliviously helped along by the young girl who had filled his life before that fateful mission: Makimachi Misao.

---

Aoshi, his eyes closed, drifted away into the depths of his mind, attempting to find himself again. He searched among the mass of mental demons that threatened to attack, looking for some sort of light. It was faint, but there all the same, way ahead. He walked toward it, feeling he would find something unexpected at his destination.

-----------------

"Misao-chan! Stop daydreaming!" Okon scolded.

Misao blinked and stared into the annoyed gaze of the female ninja. "Gomen…" she mumbled and continued washing the dishes distractedly.

Okon sighed in exasperation. "What am I going to do with you, Misao-chan? Finish up those dishes and you can go. It'll be faster if I do it all by myself," she grumbled.

Misao turned pink. "Arigatou, Okon-san!" She finished soaping the dishes with new fervor, and then dunked them quickly in water. She stacked them to a side and ran off.

Okon clucked her tongue with an affectionate smile as she watched the young girl and got back to work.

---------------

Misao did not actually have anything to do. She just hated doing chores. Misao walked outside into the bright sunshine and skipped into town, bored. There was nothing to do. She looked around, contentedly exploring the shops. As she reached the edge of town, faint shouts made their way to her ears. What's going on? she wondered. Misao followed the sound until she found a small dojo. Looking in, she saw three boys training with bokkens. The sight reminded her of Kaoru's dojo. Two of the boys were sparring, and the third was resting on a side. The third boy, no, young man, he seemed about eighteen, looked up and spotted her. "Konnichiwa," he greeted.

Misao looked surprised at being addressed.

The other two stopped and watched with interest.

"Konnichiwa," she replied. "What are you doing?"

The boy smiled, and he looked wonderful doing it. So did Aoshi, but Misao rarely saw him indulge in such a human habit. "Practicing. It's Karamitsuryuu."

Misao nodded, "So ka. You seemed very skilled in it."

The boy shrugged, "Perhaps, demo that is not for us to decide."

Misao giggled, "Well, as an outsider, you seem to know your Karamitsuryuu well."

One of the boys eyed her costume. "Not a particularly decent outfit for a lady," he snickered.

Misao scowled. "I'd rather not kill myself with those silly things women wear. Besides, this is more comfortable, easier to move in, and much more practical."

The boy sneered, "So you can walk to the market faster?"

Misao glared at him. "You wish."

"What is your reason?" the sitting boy asked.

Misao smiled, "Did your sensei teach you kenpo?"

The boy nodded, confused, "Hai, doushiite?"

The mean boy laughed. "Don't tell me you do kenpo? A girl? Sasuke here is the best in our class. You don't have a chance."

Misao grinned, "We'll see. I challenge you to a fight, Sasuke!"

Sasuke gave her a wary look, but accepted. "Are you sure about this?"

Misao nodded, "Hai!"

"Demo, first, we should know our opponent's name, ne?"

Misao giggled, "Hai, true. Misao desu ka."

"Sasuke desu ka."

"I know," Misao answered.

The boy nodded, "OK, Misao. I'll let you attack first."

Misao shook her head. "Iie, you go first. I insist."

Sasuke took a deep breath. "Ready?"

The mean boy laughed, "Bad move, Misao. Now you're in for it."

Misao ignored him as Sasuke ran at her. He slowly lifted his arm to punch her, but she caught his fist in his right hand. "Onegai, don't go so easy on me." Sasuke nodded and moved to kick her, this time faster, but Misao jumped out of the way. "I know you can do better than that," she remarked sternly.

Sasuke fought better this time. Misao was still much faster, and she hit him lightly at every turn.

"Sasuke," the mean boy called. "You're being beaten by a girl! Come on!"

Sasuke fought for real this time, with no pretenses of being a gentleman. He turned and twisted and kicked, hard. Misao was still outfighting him. She flipped over him, pivoting and blocking his every move and attacking in return. Soon, Sasuke was panting, failing to keep up. Misao smiled in triumph. She had won. Now, Sasuke just had to admit it and give up. He kept fighting adamantly, which surprised Misao, until even she was breathing hard. Finally, Sasuke collapsed in exhaustion. Sweat dripped down both their faces. "You're a good fighter," Sasuke conceded, panting as he lay on his back.

"Arigatou, so are you," Misao replied.

They smiled at each other.

The mean boy nodded. "For a girl, you're pretty good."

"I know," Misao joked.

----------------------

Aoshi got up and silently left the temple to return to the Aoiya. His thoughts were in disarray. As he searched himself some more, he found that familiar disturbing presence that had resided in his conscience while he was bent on revenge. This called for more soul-searching. That would come tomorrow. He opened the door of the Aoiya and sat down for dinner with the others. Misao's bubbly attitude caught his attention. What had happened to make her so happy today? He wanted to know, but dared not ask.

---

Misao laughed with Okon at Okina's attempt at humor. It had been a good day. She felt lighthearted and free. Scoffing down the rest of her dinner, she began talking animatedly with Kuro, who was sitting next to her. It was not everyday she got to make a new friend, and this excitement clearly showed.

"Misao-chan," Omasu observed, "Why are you so happy today?"

Misao smiled. "I made a new friend today! His name's Sasuke. I sparred in kenpo with him, and won of course. He's practicing Karamitsuryuu, isn't that cool?"

Okon nodded. "Someone's busy. Where did you meet him?"

"At a dojo just outside of town."

Aoshi was lost in thought. Sasuke…a boy's name. For some reason, this did not sit well with him.

--------------------

The next morning, Misao woke up to the sun's bright rays and stretched with a wide yawn. It just felt like another good day. She got dressed, hopped downstairs, and gathered the tools needed for the tea ceremony, namely tea, a teapot, two tea cups, and a tray. She left the Aoiya quietly and made her way to the temple. Aoshi did not acknowledge her presence, but he knew she was there long before she even opened the door. However, this morning, her presence only troubled his mind further. She was evoking feelings in him he had no idea what to do about. "Ohayou gozaimesu!" Misao greeted even more cheerfully than usual. She set the tray down and prepared their tea. Aoshi accepted the cup and drank silently as Misao chatted on about her plans for the day. "I'm going to visit Sasuke again, and I'll kick his butt all over again."

Aoshi did not like the way her talk of this Sasuke made him feel so…so what? He could not place the emotion, but it was completely out of his character, whatever it was. He refused to let it control him the way it was threatening to. On the outside, Aoshi showed nothing. He never let his cold mask slip for a second. Misao 'clink'ed her cup on the tray and Aoshi soon followed. "I'll see you later. Sayonara, Aoshi-sama!"

Aoshi blinked back to reality. She was gone. Aoshi sighed. He settled down again. For the second time, he felt that presence inside him. It was dark and imposing, but there was something different about it. It worried him more than the madness had when it took him the first time. Misao came to mind unexpectedly. He pondered the mystery surrounding her, however unwillingly. Why did he care if she had a friend who was a boy? Fraternal protectiveness? Somehow, he doubted it. No, he thought, It is something much stranger. But what?

---

Misao finished her chores and bounded off with a quick "Sayonara, Okon!" and headed toward town. She made her way to where the small dojo stood and walked right in. Sasuke was sparring, but he noticed her right away. "Konnichiwa, Misao-san."

"Konnichiwa, Sasuke-san," she greeted back. The mean boy was sitting on a side today. "Oy, what's your name?" she asked him.

He looked surprised. "Ryo."

Misao smirked, "Ryo, it's your turn to fight me today. Surely you wouldn't reject fighting a girl? Unless you already know you will lose."

Ryo reddened. "You wish."

Misao stepped forward. "We'll fight with weapons, ok?"

Ryo looked more confidant now. "You can use a bokken, too?"

Misao shook her head. "I'll use my own weapons. I'll go easy on you, though."

Ryo scowled. "Your loss." He crouched and rushed at Misao. She side-stepped him and elbowed him lightly on the back. He stumbled slightly and straightened to face her. Her ran at her again, swinging his bokken dangerously. Misao hopped to the side and struck her foot out, sweeping Ryo clean off his feet. He glared up at her from the floor. Misao only smirked at him.

"Come on!" Misao taunted. "I'm not even tired yet!"

Ryo growled. "Neither am I." He performed a multi-step maneuver that surprised Misao. She barely dodged the bokken in time by ducking under its swing. She sprung up and kicked him in the head. Ryo dodged it and rapped her chest with the wooden sword.

"Oof!" Misao groaned. She tried to hit Ryo, but he was quicker this time and anticipated the strike. She stumbled, not expecting him to dodge, and jumped back before he could hit her again.

"You've got really fast reflexes," he observed,

Misao simply smiled. She disappeared and came up behind hem, grabbing him in an arm lock, where she twisted his arms back behind his body. "I win," she declared.

"Hai," Ryo said dejectedly.

Misao smiled and released him. "I didn't even use any weapons," she boasted.

"Do you even have any?" Ryo asked.

Misao nodded. "I figured it would be too dangerous to use them this time."

"What are they?" Ryo demanded.

Misao smiled mysteriously. "That's for another time." She turned to leave.

Sasuke's voice called after her. "Misao-san! Why don't you hang out with us for a while?"

Misao faced them happily. "Sure!" She sat down next to Sasuke.

"So," he began, "Tell me about yourself, Misao-san."

Misao shrugged. "Not much to tell. I live at the Aoiya." That brought murmurs. Everybody knew the Aoiya.

Sasuke nodded, "I live just outside Kyoto, not too far from here."

Ryo nodded, "I live here. This is my father's dojo."

The third boy spoke up now for the first time in a shy voice. "I'm Akira. I live near Sasuke."

"Hai, we walk here together a lot," Sasuke added.

Misao nodded, "Akira-san."

They talked for a bit longer until Misao had to excuse herself. "Gomen, demo I need to go. Sayonara!"

All three waved as she trotted off back home.

"Where have you been all day, Misao-chan?" Omasu asked, hands on her hips, as Misao reached the front door.

Misao grinned. "Konnichiwa to you, too, Omasu-san."

Omasu tried to look annoyed, but failed. No one could be angry at their little Misao-chan for long. "Come help me with dinner."

Misao followed her in, calling cheerfully, "Tadaima!"

Okon's voice came from the kitchen, "Konnichiwa, Misao-chan!"

Misao and Omasu stepped into the kitchen to find Okon cooking. "Konnichiwa, Okon-san." Misao grabbed a pile of dishes and carried the precariously tall stack to the table and set them out. Omasu put out chopsticks and a bowl at each setting. "Done," she announced. "You can go, Misao-chan."

Misao skipped off to her room. "Arigatou!"

"Matte!" Okon called. Misao paused at the top of the stairs. "Do you mind calling everyone to dinner?"

"Hai!" Misao chirped. She walked along the corridor. Okina was in his room. "Dinner, Okina-jiji!"

"Hai," Okina called distractedly.

Misao came down the stairs again and walked to the boys' rooms. "Shiro-san, Kuro-san! Dinner!"

"Coming!" Shiro called. Minutes later, he and Kuro came out of Shiro's room and walked Misao to dinner. Just as everyone had sat down, Aoshi arrived. He always had impeccable timing. They ate dinner with pleasant conversation, save for Aoshi, who observed quietly. Mostly Misao. She was happy again and was telling Omasu about her friend, Sasuke, again. Aoshi was amazed to find he hated the sound of the boy's name. Why? he groaned. It was too confusing.

---

A week passed by with Misao's new routine. She would get up, perform the tea ceremony with Aoshi, do her chores, and then spend the rest of the day practicing with Sasuke, Ryo, and Akira. Most often, she sparred Ryo, but when she just watched them train, her eyes focused on Sasuke. His light brown hair would fall in his eyes and he would push it away, smudging his sweat-riddled forehead. His concentration was absolute and he and Ryo were unafraid to take risks, so they were often matched perfectly. Misao loved watching them. Swordsmanship was an art she wanted to learn, but she had to focus on her ninja skills and her kunai. Sasuke would turn around once in a while and smile at her. Misao found she loved it when he smiled, especially when it was at her. Sasuke was a fun person to talk to, and she looked forward to his company.

---

Meanwhile, Aoshi would be in his temple. The more he looked at himself, the more he found his soul was starting to hold only two things: that strange presence and Misao. Something deep inside told him that they were closely connected… He had yet to figure out the connection, but he searched all the same. He watched his black and white soul start to mix to a strange blackish-grey. The link would be clear soon. Aoshi was content to simple observe what happened when Misao was around. This would give him clues.

---

Dinner's conversation caught Aoshi's interest. He observed the table as his ears trained on Okon and Omasu.

"Misao-chan's been spending quite a bit of time with this Sasuke boy," Okon observed.

Omasu replied, "Hai. I would like to meet this boy."

"Hmm," Okon agreed.

"It's wonderful that Misao-chan has a friend her age to spend time with. It'll be good for her," Omasu said.

Okon nodded, "She's never really had a friend like that before, ne?"

Omasu smirked, "I wonder if our Misao-chan is developing a crush on Sasuke!"

"This'll be so much fun! We have to find out!" Okon exclaimed.

The two sisters giggled away.

Aoshi's face was impassive, but his mind was going through a peculiar process. First, it boiled over the idea of Misao liking Sasuke, then it grew sad at the thought, and grew angry again. What is this? he wanted to shout. Misao, however, was oblivious to all of Aoshi's thoughts and the conversation concerning her.

---

Misao was animatedly describing her friends at the dojo to Shiro. "I usually spar with Ryo. He's so cocky! He thinks he can beat me because I'm a girl, demo I always kick his butt. And usually I don't even use a weapon. Demo, when I'm not fighting, I love watching Sasuke. He's so good! He concentrates really hard and usually gets everything right. Demo he's not as reckless, so he's not as fun to fight.

As Misao carried on happily, Aoshi's eyes narrowed.

---

The next morning, Aoshi awoke early and dressed quickly before making his way to the temple. He sat down in the silence and closed his eyes, legs crossed. He searched his soul as usual, meditating fiercely, but this time he took another path. Racing to the very core of his being, he found the love he harbored in his soul. Aoshi took an audible deep breath, using the moment to collect his courage and dispel his doubt. Minutes ticked by. When he was ready, he dove right into the area. Bright light surrounded him, and he was reassured by the general lack of shadow. Many faces swam before his eyes. Aoshi tediously sorted through them, though there were not that many at all. There was Okon and Omasu, and Kuro and Shirop. The Oniwaabanshuu were his family. He saw Okina, who had practically raised him, when he was alone. Then, next to him appeared, Hannya, Shikijou, Beshimi, and Hyottoko. They faded away and revealed, to his surprise, chagrin, and joy, Misao. Everything turned to black for a second, and then Aoshi opened his eyes. "Misao…" he whispered. He knew, somehow, that this was coming, but yet it was such a shock. "Now I see," he murmured. All the strange emotions made sense. He did not attempt to say she was just part of his Oniwaabanshuu family. It was not true and he knew it, if only by the way her presence felt different from the others' in his heart. "It cannot be…" For some reason, he did not actually want it to be true. Now to convince that last part of his brain.

Just at that moment, his musings were interrupted by none other than Misao herself. Speak of the devil, Aoshi thought dryly.

"Ohayou gozaimesu, Aoshi-sama!" she chimed. The tray rattled until she set it safely on the floor. She poured the tea and sat back with a smile. Aoshi picked his cup up with no sound and sipped quietly, eyes on her.

Misao started conversationally, "I'm going to the dojo again today. Sasuke said he would teach me how to use a sword!" Her happy face and Sasuke's name sent a spark of annoyance through the ex-Okashira.

Before he could stop them, the words were past his lips. "I could teach you. You don't need Sasuke."

Misao's jaw nearly dropped then and her eyes brightened more than he had ever seen them. "You-you would? Really, Aoshi-sama?" Her voice barely suppressed her excitement, hope, and caution.

Aoshi gave a small nod.

Misao swallowed. "Demo, you're probably very busy. I'm sure you don't have time to waste teaching me swordsmanship." She licked her lips nervously.

Aoshi made no movement. "I am not. I will teach you."

Misao squealed and Aoshi shut his eyes tightly momentarily. "Oh, Aoshi-sama, when can we start?"

Aoishi nearly sighed. "Tomorrow. I will meet you in the training hall after my meditation." He knew Misao knew when that was, as she had memorized his daily routine a long time ago.

Aoshi had never seen a smile so big on anyone, including Misao, than the one she wore then as she picked up the tray. "Hai! See you then!" And she was gone.


Sooo….wadja think? My first chapter! Yay! This isn't going to be a particularly long fic, with particularly long chapters. For those of you who are returning readers, this isn't going to be the size of Battles of Heart. Think more like Kidnapped! or something like that…