Konnichiwa, minna!! I'm back again! I know it's been FOREVER (like actually years), but I'm back again. I got another bout of inspiration. Let's hope it lasts.


After sparring with the three boys, Misao stepped out of the dojo. "Ja!" she called.

"See you later!" Sasuke called back.

Misao smiled to herself as she returned to the Aoiya. She made her way up to her room and opened the trunk that held her clothes. The top was dusty, but the cloth inside was untouched. She rarely touched any of them, preferring her ninja outfit, which she wore and washed nearly every day. She had a spare folded under her futon, but that was the extent of her general attire. Misao gently poked through the few kimonos she had, the total amounting to four, and tried to decide on one. Only one of the kimonos was brand new; the other two were hand-me-downs from Okon and Omasu each, though in nearly perfect condition. Though she had a kimono that was all her own, her favorite had always been the oldest one of them all: the one her mother had once used. The silk was not as soft as the other three, and the colors not as bright, but it still held the smell of her mother and it contained a sense of familiarity that the other three could never give her. Misao smiled and pulled this kimono out. It was once an even brighter yellow than it was then, though much of the color had been retained. The sleeves and hem were covered in what appeared to be falling pink and turquoise sakura blossoms. The collar was striped horizontally in alternating pink and turquoise. My first date, Kaasan! She laid the kimono out on her futon and then proceeded to take a quick dip in the bath. After washing away all the dust, sweat, and grime, Misao toweled herself dry and snuck back to her room. There, she let her yukata fall to the floor in a pool around her feet and held up the kimono. She put it on slowly and gingerly with the utmost respect for her mother's formerly treasured kimono. When she was done, she looked in the mirror and froze. The girl staring back was not Makimachi Misao, but some other young lady. Misao had decided against her usual antics such as binding her breasts, and the kimono seemed to compliment her developing figure. It was not a perfectly done job, but even Misao's somewhat sloppy attempt achieved a great sense of beauty. Misao did not remember her mother, but she had always been told that she was a beautiful woman. She had nearly given up hope that she had her mother's genes, but the kimono suggested otherwise. Finally, she smiled proudly. This is who I could be, she mused, if I were not Okashira of the Oniwaabanshuu. It was interesting thought, but Misao was still content to simply entertain it for the time being. She tugged at her braid in frustration. "What do I do with my hair?" she wondered aloud. Misao took a deep breath and headed for the door. She hated to do this, but it seemed there was no other way. She had never been one for frivolous anxieties over her appearance, and so she had no idea what to do with herself. "Okon-san! Omasu-san!" she called out into the hallway.

It was Okon who appeared at the foot of the staircase. "Nani?"

Misao swallowed her pride and steeled herself for the inevitable excitement that the two sisters would show. "Can you help me?"

Okon caught a glimpse of Misao's kimono and, brightening, motioned to Omasu eagerly. "Coming!"

Omasu followed Okon upstairs and they slipped into Misao's room, shutting the shoji behind them. "Misao-chan!" Okon squealed.

"You look beautiful!" Omasu exclaimed.

Misao sighed. "Can you do something with my hair?"

Okon nodded, "Of course! Do you want it up or down?"

Misao thought for a moment. "Down."

Okon nodded. "Sit down and I'll go get my things."

As her sister left, Omasu took a hold of Misao's arm. "Matte." She bent over and began tugging and pulled at Misao's kimono. She stood up after a minute and beamed. "There! It's straight now."

Misao looked back in the mirror and smiled. "Arigatou." All the creases and unnecessary folds were miraculously gone.

Okon returned and Misao obediently sat cross-legged on the floor. Okon knelt behind her and undid her braid. Misao's long blue-black tresses unraveled to the floor, twisting in a small heap. Okon picked up her comb and began to work through the cascade of black.

Half an hour later, Misao looked back in the mirror and grinned. "Wow! Arigatou, Okon-san!" Her long hair had been brushed until it shone. Okon had brushed the front half of her hair back into a half-ponytail that fell halfway down the length of the rest of her hair. It was tied with a small string and a large jade hairclip. It contrasted generously with Misao's blue-black hair and complimented her kimono, bringing out the turquoise sakura. Short tendrils of hair that escaped the hairdo framed her face subtly.

Okon beamed in pride. "You look beautiful, Misao-chan," she said softly.

"Hai. I wish you would let yourself look so amazing more often," Omasu agreed.

Misao took a step forward and almost fell on her face. Okon and Omasu, with their ninja reflexes, thankfully managed to each grab one of Misao's arms and helped her regain her balance. "That's why," she grumbled.

Okon giggled. "Small steps. You're used to that onmitsu outfit, I know. You can usually move so freely. But remember, a delicate woman wears a kimono. Think delicate."

"Feels like a cage made of silk," she muttered.

Omasu smiled affectionately. "Sasuke-chan is in for a treat, Misao-chan."

"If only Aoshi-sama could see you know," Okon suggested mischievously.

Omasu's face took on an impish grin. "When you come back, Misao-chan, he'll be blown away."

Misao blushed. "I-iie!" she cried, waving her hands in front of her face.

Okon gave Misao a small push forward. "Come on, we need to get you downstairs."

"Thank delicate, think delicate," Misao chanted under breath.

Okon and Omasu exchanged amused looks. "Focus on being delicate, Misao-chan, not just thinking it."

Misao nodded again, staring into space with intense concentration.

"Misao-chan," Omasu chuckled, "Don't frown so. It doesn't look so pretty on your face."

"Nani?" Misao asked, shaken out of her reverie. "Gomen." She took a tiny step forward and then another and another until she was shuffling in a somewhat ladylike manner to the door and into the hallway. With the help of the two sisters, she timidly made her way down the stairs and from there, she walked, unaided, to the front door. She opened it and looked outside. Nobody was there. Misao sighed and closed the door again, leaning against it.

Okon and Omasu each hugged Misao. "Good luck on your date, Misao-chan!"

"Arigatou," she replied happily. They stood back and waited with their surrogate little sister. After five minutes, a knock was heard at the door. Misao jumped in surprise and glanced at Okon and Omasu in alarm.

"Go on. Open it."

With trembling fingers, Misao opened the door to face Sasuke. "K-Konnichiwa, Sasuke-chan," she greeted shyly.

Sasuke smiled back, "Konnichiwa, Misao-chan!"

Misao looked back at Okon and Omasu one last time. "Ja!"

They waved. "Ja! Have fun!" Omasu smiled.

"Don't be too late!" Okon called mischievously.

Misao waved back quickly and walked off with Sasuke. "You look beautiful, Misao-chan," Sasuke complimented, his face pink.

Misao blushed, "Arigatou." They were silent for a while until Misao spoke up again thoughtfully. "It's my mother's kimono."

Sasuke turned surprised eyes onto Misao's kimono, surveying it again. "Really? Wow. You must treasure it a lot."

Misao nodded happily. "It's the only thing I have of hers. I've only worn it once."

"When was that?" he asked curiously.

"When I became Okashira, the Aoiya threw me a small party, and I wore it then. It felt like my mother was watching me that night."

"I'm sure she was so proud," Sasuke offered.

"Hai, I hope so."

They reached the restaurant and Sasuke held open the shoji for his date. She walked through with a grateful nod, and Sasuke followed. The shoji slid shut behind them of its own accord. A young waitress winked and smiled at them before leading them to a small booth in the back. Sasuke waited for Misao to sit before taking a seat across from her. The waitress returned and asked for their order. After noting it down, she left the two alone and Sasuke looked at Misao. "Your hair is so long," he noticed.

Misao smiled and fingered it nervously. "Hai."

"It looks really nice down. You should let it loose more often. You've got beautiful hair."

Misao looked genuinely surprised by his words. "A-Arigatou, Sasuke-chan." She smiled. "No one's complimented my hair before."

"Really? I would think everyone would," Sasuke said, amazed.

Misao shook her head with a small smile. "Iie. I don't let it loose that often, though. It's my pride and joy, though."

"Besides your kunai, ne?" Sasuke added with a chuckle.

"Hai," Misao giggled.

Dinner arrived and Sasuke and Misao both abandoned conversation in favor of the hot, tasty meal before them. Finally, the waitress came by again to pick up their empty plates. "Did you enjoy the food?" she asked politely.

Sasuke nodded, "Very much. Arigatou."

"Sugoi," she smiled.

Sasuke went back to looking at Misao. "I'd like to meet your family someday, Misao-chan."

Misao nodded with a smile, "Of course. And I'd like to meet yours."

"Soon," he promised.

After a quiet pause, Sasuke stood up with a suppressed groan and Misao followed suit, taking Sasuke's offered help. When she was successfully on her feet, she did not release his hand, and he squeezed happily. Sasuke set some money on the table and they walked out.

The night air was warm with a soft breeze that ruffled their hair. The moon was bright in the sky, casting a pallid light that outshone the numerous stars. They crossed over a bridge and they could see a shimmering reflection of the moon. The pair leaned over the bridge side by side for a few minutes. Neither spoke, but they were happy to observe the slightly shaking picture playing across the surface of the water. At last, Sasuke turned around and they walked back to the Aoiya. Sasuke paused outside the door and smiled at Misao. "Arigatou. I really enjoyed tonight."

Misao smiled back, "Me too. I hope we can do this again. I like spending time with you."

Sasuke looked pleased. "Me too. You're fun to be around, Misao-chan."

Misao put her hand on the front door of the Aoiya and slowly slid it open, trying not to wake its inhabitants. "Ja, Sasuke-chan. I'll see you tomorrow." She hugged him briefly, and, surprised, he wrapped his arms around her waist loosely. Misao pulled back first and stepped backward into the inn.

"See you tomorrow, Misao-chan," he said as he turned to leave.

Misao nodded with a smile, placing a finger to her lips to indicate she had to be quiet, and slid the shoji shut with an inaudible 'click'. She turned around to face the inside of the Aoiya to find, to her immense surprise, Aoshi sitting at the table, apparently waiting for her.

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Aoshi sat down at the dinner table and looked around. "Where is Misao-chan?" he asked Okina.

Okina shrugged. "I don't know. Has anyone seen Misao-chan?"

Okon and Omasu giggled together. "She's out…" Omasu started.

"…on a date!" Okon finished in a squeal.

Everyone else at the table stared at the two sisters in surprise. "With that Sasuke boy?" Shiro asked.

Okon nodded, "Hai! Isn't it exciting! She's going on a dinner date!"

Aoshi said nothing, but his thoughts were once again in turmoil. On a date again with Sasuke? The very thought made his blood boil. She's mine! Sasuke cannot steal her away like that! I must pay this Sasuke a visit and explain to him that Misao is mine and only mine. He hid a smirk behind his stoic mask.

Okina looked worriedly at Aoshi's eyes. "You are not planning to speak with this Sasuke, ne, Aoshi?"

Aoshi turned to Okina, startled out of his thoughts, though he did not show it. "Doushite?"

"It is her life, Aoshi. Do not interfere," he warned.

"I was not planning to," he lied emotionlessly.

Okina sighed. "Remember that you are dealing with Misao's life here, Aoshi. Do not mess it up for her. She seems happy with this Sasuke boy."

"Why would I mess it up?" Aoshi asked innocently.

Okina gave Aoshi a meaningful look. "I think you know exactly what I mean, Aoshi," he said sternly.

"I am not sure I do," Aoshi played.

"Hai, you do." Okina's tone indicated the topic was closed and Aoshi obediently said no more on the matter.

After dinner was finished and Okon was nearly done clearing away the dishes, Okina settled into his cushion. "I'll stay up and wait for Misao-chan," he offered to the rest of the table.

"Okina-san!" Okon, Omasu, Shiro, and Kuro answered at once.

"I don't mind," Okon suggested.

"Iie, you don't have to," Omasu said at once. "I'll do it."

Aoshi's deep voice silenced the entire table. "I'll do it."

"Aoshi-sama?" Omasu asked.

The ex-Okashira closed his eyes briefly. "I'll wait for Misao-chan. Get some rest," he ordered the rest of the Oniwaabanshuu.

The others looked at each other and tacitly decided against arguing. "Arigatou," Okina spoke for the others. "Come." The other four ninjas followed his lead and left for their rooms. Aoshi made himself comfortable and leaned against the table to wait for Misao to come home.

An hour later, the front door slid open and he watched Misao wave to a young boy as she walked backwards into the inn. He watched her shut the shoji and turn to see him sitting before her. She looks…beautiful. He sized Misao up appreciatively.

Misao froze, unsure of what was going on. "Aoshi-sama? What are you doing here?"

"Okina wanted someone to wait up for you, and I volunteered," he answered simply. "The others need their rest."

Misao's face fell. So he isn't waiting for me after all. I should've known. With all the dignity she could muster, Misao drew herself up proudly. "Oyasumi nasai, Aoshi-sama," and she headed for the stairs.

Aoshi neither moved nor said anything, but instead watched her silently. He memorized the way she looked in a kimono, the way her hair swayed when it was down, the tiny, unsure steps she took. He etched in his mind a perpetual image of her budding beauty and womanly grace, something he rarely ever saw. The sight made his heart churn. Beautiful. A thought occurred to him that destroyed his awe. She dressed up for him. She never dresses up for me.

That's because you've never given her an occasion to dress up. And she has tried to look pretty for you, but you chose not to acknowledge her. It's your own fault.

Aoshi saw the irony of the situation: in order to see Misao dressed up and in a kimono, she'd have to go on more dates with boys and men that were not him. He let a long breath. Life could be so irritating. He picked up his double kodachi and walked to the training hall, despite the late hour, and proceeded to train until he could barely stand. He loped over to the door and opened it to see the telltale signs of sunrise's nearing break. He dragged himself up to his room and fell onto his futon in blissful exhaustion, eagerly succumbing to sleep.

---

The next morning, Misao woke up at dawn and progressed through her normal routine. She paused before the temple shoji. How strange…only a few days before I would have been happy to be in here…with him. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. As usual, Aoshi did not acknowledge her presence until she had held out the full cup of tea. He nodded wordlessly. Misao let a small sigh escape her lips. "You want to know why I am still here," she said quietly.

Aoshi locked eyes with her in the slightest surprise. How did she…? But of course it was obvious. She knew his thought pattern better than anyone. He allowed his eyes to answer. Yes, they spoke to her.

Misao looked away. "As you said, I am Okashira. I must take on my responsibilities. If someone doesn't bring you tea, you will undoubtedly eat nothing all day, and I cannot allow that. The others all have other duties they must attend to, but have nothing…yet, so it is I who must continue to bring you the tea." She finished her explanation and began to sip her tea innocently.

Aoshi's gaze did not leave her face, however. Is that the only reason, Misao-chan? But he dared not say a word. His cup clinked as it made contact with the tray.

Misao swallowed the last bit of green liquid and set her own cup down. "Ja, Aoshi-sama," she said with significantly less emotion than usual. Her usual fervor was gone; she spoke like a polite, but distant, adult now.

For some reason, Misao acting like a responsible adult disturbed him. His Misao should never have to be like that. She should be carefree and happy her entire- He froze as the shoji shut, cutting off any view of the young ninja. My Misao? The same thought always occurred to him. She's always my Misao…but with Sasuke… A new thought hit him that made his heart constrict. Am I…losing her? He swallowed painfully but did not move. If she is not happy with Sasuke, I will claim her. If she is happy with Sasuke, then…who am I to disrupt that? He closed his eyes resolutely. His decision had been made and none could change his mind.

---

Misao chattered away to Okon and Omasu about her date with Sasuke. Aoshi closed his eyes, trying to keep his temper in check. There was nothing in the world he wanted to hear about less than her date with Sasuke.

"And then he helped me up and we walked back holding hands. And at the end, just before I came inside, we hugged!" Misao exclaimed excitedly.

"Ooo wow," the two sisters cooed.

Aoshi's hand trembled slightly and he fisted it under the table. How dare he touch her! No one will touch my Misao! "Excuse me," Aoshi muttered, his teeth clenched, and stood up and left.

Everyone stopped and stared at Aoshi's empty plate. "He's done," they noticed, surprised.

Misao watched him carefully. What's gotten into him now?

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Aoshi stepped out into the cool evening air and took a deep breath. The breeze seemed to calm his rage down. Still, an image of Sasuke touching his Misao burned in his mind and his hands balled into fists again. As long as he could help it, no one would ever touch his Misao again.

A voice snickered from the back of his mind. Weren't you going to let her be for a bit?

Aoshi scowled at the air. Shut up. The voice cackled but did not say anything more. Aoshi took another deep breath and closed his eyes, letting the breeze wash over his body. After a few minutes of silence, he opened his eyes, his body relaxed once more, and returned inside to sit down again. Okon placed a steaming cup of tea before him. "Arigatou," he said tonelessly. He sipped it, ignoring everyone else around him. After a few moments of awkward silence, conversation resumed. Aoshi let out a small breath of relief.

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Aoshi looked up at Misao the next morning as she handed him his cup of tea. "Another lesson today," he ordered simply.

Misao's face lit up. "Hai! When?"

He closed his eyes, thinking. "Same time as the last lesson."

Misao grinned broadly. "Hai!" She sipped her tea excitedly, ignoring the burning sensation down her throat. She blew on the liquid again and all but gulped the rest of it. She set her cup down at the same time as Aoshi and giggled nervously. She picked up the tray. "Ja, Aoshi-sama, see you then!" The shoji slid behind her and she skipped along to the Aoiya, balancing the tray carefully.

---

Misao waited in the training hall, having warmed up already. She leaned against the wall, her kunai safely in the belt at her thigh, her bokken leaning against her leg, and her pulse still slowing down. The door opened, letting in a brilliant amount of light into the dim hall, but it was immediately blocked by a shadowed form. Silently, Aoshi stepped inside and watched Misao intently. She cleared her throat nervously. "I've already warmed up," she stated. "The way you told me to."

Aoshi nodded. "Good. Then let's begin."

Misao got into the stance she had perfected and waited for Aoshi to come at her. He stood still for a moment and then, catching her off guard, rushed at her. He attacked her lightly, but it was enough for Misao to have to put all her energy into her defense. She used every move he had taught her, occasionally incorporating the offensive counters Sasuke had shown, but Aoshi easily overpowered her. Finally, she knocked his bokken to a side and he stepped back. "Good."

Misao smiled, panting. Sweat dripped off her nose. "But I can't just defend my way through a fight, ne?"

Aoshi nodded again. "Hai. Just as every technique has similar basic defensive moves, most have the same basic attacks." He proceeded to show her three very simple attacks.

Misao watched closely and then attempted to imitate him. He adjusted her body positions, made comments, and re-demonstrated until she had the moves down for the most part. Then, he stepped back. "Repeat these moves one hundred times everyday, including today. Also, be sure you are practicing the defensive moves one hundred times every day."

Misao nodded, hanging onto his every word. "I will." I can't wait to show Sasuke my new moves! I'll be able to attack now. That'll wipe that stupid smirk off Ryo's face. She did not notice the smirk growing on her own face.

"Misao-chan." His voice was enough to pull her crashing back to earth.

"H-Hai?" she answered, embarrassed that she had been caught daydreaming. He gave her an odd look, while still managing to remain stoic. How does he do that?

"Tomorrow."

Misao nodded happily. "Hai. Arigatou, Aoshi-sama."

Aoshi's thoughts swirled about as they walked together inside for some lunch. As he was correcting her, he could feel his skin warm in pleasure everytime he touched her. He had only stepped back to try and keep control over himself, and it took every ounce of self-control he had. The feeling of her skin on his…it drove him insane. An odd wish flashed across his mind: if only she always got her leg positioning wrong, so he could be perpetually shifting them, touching them, feeling them. He clenched his teeth. He could not think such things about Misao. It was Misao! Little Misao-chan whom he practically raised.

"Where are you going after lunch?" he heard Okon ask.

Misao's words caught his ears more strongly. "To the dojo. Aoshi-sama taught me some offensive moves and I'm totally gonna kick that baka Ryo's butt! Sasuke'll be so proud of me!"

She continued to chatter on, but Aoshi's ears once again tuned out all outside noise. He clenched his fists under the table. She's always around him. That's all she talks about. He found to his intense shock that he hated Sasuke. And I've never even met him, he noticed, slightly amused in the face of the confusing jealousy. Because that's what it had to be. This emotion could only be identified at jealousy. Mentally, Aoshi sighed. Life was easier when Misao was still a young girl that he could easily treat as a little sister. Where did those days go? he thought wistfully.

After lunch, Aoshi returned to the training hall. Teaching Misao made him very happy, but it required little effort, and right now he needed something that would drain him of all energy. He closed the door and breathed in the musty air. It was much cooler inside than outside, and that made the training a little easier. His eyes snapped open and, his mind devoid of thought, he threw himself about the room, using every move and possible combination of moves he could put together, and exerted himself to collapse. Finally, Aoshi leaned against the wall, panting and sweating profusely. He was still stuck in the heat of the moment, in his imaginary battle; the swirl of his emotions had died and had transplanted themselves instead is his body. He closed his eyes and let himself rest, using every tactic he knew to keep his 'other' thoughts at bay. Thoughts of a youthful ninja girl with sparkling blue eyes.

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Misao woke the next morning and, after the uneventful tea ceremony with Aoshi, she took a short nap in her room. Waking up mid-morning, she changed out of her sleeping yukata into Okon's old kimono. It was a sky blue, as bright as a robin's egg, with the image of a small town sewn in gold, brown, and green on the bottom half of the kimono. The sleeves also had the same image of the deserted town, and the collar was gold. She straightened out the creases and folds as she had seen Omasu do and brushed her silky black hair. She tied it in the usual braid, but at the top of the braid, she placed a simple hair pin that depicted the end of a branch with blooming pink, blue, and yellow sakura blossoms. With a smile in the mirror, Misao headed toward the door and, in her impatience, tripped flat on her face. She groaned as she got back to her knees, rubbing her bruised nose. Tears of frustrations appeared in the corners of her eyes. Not only could she still not walk in a kimono, her nose hurt like hell. She touched it tenderly again before attempting to stand up. It was difficult with the kimono restricting her range of motion. She froze as the shoji opened, a pink blush spreading across her face, and, to her horror, looked up to see Aoshi standing in the doorframe. She was too embarrassed to speak.

An amused smiled twitched at Aoshi's lips, but he managed to keep his mask on. It was so difficult; the sight of her on the floor, trying to walk in a kimono was just too funny. But she looks gorgeous. He fought down a blush as he noticed that, in her current position, he was given a fairly generous view of her bust. Aoshi blinked and extended a hand. Misao did not move for a moment, staring at it in shock, and then accepted it. He lifted her up and she regained her balance once she was on her feet.

"Arigatou…" she muttered, refusing to look at him.

Again, that smile itched at his face. He took a deep breath to recover his control of his mask.

"A-Ano…" Misao said softly, her face still flushed, "Would you mind not telling anyone about this. Onegai, Aoshi-sama?" As she spoke her last two words, she met his gaze with pleading eyes.

Aoshi inclined his head slightly, indicating a 'yes'. "Aa."

A tiny smile of relief stretched her lips. "Arigatou." She sighed and looked down. "I prefer my ninja outfit. I'll never understand how girls wear these. They're so…annoying!" She swatted the fabric playfully.

Aoshi raised an eyebrow. I like her in the kimono, but it hides too much of her skin. Aoshi blinked in surprise. Where had that come from? He pushed the thought away vehemently. He returned to Earth to find Misao still tugging at her kimono in annoyance. "If you dislike it, why do you wear it?"

Misao sighed again. "I thought I'd wear it for Sasuke. He says he likes me in a kimono. But they're just such a nuisance to wear!"

Aoshi tuned her out again. His eyes narrowed. She's wearing it for HIM. The thought made his gut clench in jealous anger. She used to wear kimonos for me. What happened? He nodded curtly and stepped to the side, offering to let her through the door into the corridor.

Misao smiled, surprised again, and took tiny, careful steps into the hallway. "I don't know how Okon and Omasu do this everyday," she muttered, still quite nervous and flustered about both Sasuke and Aoshi. She looked at the floor, not paying attention to anything around her, including the upcoming staircase.

"Misao-chan, the stairs," he stated quickly, warning her.

Misao paused, mid-step, foot hovering over the unexpected drop to the first step, and turned. "Nani?"

"The stairs," Aoshi inclined his head toward her foot.

Misao set her foot down, looking down at it at the same time, and watched in surprise as it plummeted toward the first stair, her body going with it. But before she could go into a headlong tumble to the floor below, Aoshi arms wrapped around her body and brought her back to the upper floor. Misao breathed a sigh of relief, her heart pounding. "Arigatou, Aoshi-sama."

Aoshi nodded, fully realizing she could probably feel it more than see it, and let her go. She had given him a scare there. He cursed her clumsiness as she straightened and turned around, blushing.

"Gomen nasai, Aoshi-sama."

"For what?" he asked somewhat tonelessly.

Misao smiled softly, "For my clumsiness. I know it's really annoying." She turned back around and started down the stairs, a difficult challenge she discovered right away. Her kimono did not allow enough room to reach the next step safely and, besides, she was used to bounding down stairs, not walking down them! She gripped the handrail and concentrated.

Aoshi let a miniscule smile slip his mask and followed her down, taking hold of the arm not grasping the banister. It helped her balance, certainly, but Aoshi was mostly amused by the way her face turned red with embarrassment. Probably because I'm helping her, he mused.

He knew her all too well. Misao gripped the banister tighter in frustration. Now Aoshi-sama must think I'm this weak, completely un-womanly little girl who can't even walk in a kimono on her own. No wonder he treats me like a child.

They reached the bottom and Misao yanked her arm away, refusing to look him in the eyes. "Arigatou," she mumbled, her face still a bright pink.

Aoshi's eyes just softened. He walked past her, on into the kitchen, and Misao caught a glimpse of his soft eyes. It filled her with a warmth and with new determination, she took a gallant step forward, immediately felt her foot halt against the taut fabric of her kimono, and subsequently fell forward flat onto her face. She groaned and held in the urge to scream and pound the floor with her balled fists. She just couldn't do anything right today. She managed to pull herself to her feet and made it to the front shoji in one go. She opened the door to find Sasuke coming up the street. He caught sight of her and waved. She waved back and leaned her head back into the Aoiya. "I'm leaving now!" Hoping someone heard, she slid the shoji shut and began taking baby steps outside. Sasuke met her halfway to the gate and took her arm.

"Konnichiwa. You look beautiful."

Misao blushed, "Arigatou." She continued her delicate steps and they did not fail her, though the slow pace was almost enough to drive her crazy. It seemed to take ages to get to the restaurant, but Sasuke did not seem to mind walking along so leisurely. They sat down in a two-person booth and looked over their menus.

After ordering their dinners, nearly the same meal for both, which made them blush as they placed their order in to the waitress, Sasuke smiled at Misao. "So, has anything new happened?"

Misao shook her head. "Iie, not that I can think of. Except this kimono," she laughed.

"Do you not wear kimonos often?" he inquired.

Misao giggled, "Almost never. I hate these things. I mean, they're pretty and that's why I wear them when I do, but they're just such a pain to walk in. You have to take these tiny paces and you walk so slooooowly," she stretched out the 'o' in slowly, making Sasuke laugh. "I guess I'm used to my ninja outfit," she shrugged. "I've worn that forever. That's why it seems too small now."

Sasuke laughed, "Really? I thought you just liked more revealing clothes, for whatever reason."

"They don't bother me," Misao conceded. "But anything girly gets me kinda uncomfortable. I always feel like I stand out, which is funny because I blend in crowds in a kimono and stand out a lot in my ninja outfit." She laughed and Sasuke joined her.

"Still," Sasuke offered, "I think you were doing fine in your kimono today."

"Arigatou," Misao smiled. "You didn't see me earlier, though. Coming out of my room, down the stairs, and to the front door was a disaster trip for me!"

Sasuke chuckled, "Well, you've managed to impress me with what I've seen of your kimono-wearing skills, don't worry."

Misao grinned and, inside, she cheered. I feel like I can tell Sasuke anything. He's laughing with me. Aoshi-sama would just give me a look like I was a foolish child. I'm not sure embarrassed is even a word in his vocabulary. Her thoughts were bitter, but an image of Aoshi pulling her up, saving her from falling, and helping her down the stairs burned in her mind. What was up with him today? He's never that nice to me. It was all too confusing and she forced herself back to Earth. I'm going to enjoy this evening and there's nothing Aoshi-sama or anyone else can do about it! She tuned back into whatever Sasuke was talking about.

Just like the last date, when the two finished, Sasuke helped Misao up and left some money on the table. They walked slowly back to the Aoiya. The sun was starting to set, and a reddish glow filtered across the sky. "I really enjoyed dinner, Sasuke. Arigatou," Misao offered gently. Sasuke turned pink. He's really cute when he blushes.

"Me too. I've really liked spending time with you. And I don't just mean in the dojo. What I mean is…arigatou for giving me a chance." Sasuke smiled back bashfully.

Misao smiled widely. "Iie, arigatou for giving me a chance. No boy has ever liked me before. I've never even had a friend my age."

Sasuke looks surprised. "No boy? I find that hard to believe. You're so pretty and so much fun."

Misao shook her head sadly. "My primary responsibility is as Okashira of the Oshiwaabanshuu. I don't have much time or opportunity to be with people my age." Aoshi's words came back to her. "Besides, no boy would like a tomboy like me."

Sasuke took Misao's hand as he smiled genuinely at her. "I like you." His smile widened as she blushed.

They walked in comfortable silence to the Aoiya. At the door, Sasuke hugged Misao again. I could get used to this, she smiled to herself over his shoulder. Sasuke drew back first this time. He brushed a lock of Misao's hair behind her ear and leaned in to kiss her cheek. Misao couldn't help but smile and blush profusely. "J-ja ne, Sasuke."

Sasuke smirked. "Ja ne, Misao-chan. I'll see you tomorrow." She simply nodded and slipped inside, at the same time praying for and dreading Aoshi's presence. She breathed a sigh of relief upon finding the room empty. She waddled less gracefully than before upstairs, trying not to trip up the stairs.

---

Aoshi flattened himself against a wall bathed in shadow as Misao and Sasuke sauntered past hand in hand. He glared at Sasuke's back, taking deep breaths to calm his rising anger. What does he think he's doing? He gritted his teeth and followed them stealthily all the way back to the Aoiya. Aoshi watched the two at the door, clenching his fist when Sasuke hugged his Misao. And then, to his horror, the bastard kissed his Misao. Kissed her. How dare he, he glowered. On the cheek, but he kissed her nonetheless. As soon as Misao was inside, Aoshi slipped past Sasuke without his noticing and headed straight for the training hall.

Hours later, even on the verge of collapse, Aoshi's exhausted mind could muster up only one image. Sasuke kissing Misao. He dragged himself to his room and tried in vain to clear his mind. She was so happy with him. The way she smiled when he placed his lips on her cheek. Her first kiss. And it wasn't with him. Her first real kiss will be mine. She's mine. He had to deal with this boy and soon. No, I cannot interfere with her happiness. I should not. I am only her guardian. But, he mused, I have a duty as her guardian to protect her. And he may not be safe for her. So I would only be protecting her. He shook his head. He could not go down this path. But his lips on her cheek. His lips on the pure, untouched cheek of his Misao. His beautiful Misao. He clenched his fists. And her smile. Why was she so happy to be kissed by that…that boy. He's nothing but a foolish boy. A foolish boy taking away what was his. He had no right. My Misao… Before Aoshi knew what he was doing, he was standing, despite his fatigue, kodachi drawn. "Ahhh!" A ripping noise and the sound of his own voice brought him out of his reverie. Aoshi's eyes refocused on the room around him. The wall facing the hallway had been slashed to pieces. Aoshi sighed and sat down. What have I done? How did I lose myself like that? If someone had been behind the wall at the time… He shuddered and lay down, eyes closed. He would sort this out tomorrow.


So what do you think? I know it's been a while, so I hope it still flows properly!