Author's Note: I know I had already posted this story before. I'm starting fresh again, and I changed this story quite a bit so about half the story will be different from what it was the last time you've read this… if you have read this before I mean, heh. Well, I don't want to go into all that detail here, just go to my profile and you'll find out more info about this in my Author's Update… thingy. Please read and review! Enjoy!

Main summary – Days come have come and gone. Is it really time for change? Misao certainly thinks so. Still in love, a now more serious love, with Aoshi, she tries to win his heart while slowly learning more about herself in the process as she's growing older and wiser into her late teens. However, later on when she thinks she's got everything under control, someone else notices her change over the years. When that someone finally sets his sights on her, life and growing up suddenly becomes a lot harder. Aoshi learns something about himself as well, and also about Misao that he never noticed before and has found himself unexpectedly having more interest in her each passing day. However, the unknown stranger will not let his interest in Misao be lifted so easily. Is there a hidden secret to this other person? Or is this just someone whose determination may come as trouble for Aoshi?

Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin

Chapter One: Change Can Be The Greatest Thing

Morning in Kyoto was especially bright. The sun shone through few thin clouds in the light blue sky, the breezes were relaxing and cool, which the people in this town really enjoyed. This day would be nice. Just like how it was yesterday. Nothing is out of the ordinary; it is just like everyday, the usual going out for breakfast, the usual stroll by the river, the usual shopping for things at the market, and of course, the usual tormenting of young Miss Makimatchi Misao.

The sounds of people waking and starting the new day commenced. Okon and Omasu opened up the Aoiya for new customers that would soon arrive for breakfast. The two of them began cooking with Shiro and Kuro. Fortunately for Misao, before any customers could make an appearance at the Aoiya, she knew it was safe to walk around still half asleep and looking not so much her best.

The young woman gradually walked into the restaurant, hair an absolute mess, eyes half open, dragging her feet slightly, and skin particularly pale. That's right, she has finally woken up, though not late like half the others times.

Omasu did a light double-take toward Misao and smiled genuinely, "Well well, it looks like sleeping beauty is up and about early this morning." She teased while she brought out a piece of paper from the pocket of her kimono and gave it to Misao who glared at her vaguely for the sleeping beauty remark.

Becoming serious now, the older woman continued, "Now Misao, I need you to get these things in town as soon as possible. Could you do that for me please?" Omasu asked kindly and turned around not expecting any kind of reply, now walking back inside of the kitchen area where she was before. She didn't even give poor Misao the chance to answer her with a blunt 'No.' like she had really wanted to.

Misao sighed and now glared even more at the folded paper in her slender hand. Well, she was stuck with the job now; she might as well do it.

Misao quickly bathed, and dressed in a pink and white kimono for the day. She was fixing her hair now and trying to get the annoying tangles out as she walked around inside of her room in search of her ribbon that she planned to wear in her hair. The eighteen year-old was becoming very irritated that it was always missing from her sight. However once it was finally found, she focused on her hair once more and began folding up her futon properly with her feet. As the girl had grown older, she had learned on her own to multi-task even more than she did years ago, even with a simple duty as getting ready in the morning.

She made a quick aggravated groan once she was done folding her bedding. Was she still trying to untangle the damp mess that was her hair? She could not believe how long in the morning it truly took for her to get ready, and it was mostly because of her hair.

Misao walked to her small wooden nightstand and sat down in front of it, folding her legs together beneath her. She gazed at herself in the oval shaped mirror that sat atop of the nightstand. Without taking her gaze from her reflection, she grabbed her comb that was on the stand and began slowly untangling her dark locks.

Slowing the brushing motion, she held out her hair more and suddenly thought of something of which excited and scared her at the same time. The idea had come to her many times before, but she just never thought she would have the guts to go through with it. She gently dropped her comb.

Should she… cut her hair?

She abruptly saw her reflection shaking her head No! She's had her hair this way all her life. Why in the world would she change it now?

Misao sort of drooped her shoulders to think of this new idea a bit more. She shrugged one shoulder slightly, guessing that was exactly the point. She has had her hair the same style and length for nearly all her life it seemed, and now she was seriously contemplating on if she should cut it or not. Why this thought has suddenly hit her now? She did not know.

The young woman ran her fingers through it, going all the way through the entire length of her hair. Her fingers at long last met at the where split-ends were evident and she lightly frowned upon that.

Misao looked at herself in the mirror more intently this time, trying to imagine herself with slightly shorter hair. She stroked her own hair lock gently and pursed her lips in deep thought.

She suddenly took her hands away from her hair, having it all cascaded around her, and she nodded. She looked around herself and grabbed the nearest sharp object.

When Misao was done getting ready for the day, she walked out of her room hastily, wanting to go into town and finish shopping early for Omasu. She closed the shoji door in a quick manner and whirled around quickly, only to bump into someone.

Misao rubbed her head, not looking up, she only murmured apologies, "Oh sorry about that, sorry." She looked up then and not surprisingly, saw none other than Aoshi Shinomori standing right in front of her. "Oh, Aoshi it's you, good morning." Misao bowed slightly to him.

"Good, morning." He replied, sounding vaguely distracted. Aoshi couldn't keep his eyes off Misao's hair. It was different, she had cut it.

Her hair was now about five or six inches past her shoulders and was worn half way up and the rest falling around her shoulders, no braid in sight. 'Why did she decide to cut it?' He wondered curiously. Misao noticed his lingering stare at her head and she laughed lightly, becoming panicky. "Oh, my hair. Yeah I-… I cut it." Out of anxiety she grabbed a bit of her hair by her shoulder and held it in her fist self-consciously. Misao was suddenly nervous of what he might think. 'What if he does not like it? Oh why did I cut it!'

Aoshi nodded and then looked into her eyes now for the first time. "Why is that?"

Misao bit her lip before answering, "Well, I've had it long nearly all my life that... I guess I just needed a change… So, what do you think?" She answered with a big quick shrug of her shoulders and smiled uneasily. Her heart was beating fast and so loud, thinking Aoshi could actually hear it. Misao noticed she was still holding her hair and so let go of it quickly, letting it fall about her shoulder once again.

"I think it suits you very well." Aoshi said to her. Misao paused, 'He… likes my hair this way?' She thought happily, but tried to keep a small smile on her face even though she wanted to jump in excitement. She was that grateful of his sort of 'approval.'

"Th-Thank you Aoshi." She replied politely, and then remembered that she had some shopping to do. She blinked and reached a hand inside her kimono sleeve to retrieve a folded piece of paper, "Oh, I just remembered that I gotta go into town for Omasu. Um, do you want to come with me Aoshi, or will I just see you later?" She asked, inwardly hoping that he would wish to join her.

Aoshi seemed to think about it for a second then nodded, "All right, I'll come."

Misao nodded, "Alright then." and they were both on their way out of the Aoiya.

They made their way outside, the temperature changing from cool to a bit warmer. The sun was higher now by this time and shining beautifully over the hills and trees throughout all of Kyoto. It was truly a great day to be out.

Misao contently breathed in the fresh air, "Ah, it's so nice out here. Aoshi, do you think you could train with me later today?" She asked as she looked up at him walking by her side. Aoshi looked back at her and smiled somewhat, "Sure." Misao grinned and looked in front of herself once again. The streets became busier as they neared the market.

"What are the things that you need to get?" He asked. Misao pulled it out once again and murmured the several items on the list and how many of them they needed to get.

Aoshi was not looking at the list like young Misao here was. In fact he was still in a sort of curious trance by Misao's hair. He still couldn't believe how just a simple cut to it could make a weasel girl look so much older, so much like her age, as if she had grown a few years older over night. He believed now that Misao really did look her age, eighteen. Then again she has been maturing at a steady pace for the passed few years. Nowadays, she wore kimonos of her own free will, she didn't yell or scream that much unless someone really pissed her off, and she always thought before she spoke.

Aoshi was inwardly proud of her even more now since she has also been training with him much more seriously since he came back to them two years ago. He smiled, he was beginning to truly adore the young woman beside him grocery shopping.

"Aoshi?" Misao asked again, trying to get his attention. Aoshi blinked vaguely out of his thoughts and looked down at her.

Misao looked at him curiously, "I asked if you were ok, you seemed to just be staring off somewhere. Is there anything on your mind?" She asked, now smiling.

Aoshi shook his head once more, "No, it's nothing."

Misao looked at him a second longer and nodded lightly, "Ok then, if you're sure." She said to him and looked back at her list of things to get for Omasu. Misao knew Aoshi better than anyone else. She knew he was thinking too intently about something to not even pay attention to what people were saying when addressing his name. Misao could not help but smile to herself; somehow she knew he was thinking about her.

When they were finally finished getting everything, Aoshi and Misao both carried it all in a bag each as they walked back on their way back home.

He and Misao turned around and walked away from the busy streets of Kyoto. However, before they could completely escape the crowd of people that were scattered all around the market, they both heard a faint voice call out Misao's name.

Misao and Aoshi turned their heads to see a young man walking towards them, trying to walk around other people passing by and avoid bumping into others. Misao bit her lip and narrowed her eyes in pure wonder, "That man looks familiar." She whispered. Before anything else could be said though, the man was standing in front of Misao and smiling broadly, "Misao, it's me Hideki!" He exclaimed with joy, "We haven't seen each other in so long." He instantly went up and hugged her, which caused a sudden and unexpected glare from Aoshi.

Aohsi's content morning of accompanying his best friend as she did her grocery shopping routine for Omasu on this pleasant day was all abruptly ruined by this guy who had without warning appeared from out of nowhere only talking to Misao.

And now this guy, whom Aoshi had already forgotten his name, was bombarding Misao with questions and a hug that looked a bit meaningful of something else other than just old friends meeting again… and doing so in front of him for the entire world to see… Damn, what were the chances of that?

Misao's eyes widened, as did her smile. She gasped for breath and smiled, "Hideki! How are you?" She asked, thrilled at seeing her friend again. Hideki was talking to her about what he's been up to while Aoshi just watched. 'Who in all seven hells is this boy?'... and then, with a screeching halt which only he heard in his mind, he remembered… When Misao and Hideki were only young children, Hideki always use to come over and play with Misao when she was done training with the rest of the Oniwabanshu. Aoshi had remembered that he left the two young children alone to play as he had trained by himself, but had still kept insight of them. He in all honesty thought of Hideki as a nice playmate for Misao, as well as a few other little kids that came around to play with her from time to time.

He hadn't really paid much attention to Hideki when he was younger, but now that he was twenty-two years old and, in Aoshi's ironic opinion, just discovered girls, he decided to keep watch on him when it was needed. I mean heck, they haven't seen each other in so long, people change. Hideki could be some secret cold-blooded killer if anything…

Aoshi was so caught up in his thoughts that he had not realized they had been talking to one another all this time. Misao continued, and as Aoshi heard his name mentioned, he slowly came back to reality, "Aoshi and I were just heading home though. We have to get these groceries there right away." She said to Hideki, an apologetic look upon her beautiful features.

Hideki seemed to however smile brighter despite the bad news, "All right, I'll try to stop by later then."

Just as Misao opened her mouth to answer, Aoshi spoke before she could, "We'll be training." He said with a stern voice. Misao gasped lightly and snapped her fingers, "Oh yeah! I forgot about that... Well, I I'll just see you around some other time, I'm kinda busy all day."

"Ok, I'll see you later." Hideki waved and then walked away while Misao lightly waved back.

Misao honestly didn't seem to mind it at all when Aoshi reminded her that they had to train later, because he noticed that she didn't say anything about it. Aoshi breathed a silent sigh of relief; he thought she would question him about that, and then become defensive and the both of them starting an entirely new argument. Which he knew neither of them really needed right now. They got along so well anyway, why ruin a thing like that?

Misao just smiled contently and placed both hands to rest behind her head as she walked. 'Hideki is such a nice friend; I haven't seen him in about ten years or so, that's too long to not be with a friend.' She looked up at the blue sky and relaxed her shoulders more. She didn't know why Aoshi reminded her of their training session to Hideki. Usually when a friend of hers wants to hang out with Misao, and that's not too often since she's busy all the time lately, Aoshi just lets her. When she came home after spending time with her friends, then she and Aoshi would train. She just shrugged it off though; it was nothing important to think about right now anyway.

They both were clear from the market place by now and walking on a small dirt road, a shortcut to the Aoiya that they often took.

All was going well until all of a sudden, an arrow flew toward Misao's head but she dodged it just in time. "What was that?" She look around instantly, eyes narrowed in suspicion. The arrow she dodged had struck a tree and made a sharp thump noise.

Aoshi just stood and focused to find the ki of the attacker. When he found it, he reached inside his jacket with his free hand that wasn't holding the bag and threw a large kunai toward his target hiding in the dark trees. Hearing that he successfully pierced someone, the attacker came out of the trees and had a visible cut on his shoulder. He had suddenly appeared behind Misao, this guy was quick. He put a hand around her waist and brought a dagger to her throat.

"Give me your money or she dies!" He screamed to Aoshi who narrowed his eyes, yet did not move a muscle.

"Ow! You moron you just screamed in my ear!" Misao turned her head and shouted in his face.

"Don't be stupid little girl, I can kill you!" He shouted back.

Misao just rolled her eyes, 'Amateur.' She elbowed him in the gut. When he bent forward and held his stomach in pain, Misao stepped back and brought her elbow down on the back of the guy's neck with very strong force. The man grunted as he went down to the ground.

Aoshi watched all of this with a raised eyebrow in slight amusement. He thought it slightly humorous and enjoyable to watch Misao fight someone who thought she was completely defenseless, and then get the crap beat out of them because they didn't know she could.

Once Misao had accomplished her goal of properly beating the living hell out of the guy, she stood straight and dusted her shoulders. She looked down at her attire and groaned, "Oh no, that stupid idiot almost ruined my nice kimono with his dirty sweaty hands." She muttered in her dismay. She glanced at her shoulder and gasped in disappointment, "He got his blood on me too." Sighing now, Misao drooped her shoulders, "This is one of my favorite kimonos too."

Aoshi came by her side, "It's alright, we'll get that taken care of when we return home."

She smiled then, and they walked home together once more. Misao was inwardly so excited and glad that she had this chance to show Aoshi her fighting abilities that improved over the years. And it was all thanks to him, he had trained her after all. All she hoped at this moment was that she left the older man beside her a little impressed if anything. The young ninja woman knew that it wasn't appealing for a girl to be weak, especially around a guy she liked.

Misao looked at older man next to her and she smiled, "Thank you, Aoshi." And they continued their short journey back to the Aoiya.