The sun finally made it's way up, and Aoshi paused in his meditation to appreciate the beauty
Disclaimer: Nothing below belongs to me blah blah blah

Chapter 2: Aoshi & Misao

The sun finally made it's way up, and Aoshi paused in his meditation to appreciate the beauty. He had been awake the whole night, unable to go to sleep and had finally chosen a corner at the backyard to meditate. It is his favorite pastime since it does not involve meaningless chatter with annoying people, and it always bring him the peace and calm he's seeking. Which was why he had chosen to meditate, because he had been pestered by the old man's words the entire night.

He had been troubled by the words since they first left the old man's lips, and he was well aware that Himura is similarly affected. A bleak smile touched his lips then, as he recalled the words of Shishio Makoto when Shishio had remarked that both Aoshi and Himura are very similar people. "Looks like he's right after all" mused Aoshi.

Just then he noticed the back door opening silently and he arched one of his eyebrows when he noticed Himura and the Kamiya girl sneaking in. He was aware that Himura had left the room after tossing and turning for countless times last night, troubled by the old man's words like him. What he was not aware of was how his search for peace of mind had turned into a midnight rendezvous. "It appears that Himura has heeded the old man's advice after all" noted Aoshi.

Himura and Kamiya stopped and faced each other. Noticing Kamiya's pout at having to part even if it was only for a short while, Himura smiled. Tracing the outline of Kaoru's lips lightly with a fingertip, Himura's smile turned teasing when he noticed Kamiya's blush before bending his head and kissing Kamiya lingeringly. Aoshi blinked, surprised that Himura would openly show affection for Kamiya in his presence, as he know fully well that Himura is aware of his presence.

When they broke apart, Himura whispered softly to a slightly dazed Kamiya who nodded before going back to her own room. Then Himura spoke up, "You're up early, Aoshi."

"I'm up late and, it seems, so are you" Aoshi replied, stepping out from the shadows, not in the least surprised.

Himura smiled gently, and with evident satisfaction, "Aa." Then, noticing Aoshi's glance, he quickly added "Seeing that we are already up, we might as well adjourn for breakfast. Are the rest up yet?"

Recognizing Himura's evasion, Aoshi only shook his head in response, respecting the smaller man's wish for privacy. Besides, he can certainly empathize with Himura's wish not to speak about it. Such personal matters are nobody's concerns but his own. Stepping in line with Himura, they walked back to their room to wake the others up.

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Aoshi shot a concerned glance towards Misao, who seemed a little subdued. Ignoring the commotion caused by the Roosterhead and the boy, Misao just continued to shove a bits and pieces of food into her mouth, and sniffling a little as she did so. Which is totally un-Misao, It would take a miracle for her not to join in the fight, and even more for her not to cheer them on. Aoshi continued to study Misao, hoping for a clue as to her distress.

Breakfast came and went, and they decided to visit the hot springs. While the rest of the group went off to prepare, Aoshi stopped Kamiya in the hallway "A word with you, Kamiya-san."

Startled, Kaoru followed him to the garden. "What is it, Aoshi?"

"Do you know the cause to Misao's distress?" Aoshi asked directly without any preamble.

Kaoru smiled wryly, "The direct reason or the root reason?"

Aoshi merely looked……, and looked again, at her in response.

Kaoru sweatdropped and decided that, in the interest of her continuing good health, she'd better answer his question. "She had a sad dream of Yuki and her lover. She's feeling a little…. sympathetic at the moment. Don't worry, I'll be bringing her to a place that will cheer her up later."

"Arigato, Kamiya-san" then after a silent debate, Aoshi queried softly, "And is that the direct or the root reason?"

"I don't think you need me to tell you that, or what the root cause is either." This time Kaoru met his look without flinching (or shivering, for that matter).

Aoshi *once again* looked at her, and when it's apparent that she's not backing down this time, he merely turned and walked away without another word.

"Mou! I will never understand him!" thought Kaoru for the umpteenth time.

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The trip to the hot springs was, to say the least, uneventful. Even Sano and Yahiko were silent, content to soak in the hot water and relax. Hence they did not make too many comments when the girls decided to leave earlier for an "all-girls" trip (but still enough to warrant a whack on the head from Kaoru and a shower of kunais from Misao).

Just as Aoshi was about to drift off to dreamland in the relaxing water, he heard another voice join them and opened his eyes when he recognized the voice of the old man.

"Aah, these hot springs really do wonders for my old bones, I should come here more often" sighed the old man in appreciation, "And I come down here every year as it is, mind you."

A suspicion suddenly dawned in Aoshi's mind. Every year? Every winter of the year? He sent a sharp glance at the old man, and Himura, noticing it, frowned questioningly at him. Aoshi shook his head slightly, what does it matter?

Just then, it started snowing again. And Aoshi could not help but notice how the old man's eyes shone suspiciously as he lifted his head to gaze tenderly at the falling snowflakes. Although he tried to remind himself that it's none of his business, he could not help but feel a pang of sympathy towards the old man. If indeed he is Yuki's lover, no, it is quite certain that he is, and that he still loves her. And for him to visit every year in the futile hope of seeing her once more….. Aoshi sighed, oblivious to Kenshin's startled glance. Aoshi?!? Sighing over a tragic love story?

"Ano, Sir, about the story of Yuki, whatever happened to the man's wife after Yuki's uh… disappearance?" Kenshin asked hesitantly. This time it was Aoshi who shot him a concerned glance, Himura had already come to an agreement with Kamiya-san, why on earth is he concerned about this?!? Besides, Yukishiro Tomoe is already dead, he shouldn't be worried about that.

The old man drew in a breath with a startled hiss before replying, "Aah, apparently the young man was mad with grief when he returned, and he uh, sort of divorced the wife. Since then, no one knows what happened to her." The old man refused to look at anyone and stared somewhat shamefully at the water.

Just then a loud yawn came from Yahiko, who by now is feeling restless. Sano, to his credit, is staring intently at the old man. Looks like the Roosterhead is more intelligent than I gave him credit for, noted Aoshi.

The old man turned with a relieved smile to Yahiko and apologized, "Sorry to bore you, young man, but we old folks just like old things, and naturally old legends are one of them."

"Yes, but I'm surprised that the legend actually went so far as to say what happened to the wife. I thought it would just end with Yuki's disappearance." remarked Sano almost conversationally.

"Well it did not." the old man replied shortly.

Seeing Sano opening his mouth to persist in the matter, Kenshin interrupted "Didn't the young man ever regretted divorcing his wife?"

"Regret? The young man only regretted marrying her and not believing in Yuki. He might be ashamed of his own behavior, but he never regretted divorcing her. He has never loved her, and to persist in the marriage would not bring happiness to anyone, not even the wife. Perhaps it's better this way. At least she has a second chance at happiness. Who knows? She might even have re-married someone she loves." mused the old man.

As if sensing Kenshin's and Aoshi's disapproval, the old man continued, "Responsibility is all well and very good. But a one-sided marriage can never bring happiness to anyone. Same with love: a one-sided love can never last nor bring happiness. Which is why, it's very rare to find a person you love who loves you back. When you do, remember to cherish it, do not let little things obstruct you. Remember, it's not only your happiness, there's also the girl's happiness involved."

Aoshi gave an almost imperceptible start, but it did not go unnoticed by Kenshin, who gave a small smile before nodding sagely. The old man, upon seeing Kenshin's nod, grinned before adding, "Yes, and when a young man realizes the truth, nothing can stop him from making his move. Not even the darkness of the night, or the lateness of the hour. Right, young man?" this last question was directed to Kenshin, who blushed a shade deeper than his hair.

As Sano and Yahiko bombarded Kenshin with questions, Aoshi stood up and left the hot springs without anyone noticing. Lost in thoughts, he wandered about before coming to a stop at a plain field with a dilapitated hut. Aoshi hid in the shadows when he sensed familiar ki nearby, and sure enough, the girls soon appeared carrying flowers and what-nots.

Remembering Kaoru's words about bring Misao to a place which will cheer her up, Aoshi almost smiled.

Watching as Misao enthusiastically placed the flowers down and seriously clasped her hands together in fervent prayer, Aoshi leaned against a tree to enjoy the view. With closed eyes and snowflakes falling gently around her, Misao presented the picture of an angel.

" Remember, it's not only your happiness, there's also the girl's happiness involved" the old man's words suddenly came to Aoshi's mind, and with sudden clarity, he knew what he must do.

Straightening, Aoshi left the tree and walked towards the girls. Only Megumi, who understandable is not as naïve as the other two girls and who had kept her eyes opened, saw him approaching. With widened eyes, she looked in disbelief as Aoshi motioned her leave silently. After a long disbelieving stare at Aoshi's impassive face, she shrugged and, with a hand over Kaoru's mouth, pulled Kaoru away.

Aoshi watched impassively as Kaoru struggled against the doctor's grip, coming to a stop only when she noticed Aoshi. Aoshi could have sworn her eyes widened to the size of plates, but his expression gave nothing away. In fact, he just turned deliberately and faced Misao intently. Understanding his intent, Kaoru gave up her struggles and left peacefully with Megumi. And promptly hid behind the trees with Megumi as they spied on the couple.

For a long moment Aoshi merely enjoyed the view, as he waited patiently for Misao to finish her praying.

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"…..and may you be reunited with him again, like I was reunited with Aoshi-sama." Misao concluded her lengthy prayer (the beginning was more on her laments on Aoshi's indifference, followed by her wishes that Aoshi would soon see her as she is, i.e. a young woman in love, then followed by her sympathies with Yuki and finally her well-wishes for Yuki). Realizing that she had taken a long time, she opened her eyes with an impish grin as she opened her mouth to apologize to Kaoru and Megumi for taking such a long time. And that's how her mouth remained, open, when she saw Aoshi instead of Kaoru and Megumi.

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Aoshi refrained from laughing when Misao stared, with open mouth, at him. When it is apparent that Misao would not be able to regain her speech ability for a long moment, he decided to enlighten her before some insects find their way into her mouth.

"We met the old man at the hot springs." Aoshi stated. Which only served to increase Misao's confusion. "Huh?"

As Aoshi struggled to find a way to express his sentiments and decisions, he cursed his ineloquence for the first time in his entire life. Previously he had never minded his speech impediment, but today, looking into Misao's adorably confused face, he wished fervently that he could have Himura's eloquence.

"Aoshi-sama?" Misao queried, a little nervously, when Aoshi just continued to stare at her impassively.

Aoshi frowned, "Never, ever call me that again. I would not wish for my future bride to call me 'lord'."

Misao froze, and thinking that it's just a nice dream (after all, it's a little too coincidental that Aoshi said this to her at Yuki's hut when Misao had just been praying there for it) she pinched her cheek as hard as she could. And immediately let out a yell as tears came gushing.

Aoshi immediately knelt down to inspect the already-forming LARGE bruise. "Why did you pinch so hard for?" And noticing the tears, he wiped them away gently as he queried "Is it still hurting?"

"NO! Yes! I mean… I'm not crying because of the pain, while I am initially, but now I crying because it hurts. I mean, I'm happy it hurts! I was so afraid it would not hurt, and I thought I better pinch harder, so I pinched as hard as I could, and it's so painful the tears just came on it's own! I swear! And I'm so happy it's not a dream…" babbled Misao.

Kaoru and Megumi had to put their hands over their mouths to stifle the laugh that threatened to escape, and Aoshi was wont to do the same. Instead, he just drew Misao gently into his arms, and whispered into her ear "Misao-chan, promise me never to cry for me again. I've caused you enough tears to last for a lifetime."

"But the tears refused to obey me!" wailed Misao, and once again Aoshi had to stifle a laugh, tingled with the pain at the hurt he knew he must have caused her by making her wait.

"It must have been hard on you, to wait as long as you did for me…. especially so since you are normally so impatient. The old man is right. It's not only my happiness I'm denying but yours as well. I wished I could have seen that sooner." Aoshi tightened his embrace.

"I'd willingly wait twice as long for you, Aoshi-sama. It will be worth it even if I had to wait all my life." sniffed Misao.

"Well, you don't have to. Your wait is over, and I promise that I'll do my utmost to make you happy," promised Aoshi, standing up "But remember, no more "-sama". Just Aoshi will do. Now, we better go back."

"Why, Aoshi-sa.. Aoshi," pouted Misao. And remembering the morning's scene, Aoshi finally understood Himura's apparently open display of affection: it was not by choice but by compulsion. Follow Himura's precedent he just had to gave in to the temptation. He bent down and kissed her, for a long time, before answering "Because you're getting cold, and because if we don't go back soon, Himura and the Roosterhead will come searching for their lost raccoon and fox."

At this, Kaoru and Megumi have a guilty start before coming out to join them. "Ano…gomen ne," apologized Kaoru, looking shamefaced, while Megumi only laughed, with fox ears popping out. Aoshi nodded at the apology, turned and started to walk away, still holding Misao's hand.

Kaoru shared a helpless look with Megumi before they turned to follow him.

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Dinner was a disaster, as Megumi told everyone in every little detail on the scene. Sano and Yahiko kept teasing Misao and Kaoru mercilessly (they had by then forced the truth out from Kenshin by stealing his clothes and threatening to let him walk back naked unless he tell them what happened) who retaliated by whacking them.

Before they retired to bed, Kaoru remarked "I'm glad it's a happy ending for us, but I can't help but feel that Yuki has helped us, especially since it both took place at her hut. I'm going back tomorrow to thank her and any idiot who makes any teasing comment can sleep out in the cold tonight."

Cowed by her threat, the others could only keep silent. The old man, however, overhearing her comment, froze for a long moment. When Kenshin asked him if he's alright, he only shook his head "Aa, I'm fine. At least, I will be. Enjoy yourselves, young people. I'm glad you did not make the same mistake."

"No, thank you sir. If not for you, we would never have realized our error." Kenshin replied gravely and Aoshi nodded his agreement and thanks.

The old man only smiled sadly.

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The next day, arriving at Yuki's hut, they saw the old man lying on the snow with outstretch arms, as if embracing the falling snow. He wore a peaceful and serene smile. The snow had almost covered him, like a blanket a mother draped over a sleeping child, and he had the happiest expression they've ever seen on him.

"Looks like he is finally reunited with his beloved Yuki" remarked Aoshi, while the others only nodded silently in agreement, each with conflicting emotions.

Above them, the snowflakes continued to fall gently…………………….

Author's note: Finally done. This is the hardest fanfic I've ever written. I kept deleting and changing the plot. Aoshi is really not a suitable candidate for a role in a WAFF… but anyway, I've tried my best. Dunno how it turns out though. Do read and let me know how you find it please.

To the reader who requested for a S/M WAFF, sorry, I tried but it ended up as a lemon. Think it is beyond what little talents I have. So this will be the end of Winter Vacation.