The trees opened ahead, their reflections green and longish, gray and graying on the still pool in the dimming light. The gray pathway with its dull rushes and flattish gray boulders held a colorful sight.

I gape, disbelieving.

"Misao! WHAT! No.."

He scrambled towards the particularly flat rock on which the blue clad child was seated. It was no longer gray, and neither was the thing she held in her hands.

"See," she holds up her handiwork for my inspection. Eyes large—shinning. She works over something in her mouth "pretty!"

I stand rooted. Mind racing too fast to allow speech.

He'll kill her for sure. What has she done!

Misao waits—he would be happy with her, he had to be, he always was—but..

The smile and the cheers never came and she decided that he looked silly and stupid staring at her.

"See, colors. Pretty!" She tries once more, with added effort and a brighter smile.

At that I shook myself awake.

'Come on Misao-chan, let's go. Go play. Hide and seek."

"No! Pretty!" She jabs the freshly painted thing towards me, flaring.

She'd tried flowers, lots of them, now smeared together. Red, yellow, blue, green—I wince, feeling lightheaded.

"Yes, yes, very pretty. Now let's go. We have to go. Hide."

"NO! Beshi-shimeh stupid" she pouts, settling into a glare.

I look around flailing, pleading with stubborn children was not a skill taught to the Oniwabanshu spy. It ought to be.

I considered slinging her over my shoulder then, running top speed.

To Aoshi, yea, that's it. He'll prob'ly punish her but at least she'll be safe.

I reach forward, taking her red-stained wrist, the smell of paint fresh on me now too.

Damn! Come on, come on!

But Misao shook off his tender grip, swatting at his fingers. Eyes beginning to swim. The scowl was forced and determined now. Her lower lip trembled slightly none the less.

This is not going well.

If she starts crying she's—no, we're both dead.

I bit back a swear and withdrew my hand slowly, showily.

"Misao, come on, lets get you some candy."

"No."

"We'll go pick some flowers." I wince internally, but brave it.

"No."

"Aoshi—"I try weakly, composure long lost.

"NO!"

I run my unstained hand through my hair.

Move girl, hurry!

Then she smiles, and I sigh, relief—short lived.

She jumps off the rock, cradling her work as she runs upto—Woah! Stop—then past me. I turn, slowly.

"Misao. Is he bothering you?"

"Hena, Hen-na look. Pretty!" She offers proudly.

And he stands there, unblinking. I'd never seen him like this—this once, without his mask, his face paler than I remember. Those white bandages across his temple and what remains of his nose. Like this—those yellowed sickly eyes wide and circular and happy –same as her.

Hanya bent down, face to face with the little girl. He reached forward for his mask and smilingly eased it on.

"Yes Misao. Pretty."

X-----------------------------------------------------------------------X

Ugh, I wrote a fluff-shot, shoot me now.

Uh, what? Oh yea, one sitting, fifteen minutes, 500 words, rkchallenge(livejournal community), masks.. now leave me alone. sobs

This is a bit of an exercise for me by the way, I've always been uncomfortable with dialogue, ENGLISH dialogue(I don't speak it people, not unless I have to).. So uh, no excuse, I know, it sucks, but I have to try, ne?