Romancing the Artist

By: Shin Sankai


A thin layer of sunshine crept its way into the relatively dark bedroom. Clothing littered the carpeted floor while disarrayed sheets lay half off the edge of the double bed instead of over the two spent bodies lying on the mattress.

Blurry emerald coloured orbs peeled open to stare up at the ceiling. Taking in a deep breath, Aoshi stretched his arms over his head, pressing his fists against the wall before dropping them at his sides.

"I am free…" A cough at his side drew his eyes to the slumbering Misao. She was curled away from him, sheets wrapped strategically about her body, her legs tangled within them. Aoshi scooted closer to her, observing as Misao turned his way, hiding her face from the sunlight that was streaming onto the bed.

Instantly his hand went out to her, brushing strands of loose hair from her face. Her cheeks were flushed pink, her lips slightly parted as she drew in deep breaths. To him, Misao was in every sense of the word: exquisite.

Aoshi drew his hand over Misao's bare shoulder, bringing her closer to his body. He smiled lightly when she shuffled sleepily closer, not minding the fact that his larger body was encasing her protectively within its warmth.

Of course, this sudden bout of intimacy didn't last very long when blue orbs snapped open, connecting with green ones before Misao's smaller hands slapped harshly onto Aoshi's bare chest, pushing his body away from her own. Aoshi had been shocked at the action, but not more then Misao as she had not registered just how much she had pulled out of Aoshi's embrace as she went toppling over the edge of the bed, landing with a soft thump on the carpet.

"Misao, are you alright?" Aoshi could only see her legs from the knee down which were still resting on his mattress. He rolled onto his stomach, peering over the edge to notice she had both arms over her face. He couldn't help but drop his eyes a little, since the sheets revealed the tops of her plump breasts to his appreciative eyes. "Misao…?" Aoshi called again when she did not move and this time reached out to her, drawing her arms away from her face. He froze when he noticed tears within them. "Misao!" She was up instantly, one sheet still clutched to her naked body as she scooped up her clothing.

"I need to go." Aoshi sat upright on the bed now, confusion written clearly on his face if Misao had bothered to look his way. She could do no such thing for two reasons. The first being he was just sitting there…naked. And the second, she just didn't know what they had now, considering they already had sex, so what was left to explore? She was just too scarred to look at him and find out.

"Misao, don't you think we should talk about this?"

"I just want to go home." Misao sat at the end of the bed, her entire body tensing when she felt Aoshi draw closer. He placed a hand on her shoulder, feeling it jerk beneath his touch and instantly drew it away.

"If that is your wish, I'll call Megumi to collect us." Misao remained quiet as she nodded her head once. Though she didn't take her eyes from her bare feet, Misao felt the mattress move beneath her, the flash of tanned skin as Aoshi moved passed her, out the door and then into another room, it closing with a definite click. She took in a deep breath and grabbed her belongings, dressing back into her own clothing and placing Megumi's dress back into the bag it came in.

After she finished, Misao grabbed all her belongings and left Aoshi's apartment. He had not come out of the room he escaped to, nor did Misao seek him out. She made her way down the stairs; bag slung over one shoulder as she placed her hair back into a low ponytail. When she reached the bottom and rounded the corner, having now entered the fully lit gallery, blue eyes came into contact with dark ones starring quietly back at her.

"Hello." Hiko nodded in kind to Misao's greeting and sat at his workbench. His eyebrow rose when she sat on the other side of his workstation, but he said nothing when she placed her head on the bench, lost in her own thoughts. After the umpteenth sigh Misao let slip, Hiko finally decided to comment. "It will only eat away at you if you don't voice your worries." Misao turned her blue eyes to gaze over at the potter only to have his back to her as he began to gather the clay he would be using.

"If only it were that simple."

"Life wasn't meant to be simple. If it were, we all would have died of boredom by now." Misao never got the chance to respond as the bell at the door chimed and in walked Megumi.

"Ah, Misao-chan…"

"Megumi," All went quiet in the gallery when Aoshi had made his way downstairs just as Misao was about to return the dress to his sister.

"What's going on here?" Megumi suspiciously questioned, her dark eyes not missing the flinch in Misao's shoulders or the way she diverted her eyes from Aoshi's pointed stare.

"A word if you please, Aoshi?" While Hiko seemed to defuse the awkwardness for the moment, Megumi quickly pulled on Misao's hand dragging her out of the gallery and onto the street.

"What's going on Misao-chan?"

"N-Nothing…"

"I am not stupid Misao-chan." After a long bout of silence Megumi's eyes narrowed. "Is it Yukishiro-san, did she do something to you or Aoshi?" Misao couldn't help but smile at the woman before her. She was so sweet to worry for her brother…and for her too.

"No, nothing of the sort, Aoshi was able to get his divorce."

"Then what's eating you, you look ready to cry Misao-chan!"

"Aoshi and I…slept together…" Misao glanced her blue eyes up to watch Megumi let out a loud sigh.

"Don't give me a heart attack Misao-chan. I thought she might have hit you or Aoshi or even threatened him some how. She can be quite cunning. I never did like how she placed her paws on my brother."

"Iie, Aoshi is fine, just as I am. In fact…I think I smacked her down."

"Eh?"

"Ah, well, not literally, but I kinda said mean things to her…pulled her hair…she did deserve it, but then we left…together…and well…I just told you the rest."

"Damn, I missed it." Misao's eyes widened at Megumi's annoyed comment. "I had always wanted to slap her, for hurting Aoshi, but I feared he might never speak to me again so Hiko told me to stay well out of it as Aoshi would soon open his eyes to see what she was really like."

"Ah, Megumi, did you listen to the part where I said I slept with your brother?"

"Hmm, oh yes, yes I heard you loud and clear." Misao raised an eyebrow as Megumi drew closer, her arm moving over her petite shoulders. "So, how was it, he's good isn't he?"

"Me-Megumi, I don't like the way you say that, it's almost implying that you know what its like to be with him…and that's very disturbing."

"Ah, a friend of mine slept with Aoshi once and if there is one thing my friend is good at, it's giving me a complete description of what he did to her."

"And you weren't horrified at being told all the details?" Megumi laughed while patting Misao on the back.

"Oh believe me I was, but I think I was more proud that I knew he could preform."

"Who could preform?" Both of the women turned to stare over at Aoshi who had obviously finished talking with Hiko.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Megumi nudged him, but once again the atmosphere turned sour when blue and green met and both pairs of eyes darted away this time. "Are you both ready?" When all she received was silence as her passengers got into her car she let off an exasperated sigh, eyeing her uncle who was currently starring out the window with what she could only guess as being a little bit worried for his nephew, Megumi got into the car and began the very quiet journey back to Misao's family resort.

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

"Misao-chan, we're here." Misao awoke to Megumi standing at the passenger side door, it open and she bent over waking her from her sleep. "You're home now." Megumi reiterated and watched Misao unbuckle her seatbelt before getting out of the car. They moved to the trunk to remove her bag and then shut it closed.

"I'm sorry for causing you any trouble Megumi."

"No such thing silly."

"Thank you for the dress…and thank you for driving me back." Megumi watched Misao's eyes flicker to Aoshi, he having undid his seatbelt, his hand on the door handle, ready to get out of the car. "Ah, I got to get inside, tell Jiya I'm back so he'll stop worrying. Bye!"

"Ah, you let her escape."

"Shut up…" Aoshi grumbled as he placed his seatbelt back on and crossed his arms over his chest.

"You and I are going to have a chat when we get up to the house young man." Aoshi voiced nothing at the seriousness held within Megumi's voice. Generally she was quite laid back, except during her studying and working, but it appeared there was no way he would be able to avoid her lecture.

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

"Tadaima," Misao called out, but no one had come to greet her. She removed her shoes, placed on some slippers and went on the search. She found her grandfather in the large gardens in the middle of the resort showing an elderly couple around. Leaving him be, as Misao knew how much he enjoyed showing people around the gardens, he being very knowledgeable about what grew within it – considering many had been planted by him – she entered the Aoi-ya, eyes widening at the amount of visitors within. It was packed!

"Ah, Okaeri nasai Misao-chan." Misao smiled at Okon who was dashing about the Aoi-ya.

"Need a hand?"

"I'd love some if you wouldn't mind. Tell us about your trip when we close up alright?" Misao nodded and left the Aoi-ya, heading upstairs to change into kimono.

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

Aoshi held the screen door open for Megumi as she walked into the lodging and headed straight for the lounge area. She sat in one of the chairs and instantly turned her eyes to her brother, patting the chair beside the one she sat in and waited patiently for an explanation to his and Misao's behaviour.

"We…slept together."

"And?" Megumi asked in exasperation. "Did you not preform well enough?"

"I don't need to explain myself to you." Aoshi had narrowed his eyes at Megumi and then let out a sigh at the quirk of her lips. She was baiting him.

"Tell me what happened last night." Megumi became serious, her hand reaching out to rest comfortingly on Aoshi's knee. "Not the sex part, believe me when I say I don't need to know again."

"Again?"

"Never mind…"

"Well, I was able to sign the papers, so I got my divorce. When I went to the balcony to have one last talk with Tomoe, as per her request before signing the papers, though Tsuchiya-san lied to her about that, she was there…with Misao."

"Oh?"

"I'd already gotten there by the time they started talking, but for some reason I couldn't interrupt."

"You sneak; you wanted to see if Misao would defend you."

"Actually, for some reason, I believed she would even though she and Tomoe had never met, but then when she did…my heart just…"

"Beat rapidly because of her…for her?" Megumi finished for him.

"I guess so."

"Do you love her?"

"It's possible."

"That is not a definite answer Aoshi…and frankly if I were Misao I'd hate you being so indecisive."

"I'm not indecisive; Tomoe is out of my life. She will always be a part of my past, but I can…am moving on. She has no room in my heart anymore."

"And you told her this?"

"Of course!" Aoshi shouted in his defence and rose to pace the living room. "I am not stupid enough to be used again." He stopped when Megumi was in front of him, her hands rising to cup his face.

"I am glad. Your behaviour worried Hiko and I. I'm sure Otousan would have been worried too, but I never told him about what has been going on with you these days, not to mention I never told him you got married either."

"That was probably a good idea; he'd give me quite a lecture in not having introduced him to his daughter-in-law."

"Well, perhaps next time you'll actually pick right and introduce Otousan to her. I can just see him dotting on her like a daughter. It'd be so nice to see his usually expressionless face turn to mush at seeing his boy attached."

"Are you talking about Misao?"

"Who else would I talk about? She's perfect for you Shi-kun!" Aoshi rolled his eyes at the nickname. "So after you, Tomoe and Misao had it out, you left with Misao yes?"

"We returned to my apartment and it was awkward at first because of what Misao said. It was quite a shock to hear, but she backed it up with saying her ex-boyfriend, whom she ran into, provoked her into arguing with Tomoe."

"What did she say?"

"He's mine now."

"Aw, I bet that got Shi-kun's heart pounding."

"Shut up…"

"Ah, Shi-kun is embarrassed!" Megumi couldn't help but tease her older brother a little. Even though he was older, there were times like this, when she felt like the older sibling, wanting to protect the brother whom always protected her when they were children. "Shi-kun…"

"Hai?"

"I love you, I truly do and I know you love me back. And even if I tease you, you know I want you to be happy right?"

"Of course."

"Whether it is Misao or not, the next lover you take, please make sure you are doing it with a clear heart and mind."

"What do you mean by that?"

"After you got back, you and Misao slept together." At Aoshi's nod, Megumi sighed. "Did you think that maybe Misao's behaviour is because she doesn't know how to look at the two of you now?"

"You don't think…" Aoshi's eyes widened as he stopped his pacing once more to turn around and face his sister.

"Misao is pretty easy to read at times and just from speaking with her, I believe she thinks that what happened between you, since it happened straight after you got divorced that she happens to be the rebound girl for you."

"That's not at all how I see her."

"That doesn't mean she knows." Megumi watched Aoshi tilt his head back, a long sigh breaking from his lips.

"I am glad you don't think she is the rebound girl for you, but maybe you need to talk to her, confess your feelings whatever they may be." Megumi looked down at her watch. "I really need to go; Sano doesn't like me driving at night." Aoshi walked Megumi to her car and opened the driver's side door for her.

"If I get a lift with you down the mountain, I can speak with Misao and hopefully we can get passed this uncomfortable situation."

"Give her sometime to get her own thoughts together."

"How much time do I give her?"

"Are you that horny in wanting her again so fast?"

"Goodbye Megumi!" Aoshi slammed the door shut and started walking back to the house.

"Shi-kun," Aoshi turned as Megumi had called out to him, the passenger side window down. "Hiko will be up in a few days to collect you, though the sake at the Aoi-ya will probably distract him, so maybe walk down then, if Misao hasn't already come to you." Aoshi waved his hand when Megumi drove off.

Thunder echoed through the clouds above and just as Aoshi got under the porch roofing, it began to rain heavily.

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

Hours had passed as Misao was wiping down the tables in the restaurant. Guests had finally headed off from the lunch and dinner rush and moved back to their rooms or going to partake in bathing in the springs, even if a light rain had begun.

"So, Misao-chan, how did it go?" Okon and Omasu had shuffled over to Misao's far too quiet self, both wanting to know the ins and outs of what went on.

"I got to meet Hiko-san." Omasu began to complain about how he hadn't come to the resort lately. "He looked very busy; I think perhaps he's been commissioned to do some pottery for some big names." Misao told a small white lie to appease the elder woman.

"Who cares about Hiko-san, did you see any celebrities at the party Misao-chan?" Okon was smacked on the arm, but she ignored Omasu, all eyes and ears focused on Misao.

"Ah, I wasn't really looking, I was following Aoshi and his lawyer to the room he would be signing his divorce papers, though I did loose them when Soujiro pulled me away."

"You saw Soujiro there?" The two older women asked in surprise. They had not heard that name in a long time. The both of them did not like the way he had treated Misao.

"He works for Yukishiro Tomoe."

"How do you know that? I wouldn't think you'd get into a friendly conversation with him."

"We didn't, it was more of an argument. And he didn't tell me, Yukishiro Tomoe did." Dark eyes widened at Misao and Okon stepped closer, hands pressed on her shoulders.

"Did you speak with her? What's she like? Is she beautiful?"

"Are you trying to piss me off?"

"Ah, sorry, sorry, you just met a celebrity, it's exciting."

"We are not here to listen about Yukishiro Tomoe; we are here to see if Aoshi-san got his divorce." Omasu commented, narrowing her eyes at her sister.

"He did."

"So why is he not here? We could have prepared a dinner for him, in celebration of gaining back his freedom."

"Well…" Misao began to tell them all about the argument she had with Soujiro, which also led to the discussion and argument she had with Yukishiro Tomoe about Aoshi and then Aoshi being there through the whole thing. She stopped short of telling them that her and Aoshi had slept together and instead watched the two women take a seat at the table she had been cleaning.

"Wow, Misao-chan, you…picked a fight with a celebrity."

"Is this going to have repercussions on the resort?"

"She doesn't even know who the hell I am, so I doubt it."

"What did Aoshi-san think in all of this?" Okon questioned innocently, her eyes darting to Omasu when Misao began to fidget.

"YOU SLEPT WITH HIM?" The two of them yelled simultaneously.

"How the hell did you come to that conclusion?"

"It's written all over your face!" Exclaimed the two older women, both watching Misao blush furiously, her hands coming up to try and hide her face from them.

"Misao-chan…"

"I don't want to hear it!" The two women watched Misao run away from them, out the shoji and upstairs to her bedroom.

"You don't think he was terrible do you?"

"Not a chance Omasu." Okon watched Omasu nod her head in agreement. "It's got to be something else."

"Should we go speak to her, coax it out of her?"

"Leave her be." The two women jumped, both pairs of eyes turning to the kitchen where Okina was standing with a cup of tea in his hand. "Allow her time to gather her thoughts. When it is time to speak, she will let us know." Okina left the Aoi-ya, knowing Omasu and Okon will finish off cleaning since Misao had run off in embarrassment. The elder man moved down the hallway and out the back shoji to be amongst his garden. The rain had finally stopped falling and he stepped onto the pebbled pathway, turning back to gaze up at Misao's window, noticing she was starring out of it in a daze.

"When you have collected your thoughts Misao-chan, do tell me your troubles ne?" Okina spoke softly to the wind, taking a deep breath of the crisp night air as he would make one round of his gardens before heading off to bed.

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

Several days had passed and both Aoshi and Misao had immersed themselves in their work. While Misao fluttered here and there within the resort, avoiding any talks about her and Aoshi, Aoshi himself had gone about cleaning some of Hiko's lodgement. He also chopped and stacked a large pile of firewood to the side of the house for the next time he or Hiko would be up here and also spent countless hours within the room painting or sketching.

"Ah," at the thought of his uncle, it reminded Aoshi that since the days had passed and it was now the weekend, Hiko was probably down at the hot springs resort, partaking in several bottles of his beloved sake.

"I guess its time…"

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

"Misao-chan?" Misao turned to hear her grandfather call out to her. She was wiping down a table, ready for the lunch rush as more guests had arrived this morning for the weekend. "Let's walk shall we?" Misao passed her cloth over to Omasu and headed out of the Aoi-ya with Okina at her side. He took her out into the garden, the both of them bowing to guests before they stepped onto the grass and sat on one of the stone chairs looking over the large koi pond.

"None of us wish to pry, but what has happened between you and Aoshi-kun has us worried."

"Jiya…" Misao began but stopped when he lifted up his hand to halt her from talking.

"We are not blind to see your head is elsewhere. This doesn't usually happen to you, but we know that what's occurred has affected you more then you like to let on. It's beginning to affect your work."

"Gomen nasai…"

"I'm not here to scold you Misao-chan. You are my family, I love you and I worry for you."

"I love you too Jiya."

"And Aoshi-kun?"

"Eh?"

"I may be old and slow at times, but my eyesight is still pretty sharp. When you brought him down, I saw the way he looked at you. Wherever you moved, his eyes would not leave you. When I questioned him about it, he never denied it at all. This surely means there are some feelings within him for you Misao-chan." Okina watched Misao's cheeks turn a soft pink.

"I…I guess so…"

"You don't seem convinced."

"Well, he just got divorced. Heading into a relationship so fast, wouldn't it seem I'm just the…the…"

"Pick me up girl?" Okina knew how much trouble Misao was in saying it that he just had to say it for her. At the pout on her face he placed his arm around her shoulders and held her against him.

"Do you honestly believe Aoshi-kun is that kind of man?"

"Eh?"

"You placed Shi-kun on such a high pedestal that do you not think Aoshi-kun should be up there too? You've never even met the author yet you have such respect for him that maybe Aoshi needs to be given the benefit of the doubt."

"Jiya, Aoshi is Shi-kun."

"He is? Well, all the more to give him the benefit of the doubt then. In talking with Aoshi-kun, I don't believe him the type of man to use a woman whether he was going through a divorce or not."

"Its not that I doubt him, it's just…"

"The relationship has progressed so quickly that it scares you?"

"Hai…"

"My little girl has grown up so fast."

"Jiya…" Misao whined when her grandfather ruffled her hair.

"I'm scared that if we become serious, what if he asks me to move to Tokyo?"

"As your grandfather I would tell you to go," Okina placed his finger against Misao's lips not allowing her to rebut what he said. "However, Aoshi informed me that we here are everything to you and there is no place you'd rather be but here with us."

"It's true, this is my home and…"

"You don't want another boyfriend to turn out like Soujiro ne?"

"H-Hai…"

"We as your family don't want that to happen again either Misao-chan, but in all honesty, you are not being fair to Aoshi-kun." Okina watched the surprised look cross over his sweet granddaughters face. "Do you not think that Soujiro and Aoshi are two completely different men, being that their characters are very different?"

"Of course."

"You and Soujiro, though serious, were still just children in our eyes. You and Aoshi are adults and having these thoughts without expressing them to him, is a little selfish of you Misao-chan. The both of you cannot even begin a relationship without first expressing the issues you are having within yourselves."

"Y-Yeah, you're right Jiya."

"I am not faulting either of you, because this fresh relationship is different from the last ones you both had, so of course there is going to be mixed emotions within it. Of course there is going to be uncertainty, but watching you these past few days you cannot sit here and tell me that you have not been thinking about him." Okina watched Misao blush at his words. "Maybe it is scary, but isn't it thrilling also?" Misao nodded her head in affirmation.

"Oh my God!" Their heads turned to see Omasu pacing the porch.

"What is it Omasu?"

"Hiko is here!" She all but gushed happily. "He just showed up without making a booking, but we do have a spare room. He said he would be staying the night before taking Aoshi-san back to Tokyo with him." Okina watched Misao rise to her feet at this sudden news. "Ah, what am I to do, how am I going to talk in front of him?"

"Misao-chan," Okina ignored the giddy Omasu to gain his granddaughter's attention once more. "You cannot deny the attraction the both of you share. What I want to ask you is whether you can leave your relationship like this and allow him to go back to Tokyo without voicing your worries to him? Is that something you can live with the rest of your life?"

"Iie…" Okina watched with a smile on his face as his girl kissed him on the cheek before rushing back inside.

"Go get him Misao-chan."

"Okina, what do I do?" The elder man shook his head, turning his attention to the now hyperventilating Omasu, she not being able to step foot inside the restaurant now that Hiko had shown up. He wasn't sure he'd be able to make a relationship work between Omasu and a man he'd never even met before, but since Omasu was very much his family, he was more then happy to listen to her worries…while slowly getting her back into the Aoi-ya. It was a full house after all.

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

Aoshi stood on the boardwalk of the lake, gazing over its expanse. It was time for him to head down the mountain, since Hiko had not come to collect him, just as Megumi had predicted. He turned to look back at the lodgement that had been his home for quite sometime and smiled while gazing upon it. Special memories had been made there and Aoshi was certain they would not be forgotten, nor would anything be able to replace them.

Turning away from the home, Aoshi gazed down at the charcoal sketch of Misao he'd done when he first got back here from signing his divorce papers. His last few days had been filled with her after all, so all the sketches he had done were naturally of her. This one he didn't like, perhaps it was because he was confused at the way she acted towards him or it was possibly the way he had drawn it, not showing off all of her natural beauty like his other pieces. He had been ready to throw it in the lake when hurried footsteps, squishing through mud, caught his ears.

Aoshi snapped to attention, looking between the gaps in trees at someone coming towards the lodgement. His green eyes widened when Misao came into view, she hunched over trying to catch her breath. She was dressed in a beautiful sky blue kimono, the material parted open from her thighs down from her excessive strides as walking was restricted when you wore kimono properly. His lips quirked at the boots on her feet, caked in mud just like the ends of the expensive kimono. She was going to get an earful from Okon and Omasu for sure. He watched Misao make her way to the porch, but she could go no further when he called out to her, his legs taking him quickly to stand before her.

"What are you doing here?" Aoshi asked in surprise.

"You have no idea…how hard it is to run in kimono." Her chest heaved for air, he voicing nothing in response to that. "I…I wanted a chance to talk, so we didn't part with this…awkwardness hanging over us."

"I see…"

"Omasu said Hiko had arrived to take you home. When I heard this I just placed on my boots and started running, not wanting you to go without hearing me out first."

"Its okay Misao, you don't have to explain anything to me. I rushed you…I apologise." He watched those blue eyes widen at his words. They dropped to stare at their feet, Aoshi observing her hand reach out to the canvas he held within his fingers. With little effort he let go of it and Misao had the charcoal drawing of her within both hands.

"You…drew me?"

"It appears that you have become my muse Misao." He watched her cheeks darken slightly at his words. "All my works are of you lately."

"You were standing at the lake with this, what were you going to do with it?"

"I was going to throw it away, it is not good."

"It is good!" Aoshi's eyes widened slightly as Misao turned to gaze her expressive eyes up at him. "Something like this, it may be worth money someday, so don't throw it away."

"I live a comfortable life as it is Misao, I don't need money."

"O-Oh…"

"What I mean to say, is that I don't paint for the money. I'm inspired to paint if I see something beautiful, something that truly captures my heart. And that is exactly what you did; your very existence has captured my full attention."

"Ah…well…"

"You still do, no matter the awkwardness that now surrounds us." Aoshi didn't miss the slight quiver in Misao's eyes or the way her hands clenched the canvas in nervousness when his hand trailed down her cheek, cupping it lightly. "Will always in fact."

"A-Aoshi…"

"I'm sorry I fell in love with you so quickly." Misao's breath hitched in her throat at his softly spoken words. "Though in my defence, I couldn't help it. True, I was ending a painful relationship, but within the darkness of my heart, a beacon shone through when she stepped onto the porch. I was instantly drawn towards her. I basked in her free spirit and cherish the memory that she would smile and wave at me even though I were a complete stranger. I was treated as though I actually mattered to someone. My thoughts, my feelings were important to her. She listened wholeheartedly to my story, not batting an eyelid until it was all out. How could I not be drawn to the one who makes me feel so many things? Although with this sudden realisation I became selfish, needing you desperately, not even thinking what was going on within you, whether you wanted this like I did…like I do."

"Aoshi…I…" Misao's eyes welled with tears as she looked up at him. Just starring at him, at his eased posture, the gaze within his orbs, it was clear Tomoe had completely disappeared from them. She'd been so scared she was a rebound from the woman he'd wed, the woman he'd spent countless hours with and yet starring up at him here and now, those eyes darting away every now and then in fear, waiting desperately for her response, it swelled within Misao's heart that he was truly thinking only of her.

It surprised Aoshi and relieved him to no end when Misao took a step forward, rising on her tiptoes as her arms moved over his shoulders, bringing his face closer to her own.

"Don't ever let go." Their lips collided, Aoshi's hands instantly moving from his sides to urgently press Misao's hot sweaty body against his own. Their kiss lasted until each had to pull away gasping for air. Misao's cheeks were pink and Aoshi waited, not noticing he was now holding his breath as her eyelids fluttered open. She pressed her forehead against his beating heart and let out a soft sigh. He was not sure if it were good or bad. There was still so much he wished to learn about her.

"How is this going to work?" Aoshi softly glided his hand up and down Misao's spine, noticing how she shivered lightly against him.

"Well, I've been thinking perhaps we could share those responsibilities."

"Share…"

"Mm, some months you could come and stay with me in Tokyo if and only if Okina's health is good and you trust him enough not to drink sake without you being around." Aoshi listened to Misao chuckle at those words before he continued on, "And then some months I shall live here so I'm not far from you."

"Do you think…that would work?"

"Look who is being negative now?" Misao pouted up at Aoshi, her heart speeding up when both of his hands cupped her cheeks, his lips turning into a soft smile only for her. "We have lives to lead, but I want to share my life with you Misao." Aoshi watched her face scrunch up at his words, noticing the tears pooling at the corner of her eyes. It appeared she'd been waiting for someone to say that to her for a very long time. He softly pressed his open lips to Misao's and was delighted when she responded.

"Arigatou…" Misao hugged Aoshi close and while she gripped at him, the artist directed her back to the cabin and inside just as it began to rain once more. Just as he closed the door he listened to Misao gasp as she had forgotten the charcoal sketch of her since she had dropped it when they had entwined within their kiss earlier.

"It was only a sketch and only half complete at that."

"But it was good!" Misao whined lightly, finally taking notice that Aoshi was drawing closer to her petite body.

"I can draw another…and another…and many more after that. You just need to help guide me." Misao couldn't help but shiver when expert hands were gliding down her body, fingers pulling at the obi holding the kimono closed. The silky material fluttered to the floorboards at their feet.

"Then let me be your guide." Misao whispered against Aoshi's throat, hands roaming up his back underneath his button down shirt.

"You aren't qualified…" Aoshi quirked his lips at the narrowed eyed look and yet there was that pout on those hypnotic and responsive lips. "Yet…"

"I'll show you just how good a guide I can be." Misao mumbled as she let go of the handsome man before her and made her way up the stairs. Aoshi watched with appreciative eyes as Misao undid her hair, it cascading about her slender frame. What got his heart ticking and his body responding was Misao removing the kimono from her body. His heart literally thumped within his ears as she stood at the top of the stairs, unashamed of her nakedness. His jaw clenched as she wickedly grinned down at him, half turned, showing off bits of her porcelain skin to him. "Hmm, not coming? Shall I get dressed and leave you be?" Aoshi was up the stairs in seconds and Misao gasped as she was pushed against the wall.

"Guide me…" Aoshi huskily voiced before his hungry lips devoured Misao's.

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

"Ah, wow…" Misao mumbled breathless, panting loudly as she stared up at the ceiling. "It's hot in here."

"So it is." Misao turned to stare over at Aoshi to see he was pointedly staring at her. Her cheeks grew rosy and she quickly turned away from his intense gaze and moved out of his embrace. Misao scooted to the edge of the bed, eyes narrowing as she stared at the floor. "Don't fall off this time."

"Ha, ha," Misao remarked as she sat up, her back to Aoshi as the sheets pooled within her lap. "You know you could at least pick up your books once in awhile." Misao couldn't help it; she had already bent over, placing the discarded books into a small pile. What she didn't realise is that Aoshi had slipped out of bed and had moved to the easel and stool he had set up in the room when he first got here. He sat down, picked up a blank canvas and placed it on the easel. Aoshi quietly opened a tin containing charcoal and began to sketch out Misao's figure, she once again sitting on the edge of the bed, her arms raised above her head as she stretched. His eyes could make out the curve of her right breast before her arms dropped to her sides once more.

Aoshi lost the moment as Misao had risen to her feet, taking the white sheet with her as she went to stare out the large window within the bedroom, rain still lightly falling outside. Instantly Aoshi removed the canvas to get another as Misao placed her hand and forehead on the cool glass while the sheet was wrapped loosely about her succulent body, pooling low against her back. He stopped sketching her when Misao had turned around, her blue eyes seeking him out but not finding him in bed. It didn't take long for their eyes to meet.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm drawing you."

"Eh, right now?" He watched a light flush creep over her milky skin; her hands clutching the almost translucent sheet closer to her body.

"The best time to draw is when you are in your most natural poses."

"Yeah but…"

"My every thought is always about you Misao. And because of this, every moment I get with you, I feel compelled to record these of how I see you within my minds eye." Her lips parted at his explanation. "If you don't wish for me to draw you, just say so."

"I never said that."

"If you are uncomfortable with the thought that you will be seen on the walls within the gallery, I can change your face and hair; make it so you are not so defined. I can keep you as a mystery woman in my paintings so I am the only one who gets to see all of you."

"That seems a little possessive don't you think?"

"It is in my nature, especially when it comes to you." Aoshi watched Misao hum lightly as she crawled back onto the bed, diving beneath the covers and yet resting on her stomach, her hands cradling her chin as she looked over at him.

"You know, I've been thinking." As Aoshi picked up another canvas, he waited for Misao to nod her head in confirmation that he could draw her in such a pose, even if the tops of her breasts were in full view.

"Thinking about what?"

"When are you going to start writing another book? I did provide you with material, so I deserve to know after all."

"My newest book will be released as of next week Misao."

"I've already ordered one through the bookstore I frequent in Kobe, oh and when I do receive it, I expect mine to be personally and lovingly signed." Aoshi let off a small chuckle. "Though in all honesty, you take too long to write your books. I practically rip out my hair waiting for the next one." Aoshi quirked his lips into a small smile at the whine in her voice. He did have to remember that this was his 'biggest fan' after all.

"Art, whether it be written or drawn should never be rushed Misao."

"Demo…"

"Even if I get letters from readers or whines from the pretty young woman in my bed, I cannot waiver to their demands. My writing comes from the heart as do my paintings and unless I'm drawn into the project, it cannot be done unless I am fully committed to it. If I rush then the outcome will not be pleasing to me and I cannot have that."

"I suppose…"

"Besides, my writing and painting is not all that I do. I have many things that occupy my time; I cannot just give it all to those two things."

"Okay, okay, I understand. I won't press you any more." The room fell silent as Aoshi placed down his charcoal. He watched Misao shift in bed, moving to rest on the side he'd taken up not long ago. She buried her head into the pillows, taking in a deep breath, possibly smelling his musky scent on them and her eyes flickered closed. Aoshi picked up a cloth and brushed the excess charcoal off his hands.

"You know…" Aoshi spoke up, his deep throaty voice drifting towards the slumbering Misao. She had cracked open an eye, heart racing and cheeks flushing as he walked over to her, not ashamed of his gorgeous naked body. "I have already thought up an idea for a new book." Aoshi sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Oh? Please do tell?"

"I was thinking…" Aoshi began as he brushed hair from Misao's eyes, tucking it effortlessly behind her ear, his hand gliding down her cheek, further down her neck and over the sheets to press it against the curve of her hip and buttocks region. "A love triangle." He watched Misao's eyebrow rise at the concept. "I was thinking of calling it Romancing the Artist." He received a light smack on the arm as Misao turned away from him. She couldn't go far as he trapped her beneath the bedspread, his larger, firmer body, looming over hers, those emerald green orbs starring intently down at her. "What do you think?"

"I would prefer it if you only stuck to period settings."

"Well he could be a wandering artist, drifting from place to place only he stayed far too long and became attached to a dangerous woman. She could end up disappearing and he decides to spend every waking moment searching for her. On his travels he runs into a young female wanderer, who is quite boisterous in everything she does." He watched Misao's eyes narrow slightly. "She will begin to ease his mind, open up his heart to the possibility of life after his previous lover and he'll finally realise that he cannot let this new love go."

"R-Really…?"

"Either that or work on the idea of using ninja in my book again, only this time I'll be able to implement some of your family history into it if you like. I was thinking the leader of the group could possibly have a complicated sexual relationship with a beautiful doctor, however as time goes by, he begins to see one of his subordinates in a new light as she grows and matures with his guidance. He knows she admires him, loves him terribly and only wants his happiness, whether it is alongside her or the doctor. I can work the rest out at a later date."

"And what would that one be called? Romancing the Ninja?" Misao's heart swelled when Aoshi laughed, his naked chest pressing against her blanketed one, pushing her deeper into the mattress.

"A little corny don't you think?"

"You're the writer not me."

"True, but I've never been overly romantic in my books."

"Well perhaps this is a good change then. Perhaps because of a certain enlightenment that has come over you, by yours truly, you can now see a different ending for your characters and not always the bittersweet or dying ones."

"Hmm…"

"I also noticed that you never allow them to say 'I love you' at all. They could even die in each others arms but there is no proclamation of their love for each other." Misao fumed beneath Aoshi, not minding the way he was trailing his index finger over her exposed collarbone.

"Perhaps it is never written because I've never been told those words wholeheartedly." Intense green locked wide blue orbs. Aoshi waited as Misao chewed on her bottom lip.

"Aoshi…?"

"Hai?" Her eyes darted away, cheeks changing to a nice shade of pink.

"I'm in…lo…" It came out in a quick whisper, Aoshi's ears straining to hear the mumble having only caught that much of it.

"Sorry, what was that?"

"I said I'm in love you." Misao huffed beneath him. Carefully her eyes rose to Aoshi's face to see a wondrous smile gracing his lips, it even shining within his mesmerizing green orbs. The utmost thanks he gave her ended up being a sensual kiss filled with longing and passion. Misao gasped when Aoshi was beneath the covers in seconds, his cooler skin kissing her warmer one. "I…I like the ninja idea."

"Oh?" Aoshi mumbled as he pressed a kiss against her shoulder.

"Mm, I could see myself as some butt kicking ninja girl. She'd have cool weapons…and she'd definitely use it on the bloody doctor woman for getting her hands on her man."

"Who said the ninja girl would get the guy in the end?" He was shoved away from responsive skin as orbs narrowly gazed up at him.

"Ninjas should never venture far from their own kind. If they did then too much information could possibly leak out and what they did or whomever they worked for could be discovered!" Aoshi raised an eyebrow at the determination held within her voice. "And besides…" Once again Aoshi observed Misao's cheeks flush lightly; her dainty fingers running up his sides sensually. "She's boisterous and energetic. She'd compliment his character for sure. And not only that…she'd fight for him." Misao's arms locked around Aoshi's shoulders, fingers fluttering through silky black hair as she drew the man down.

"Aa, she would indeed." Lips locked and Aoshi lowered his body to Misao's responsive one, succumbing to their passionate desires once more.

No matter the journey this relationship would take them on, the challenges they were sure to face, Aoshi was certain of one thing: he would never let go, just as Misao asked.

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

Downstairs, within the room Aoshi spent many hours painting and sketching, a finished artwork sat on the easel, sunlight creeping through dark clouds encasing it within its warmth. It had been inscribed with a title and Aoshi's signature in the bottom right hand corner.

It was a watercolour painting of Misao, from when she had not realised he was Shi-kun the author nor did she realise he spoke Japanese just like she. It had been the time when she was dancing about the yard, arms out, clothing and hair wet as she spun in circles. That very image had made him want to draw again, to live again.

She was pure, she was beautiful and she was: Romancing the Artist.

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

The End.


Author's Notes: To everyone who stuck around to the very end, thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I loved writing it, no matter how difficult it was to do at times.

Please wait patiently as I begin to work on some of my hiatus works.

Till next time, Minna-san, Shin Sankai is signing off.

Story Completed: 9th of August 2009