"Blatant Subtleties"

Summary – a poetic musing on the relationship between Misao and Aoshi from an outsider's perspective. "One cannot appreciate music without first having silence."

They are a mismatched pair by anyone's standards: she young, cheerful and energetic, he older, weary and jaded. She is exuberance, he is stoicism. And yet, seeing them together, there can be no doubt that this is where they belong. It is in the subtle way his eyes soften when she laughs, the blatant way she tries to coax a smile from firm set lips. It is odd how they seem made to share this strangely sweet interaction - a fusion that should not work, but somehow comes together perfectly.

Perhaps she blunts his sharpness; perhaps he tempers her rashness. They smooth one another's rough edges until both are gentled. They are two halves of one whole, of necessity opposites, but in a way that is complimentary instead of clashing, harmonic rather than grating. Yin and yang, light and dark. Like the sun and the moon she gives him warmth and he brings cool respite. Alone each is beautiful, but incomplete.

For what is the mountain without the valley? What is the day without the night?

One cannot appreciate music without first having silence. What is one without the other?

Of such are they.

And yet, to this obvious fact these two are seemingly oblivious.

Perhaps they have sung together for so long that they no longer wonder at the way their tones blend into one. Perhaps they have walked beside one another so often that they no longer notice how easily they fall into step, how choreographed their movements seem. Perhaps they have filled the holes in their respective puzzles with one another for so long they have never realized that the pieces actually fit to perfection and there isn't one missing at all.

And so he tries not to draw her closer for fear of tainting her with his darkness, not realizing that you cannot taint pure light, only be engulfed by it. And she tries not to push too hard for fear that she will break him, not realizing that you cannot break that which is steel, only bend it into something new. And they are both empty while that which could fill them is held in their hesitant hands.

So near, so distant.

A nod and a stolen glance. A careful dance, partners held at arms length. It would be amusing to watch them if it were not so sad.

And yet it is sweet as well, to watch them protect one another from themselves, as if each feels they are the danger rather than the savoir. And there is no doubt that only they can save one another.

Because her love for him is written in eager attentiveness and avid devotion that everyday become a little quieter, a little more mature.

And his love for her is whispered in silent protectiveness and small concessions that every moment become a little warmer, a little less reserved.

Long silent glances and easy silences together, and neither realizes that they have grown so accustomed to the other's presence that it is as natural to seek that companionship as it is to breath.

And perhaps, also, as necessary.

And despite themselves and all their carefully built walls and painstakingly crafted defenses they grow closer. And with that closeness comes desire; it is gentle and chaste, but also insistent - the longing for simple contact, for quiet moments, and the peace that somehow only comes when they are together. It is impossible to ignore, and though they both try, they both also fail.

A steadying hand that they both know is an excuse, for her steps have always been smooth and unfaltering. But she does not comment or call attention to this, only hides her smile and revels in the feel of his hand on the small of her back, even if it is only for an instant.

A soothing touch that they both know is unnecessary, for it is barely a scratch and he is a warrior who has endured far worse. But he does not complain even though he thinks he should, only looks away so that she will not see the tenderness in his gaze and breathes her scent indulgently, allowing himself contentment, if only for this moment.

And one is never certain if they truly do not realize what they are, or if they merely feel unworthy of accepting it.

For how can he not know that she loves him when she all but shouts it from the rooftops?

And how can she not know his care when he is so gentle with her and with no one else?

Soft touches and lingering warmth weakly hidden behind their roles as caretaker and caregiver – though now that line is so blurred that it is uncertain if she is his guardian or he is hers. Most likely they are both guardians of each other, though in different ways. These are the cloaks they wear to hide their moments of weakness, but they are thin as veils and near transparent to any who chance to look. Can he truly believe her love only the remnant of childhood hero worship? Does she truly not see that his concern for her is far more than duty and honor and penance?

But there is that as well, on both sides. And it is that, perhaps more than anything else, that holds them at such careful distance - that keeps them in this precarious and increasingly awkward dance.

She feels guilt that she could not save him; he feels guilt for the things that gave her need to. The guiltier he feels the more silent he becomes, and the more silent he becomes the guiltier she feels until it is a full circle and neither knows where it began or how to end it.

And so she struggles to be with him without binding him to her, and he struggles to show his affection without causing them to draw closer. Both are impossible, and yet still they try. She gives him her understanding, but she knows he cannot yet accept her affection. He owes her his care, but he knows he is unworthy of showing her his love.

And these feeling seem so at odds with the peace and contentment that seeps through them when together. The quiet joy neither will acknowledge for fear of frightening the other away.

His dark past and her dark fears for the future somehow twined together with the gentle light of her forgiveness and his actions that seem almost promises.

How can they at once hold such sorrow and such happiness in their hearts? How can they at once forget and yet never forget that which is no longer, but will not fade.

This treacherous balance that one day must collapse, causing them to crash inward toward one another or fling outward never to meet again.

They are trying to fly apart, each for the sake of the other: he would release her from his burdens, she would release him from her dreams.

But they are ever spiraling inward and when the moment comes they will surely fall together, clinging with no intention to part. And they are the only ones who do not know it.

Sometimes seeing the concern in her eyes makes the world and the memory of his sins fall heavy on his firm set shoulders.

And sometimes it seems that she lifts the weight from his soul without taking it upon her own, and it has vanished into thin air.

And these feelings, like their bond, are beautiful contradictions. And everyday the darkness fades a little before the light until his guilt is almost gone and her fears are almost assuaged. And they do not even realize that they have broken their vows to themselves and are becoming inextricably entwined. He could not release her even if he tried, she could not leave him even if she wanted to. They cannot free one another, and in that is their salvation.

But they are blind.

He stands, solemn and stoic, icy blue eyes trained on that which is outside the shrine that is nearly his world, and she is startled. She stumbles to her feet, movements made awkward by her surprise and when he turns his gaze to meet hers she nearly falls again for he looks lighter, freer somehow. And when he blankly asks if she would accompany him to town she nods, for once truly wordless and not just holding her thoughts in for his sake, and hurries toward him almost confused when he waits until she is beside him to walk. He has never objected to her walking beside him, has often slowed his pace to match that of her far shorter legs, but he so rarely waits either. And strangely she does not wonder if something has changed, only finds herself hoping that it will not go back.

And as they walk beside one another his stance seems to invite her to speak, and so she does, quiet and light and she fancies that he almost smiles as he inclines his head toward her and listens.

And there is no sudden beating of her heart or quick drawn breath, only a warmth that settles inside her. And when his arm brushes hers, the contact completely unintentional, it seems to creep from her to him without either of them realizing. And neither pulls away. And their carefully choreographed dance is altered, the steps ignored for just a moment, the world shifts only slightly, but it is enough to begin a change. They are seeping together inevitably. There is no going back, they can only move forward.

And the ice melts so slowly they neither one notice.

But anyone can see. And perhaps, one day, they will as well.