Aoshi and Misao. Read and be astounded by Aoshi's OOC-ness. Oh God, I've never written an Aoshi/Misao fic before... ah well. They aren't really my forte anyways... obviously. Important! I'm changing it so that not only will Aoshi say whatever is on his mind, but he will also do whatever is on his mind. Thought it would make it more interesting... ^_^

KxK fans/writers: please scroll to the bottom for details on co-authoring if you are interested.

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Pandora's Box- Aoshi's Mind, Misao's Heart
By: Karina Kineshi

I wish that I could speak my mind when I'm near Misao...

Aoshi sat up and groggily rubbed his head. He'd never woke up with this bad of a headache before. "What the hell happened to me?"

"Excuse me, did you say something, Aoshi-sama?" A voice drifted over from the closed partition of his room, snapping him out of his thoughts. He said that out loud?

He could hear a small laugh. "Of course you said that out loud Aoshi-sama, either that or my hearing is incredibly good..."

Oh, so he had said that out loud. That was his Misao, she'd always had abnormally good hearing when it came to him, it made her even more endearing to him.

Gods, how could she put up with him?

Misao slid the door open, something unreadable in her eyes and carrying a small tray. "Put up with you? What do you mean?"

Aoshi's heart plunged to the bottom of his body. "But I didn't say anything..."

The braid on the back of Misao's head was getting barraged by her fingers. She was twiddling with it nervously. "But I heard you, I think..." She flashed a dazzling smile. "Are you getting senile?"

"I might be. In fact, I am sure that I didn't say anything. You look beautiful Misao." Gods, he said that out loud too! What was wrong with him? Can't he keep a thought to himself?!?

Misao's eyes grew concerned. "There's nothing wrong with you, and I don't know about that thought to yourself thing, but thanks for noticing me."

Noticing? Yes, Misao was dressed in a marvelous kimono; the yellow complemented her beautiful aquamarine eyes.

Misao blushed. "Thank you... Aoshi-sama... I always hated my eyes..."

The man was getting scared now, it seemed that all of his thoughts were forced to be spoken. How can this be?

I wish I could speak my mind when I'm near Misao...

Oh Gods. Could it be?

The girl shook her head and quirked an eyebrow. "Could it be... you're getting senile?"

Aoshi laughed halfheartedly. "I am, I am..."

Could it be that whatever I'm thinking could be heard in plain daylight?

He shook his head. How absolutely preposterous. It was almost as ridiculous as... Aoshi stopped short when he saw the intense look in Misao's eyes. The next thing she said scared him out of his skin: "It's almost as ridiculous as what? What's preposterous? To tell you the truth, you are talking a lot more today than I've ever heard you speak at any one point..."

"W-What did you say? You heard that?" Aoshi felt like he was in a dream; the back of his eyes started to throb. Give him enemies, give him fights, but for God's sake, don't give him something he can't handle. Why, if some of the thoughts that were lose in his head were to get out, who knows—

Misao squealed, "— I want to know! Oh God!!" Misao was beside herself with excitement. Everything had been adding up: Aoshi talking a lot more today, and about odder things, he didn't even know what he was saying, and he seems to be more open... "There's only one way we can make sure you're really speaking your mind." Misao grinned like a... weasel.

Aoshi shuddered in fear; he could almost guess what was on her mind. After all, he'd taught her well.

"Yes, you did teach me well, and no, you have no idea what I'm going to ask." She rubbed her hands together and put on the straightest face she could muster. "There are some people who think that because you don't talk at all, that you're gay."

"G-Gay?!?" he stammered.

Misao nodded. "Yes, gay. What is your input on this?" She held her breath; the old Aoshi would just shrug it off and say something mundane like 'Let them think what they want to think.' What would this one say?

Aoshi just kept nodding his head as if in a trance. "They think I'm gay, do they?" The way he said that sent shivers up Misao's spine. He sounded almost maniacal.

A sound came from Aoshi's mouth that she would not have guessed was coming in a million years. He was laughing. Laughing!! "Honestly Misao, do you believe such a shitload of rubbish?"

The four eyes in the room widened in surprise, while Misao strode over and almost hit Aoshi in the face with her hand. "Watch your language, Aoshi-sama! Okina says that cursing is for uneducated buffoons who don't have anything better to say." Thoughts of Sanosuke flitted through Misao's head, but she quickly shrugged them off.

He looked up at her with concerned eyes. "When did you grow up so quickly Misao? I'm sorry that I said that, I'm just really surprised that people would think that way..."

Misao didn't know what to say; the situation at hand caught her completely off guard. Sure, Aoshi taught her to always keep her cool and be prepared for anything, but nothing he could have done could possibly prepare her for this.

She wasn't prepared to deal with him.

"... you grew up when I wasn't looking..."

Misao could feel her ears getting red. Dammit! That was a dead giveaway, Okina always joked that he could always tell when she was thinking of Aoshi when her ears went red. "...um... thank you... Aoshi-sama..."

He smiled lovingly. "Your ears are turning red. Whatever for?"

She may have looked like a woman on the outside, but anyone could see that there was still a child underneath. This was attested by her answer, "They're red because they want to be red." Misao closed her eyes haughtily, proud of her answer. She opened one eye again and looked at Aoshi intently. He wasn't falling for it. She sighed. "I guess I'm just not used to hearing you all the time."

Aoshi blinked for a moment while Misao turned to go. "Wait a minute..."

"Yes?"

He chose his words carefully, at least to the best of his ability. "Does this... not surprise you? I mean, me talking all the time?"

The girl gave a thumbs-up with her eyes twinkling. "Nothing surprises me anymore, after all, I had a good teacher."

"Of course." Aoshi smiled adoringly. She could be such a suck-up, but it was a good kind of brown nosing. However, if he knew Misao... a comment would always find a way of turning into an insult. She always tried to make it less obvious that she shared a lot of affection for him...

"Yes, it was..." She slammed the door and Aoshi watched her retreating shadow. "Okina!"

He could only stare blankly at the door for a couple of seconds. Then, realization hit. "Okina?!? You think a girl-chasing pervert was a better teacher than me? Misao, come back! I'm NOT GAY!!" When he saw that she wasn't coming back, he shook his head and started to put his clothes on. All the while of course, he was thinking, and if he was thinking, therefore he was speaking.

He tried not to say it too loud, but it just slipped... "How can I be gay if I'm in love with you?"

The quiet declaration had not gone unnoticed by Misao, who had craftily hidden in a blind spot near the screen door. Tears filled her aquamarine eyes, blurring her vision, but not blurring her mind.

At last...

**********************

"Aoshi-sama..."

"..."

"Make me a tsuru-san! Teach me to make a tsuru-san!!"

"Misao-chan, don't disturb Aoshi-san, he's busy."

"With what? Does he not want to play with me anymore? He hasn't come out of his room in three days!"

"Misao-chan! Don't go in there—"

"... Aoshi-sama? Where..."

**********************

Aoshi's mouth dropped open in surprise when he tasted some of the food that Misao had made for breakfast. "Where... when did you learn how to cook?" The chopsticks he held in his hand were of lacquered black rosewood, and the bowls even matched. It was as if it was a formal occasion.

"Well, I thought we should celebrate being here in Tokyo, that's why I went all out with the table..." She gracefully picked up a teakettle and deftly poured him another cup. "No one really taught me, but Megumi-san did teach me how to make ohagi." She sat back down.

"Takani... Megumi?" Aoshi thought in quiet contemplation.

"Yes."

Aoshi closed his eyes and tried to picture her. It had been forever ago since they had been trapped together in that castle with Kanryuu, it would be interesting to see where she had ended up. "She was really pretty, I do remember that. Incredibly smart too. Her tongue was a bit too sharp though, she always found a way to criticize something."

Misao ate her rice and tried to ignore the comment. She'd never heard Aoshi call anyone beautiful, but she had hoped the honor would belong to her... someday. "Oh."

Aoshi stopped. "This is bothering you, isn't it? Sorry, you know I can't help it—"

"—what was it about Megumi-san that made her so beautiful?" Misao didn't mean to sound so forceful; but she had to know something. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to peek into the mind of Shinomori Aoshi, and she had stumbled on a couple of questions that needed answering.

He had never seen such a fierce look of determination in anyone's eyes before, except maybe the people that he had fought. This was no fight, even though his only natural reaction would be to treat it as one. He didn't see this coming. "She was beautiful because she was strong willed and didn't let anyone boss her around. Somewhat like yourself..."

"Like me?"

He nodded out of another power beyond his own. "Don't underestimate yourself, Misao. You are every bit as pretty as..." Aoshi couldn't believe what was coming out of his mouth. Gods, he was saying too much!

Misao held her breath. Could these words be really coming out of Aoshi's mouth? Her heart pounded, until he stopped, looked at her in disbelief and picked up his rice bowl numbly. What? What just happened? He was going to tell her that she was pretty as what?

What did he want to say? Why did he stop?

Dejected, they finished the rest of their meal in silence. Aoshi must not have been thinking anything at all, that accounted for the lack of talk. Misao's spirits were crushed; she had bought that kimono just for the occasion. Just for the chance to eat with Aoshi and have intelligent conversation instead of it all being one sided.

Namely, her talking and Aoshi just listening.

Actually, who was to say that Aoshi was listening and not just hearing her? There was many a time where she had said something of utter importance and Aoshi just shrugged her off. Was it because he wasn't listening, or was it because he didn't care?

Misao decided that it had to be the second one; Aoshi never in any real way seemed to care for her. Okon and Omasu always asked her why she even bothered; he was unreceptive and unwilling to change. She even could recall Okon's words: "There's more chance that he'd get run over by a bicycle than respond to you." To which Misao replied, "Then, I'll take that chance."

However, the words stung deeply. They had to have been true with the way he was acting.

She put on a fake smile. "We have to go meet Kaoru-san at the Akabeko in about 3 hours, will you walk over there with me?"

The sudden stoppage of silence startled Aoshi. He was proud of himself, he had managed to still his rattling brain for about 2 minutes of tense silence with Misao. How? With the answer to everything= meditation. It wasn't a full meditation; it just cleared his mind of excess thoughts. "Yes, I will walk with you."

"You will?" Misao seemed astonished, as if walking with her was the least likely answer she expected.

"Of course I will, what made you think I wouldn't?"

Misao looked down at the table briefly, and then started to clear up the tableware. "No reason, I just thought that you'd have something better to do with your time than walk with me."

"That's the second best thing I could do with my time."

The girl smiled, then it disappeared when the meaning sank in. She hesitantly asked, "What's the first thing?"

He sat silent for a couple seconds, and then just out of his own not-so-free will, he felt his face. He was leering like a buffoon, one of his eyebrows were propped up suggestively. Misao's eyes were wide open and her mouth almost reached to the floor. She looked like a bolt of lightning had just struck her from head to toe.

Misao couldn't believe it, he was a whole different person with this mind nonsense! Oh yes, she was surprised. Rule number one that Aoshi taught her: do not show your emotions. Easy for him to do, after all, he didn't earn the nickname "icicle" for no good reason you know! She cleared her throat. "Aoshi-sama, you're almost as pervy as Okina."

"Oh God Misao, I'm not doing this on purpose! I swear it's my mind!!" Aoshi held his arms out and almost seemed to be pleading. She kind of liked that, in fact, she enjoyed it.

Now was the time to have some fun. Thank God for her newfound womanly powers...

"If it's just your mind, that makes it all the more disturbing." She carried out the table with the dishes on it, all the while avoiding his eyes. He squirmed uncomfortably, staring at Misao's retreating back. That was the point where she overheard another one of Aoshi's thoughts that wasn't meant to be heard...

"I'd much rather look at the front of your face than the back of your head..."

**********************

"Misao-chan... don't cry anymore..."

"Aoshi-sama? Where is Aoshi-sama?"

"Misao-chan, don't make a scene..."

"Let go of me!! Aoshi-sama!! Answer me..."

"Aoshi... is not coming back..."

**********************

After Aoshi took his ubiquitous trench coat from its peg on the wall, they went for just a short stroll to Kaoru's dojo. The shihondai had invited them for a brief lunch at that restaurant called the Akabeko. Misao thought it uncanny that it had nearly the same namesake as the Shirobeko in Kyoto until Aoshi told her that the owners of the restaurant were twins.

"Twins!" Misao exclaimed happily. "How I'd love to have a twin... she'd be the person I could share all my secrets with!"

"Can't you do that with Okon and Omasu?"

Misao sighed wearily. "No, there's really no one I can talk to at the Aoiya. Well, I'd be lying if I said that, but no one I can really have a deep conversation with, you know?" She crossed her arms. "Okina's too perverted, Shiro calls me Misao-kun, Omasu and Okon are always together..." Her eyes were suddenly very interested on the ground. "There was no one else."

Aoshi felt his breath catch. "Wasn't I... could I have been..."

Whenever Misao made eye contact with him, he was always amazed at all the life shining in them. Whenever she made eye contact with those sad, soulless eyes, it made Aoshi's heart wrench. "You were never around."

"Misao, I'm sorry."

She quickly composed herself and clapped her hands, "But... you're here now! I can't wait until I tell Kaoru-san about this! Who would have guessed that you actually have different thoughts in that head of yours..."

"Different... thoughts? What kind of thoughts?"

Misao grinned. "C'mon Aoshi-sama, you can't deny it. Megumi-san told me herself that all men are alike and they have... thoughts... about girls..." There was an undeniable blush on Misao's cheeks; it was so amusing when Misao tried to act more grown up just to please him. "... well, I know they're in there somewhere... so... yeah."

"Misao-chan, you're just a child. You're only seventeen..."

"Sixteen." Her nose wrinkled in distaste. "I hate you for not remembering how old I am, but I love the compliment. Do I really look seventeen?" She turned around in her yellow kimono and let Aoshi look her over from all sides. She stopped, and then grinned. "You have to give me your input on every girl you've ever known. You have to."

The Oniwa Banshuu leader closed his eyes defiantly. "Misao-chan, I will make you pay for this..."

"Stop calling me chan!" Had she been dressed in her kempo outfit, the unlucky person would have been eating two fistfuls of kunai. Of course, this was Aoshi she was walking with, so she let the comment slide. "What do you think of Okon?"

"I had a small crush on her before my fourteenth birthday. She gave me a cookie." Aoshi admitted.

"Really? I wouldn't have known that..." Misao chewed her lip thoughtfully. "What about your connection with Megumi?" Aoshi was so startled at her seriousness that he didn't speak for a couple of minutes. Misao looked at the ground again, "I know you and her were in that castle for a really long time, so I'm wondering if ever..."

"Yes, I did."

Misao felt like fainting. "You did... what?" She stared apprehensively at a snag in her kimono, as if looking at it would make it disentangle itself.

Look at anywhere but him... I don't want to hear that the opium woman got more attention than I did...

Aoshi closed his eyes, "I did like her." Misao felt her heart sink. He quickly added, "But it was for need of companionship more than anything else. She was alone, and without Hannya and the others, I would have been too. Intelligent woman, even though I thought she was pushed over too easily."

"How so? What did you expect her to do? She was under Kanryuu's control." Misao wrinkled her nose in distaste. She obviously didn't like the idea that men were considered superior to women, and was not afraid to show it.

"I didn't mean that. I meant that..."

Misao smiled gently. "It's okay, I know what you meant. What about..." She tried to think of another female acquaintances' name. "What about Kaoru-san?"

"The raccoon girl?"

She laughed. "Do you have any idea how much she hates that nickname?"

"Almost as much as you hate "weasel girl", right?"

Misao laughed and looked around; they had to be drawing close to where Kaoru's dojo was. A mischievous sparkled gleamed in her eyes, "Should I tell her about what's going on with you?"

Aoshi shrugged and batted away a fly that had been flying around his head. "Damn insect..." he muttered. "No, I don't think that will be necessary Misao-chan. You wouldn't want to embarrass your darling okashira, would you?" She was dumbstruck as he grinned and made a peace sign with his left hand. "No, you wouldn't embarrass me..." He felt like sinking into the ground at that point.

"You sound so sure of yourself." She shook her head. "It's like you're a totally different person, Aoshi-sama."

"I am sure of myself."

Misao grinned again, this time she put her hands around her mouth and closed her eyes. She then let out an earsplitting "Kaoru-san!!! Oh my God... where are you?!?"

Aoshi felt the ground shake at the magnitude of her decibility. She turned to him with a triumphant smile on her face. She didn't notice all the people poking their heads out the doors to see who could possibly have such strong vocal cords. He did the first thing that came to mind. "Misao-chan, keep your voice down."

She tossed her head and defiantly stared him down. The glitter in her eyes was enough to make him run for cover. "I thought I told you not to call me chan, Aoshi-sama. I'm not a kid anymore!!"

He sighed. This did work both ways too... "I'm not God either, don't call me Aoshi-sama. Just Aoshi is fine with me." Misao had enough self-control not to gasp, did this mean that... they could call each other by a first name basis?

What a giant step in our relationship...

The door to the dojo was already open, and Misao had no qualms about walking in without calling out. Of course, you could tell that she was slightly peeved when Kaoru greeted them. She almost added that dreaded prefix but Misao stopped her in the act. "Don't even think about it."

"Fine, Misao-san."

One could not miss the giant smile on Misao's face. "First off..." Aoshi let his mind go into shutoff mode while Misao rambled on and on about his situation. The last thing he wanted was to reveal his deepest secrets to three almost total strangers. He wondered for a minute why the Takani woman and Sanosuke were here, but then he remembered that they were good friends of the Kamiya girl...

What if... did his wish come true too?

Aoshi quickly scanned the giant man that Takani lovingly called "Rooster". So... they indeed were seeing each other. Try as he would, Aoshi couldn't remember the wish that Sanosuke said that night, what if was just a freak accident? What if… His mind reeled. What if the accident was permanent? What if he was stuck the rest of his life with this horrid predicament? What if...

He then realized that he was thinking, and if he was thinking, then therefore he was speaking. He looked around at the other members of the party, Sanosuke and Megumi were a little occupied with something, Kaoru was not paying attention to Misao's ramblings, and Misao was rambling. He was relieved when he found out he was just muttering under his breath, no thoughts spoken too loud...

A shrill question cut through the chatter. "—Kaoru! Are you listening to me?!?" Misao demanded.

Aoshi knew that one of her biggest pet peeves is where she talks and no one is listening. That was a crime punishable by death in her eyes. But... it did get rather annoying when her voice went high like that; it was the kind of whine that forced you to cringe. "Misao, stop being so loud."

Then came the swarm of voices, each berating the other's ability to handle the situation. "Sanosuke, we have to leave right now!" Sanosuke hissed. For what reason, Aoshi didn't know. Since when did he talk in the third person? Some sort of animal name coming from the doctor's mouth retorted this. Since when did Megumi call Sanosuke "fox"?

Meanwhile, out of the corner of his eye, the inevitable came. Misao gets none too pleased when her own superior indirectly calls her a loudmouth. There was honor to be had and dignity to uphold. She tore through him like a red-faced tornado. "Who are ya' callin' loud, Aoshi-sama?"

He grabbed his throbbing forehead in pain; she just used her patented shrill voice. "Misao, now is not the time to act up."

Kaoru did the inevitable. She snapped. "My God, everyone just SHUT UP!!" The talkers instantly hushed but the girl was still trembling with rage. In a surprise move, Kaoru raised her hand and tried to slap the most obnoxious of them all.

Misao.

Using lightening fast reflexes (of course, refined by none other than Aoshi himself), Misao countered the slap by raising her arm. It all happened so quickly that Aoshi didn't have time to yell out or say something in surprise. Even he didn't expect it and if Kamiya Kaoru had tried to slap him, he wouldn't have seen it in time.

There was still a stunned silence while Misao glanced at him teary eyed. He tried to comfort her just by saying how impressed he was with her reactions. "Misao, I'm impressed that you saw that one coming. Very impressed." He paused, and then glared at the woman who tried to strike Misao. "Next time though, if Kaoru ever tries that again..."

He could almost hear the collective gasp from everyone's mouth at that point. They, nor Misao, had ever heard the Oniwa Banshuu leader speak as such before. Even he couldn't believe it. In fact, Aoshi actually felt terrible to threaten someone he had never even gotten acquainted with before.

I think like this all the time and I don't even know it?

He pondered the surfacing fact and tried to make reason of it. Misao had been the only one that he had acted so defensive over, at least knowingly. Perhaps it was because he had raised her, but maybe it was because of something else.

Love? Do I... love Misao?

"Yes, and—"

Aoshi caught a small flicker of hurt in Misao's eyes, but couldn't tell if it was for Kaoru or if it was for himself. The only reason that the girl would be so on the edge would be because something happened to Battousai. While it appeared that his wish came true, it didn't look like Sanosuke's did.

Looks can be deceiving...

He had to say something. "Let's go to that restaurant you like to eat at and discuss the events of last night. I know where he is. As does Sanosuke."

The girl instantly brightened up. Misao, being the kind of woman she was, always reflected the mood of the party. She became happy too.

Misao is just... like that.

During dinner, there wasn't really much else to be discussed. The eyes of the Kamiya girl became wide as saucers when she found out that Aoshi had to speak his mind at every opportunity he got. As if it wasn't obvious already! During the duration of the meal, Aoshi had to resist the urge to just bury his head in his hands and cry. He certainly felt like crying at points, especially... "Romantic? That's your idea of romantic?" The party at the table had been talking about how the boy, Yahiko, worked at the Akabeko for free just to help out his "girlfriend". Of course, being the 'lovesick fool' she dubbed herself, Misao nearly melted at the table.

Misao grinned, knowing there was no escape for him on this one. "Why, what's yours? What's your idea of romantic?"

Four sets of eyes regarded him curiously, Misao's, a little bit too curiously. He purposely tried not to think and instead said the first thing that came into his mind. "Must we discuss this here, Misao?"

It worked perfectly. He knew perfectly well that she would much rather be alone with him than anything else. Aoshi nipped that thought right in the bud, there would be more than ample time to discuss that issue later... he smiled, "Good."

Minutes melded into what seemed like hours as Kaoru would rant on and on about Kenshin. The stuffy clattering of chopsticks and the atmosphere was growing more oppressive by the second. A nagging thought gnawed away at his mind until it consumed his all of his thinking. Determined not to reveal his innermost thoughts to the entire restaurant, he made for a hasty getaway. "Misao, let's take a walk. The sky is beautiful now... and..."

Her eyes lit up instantly. She didn't even have to say a word as she took his arm and escorted him out of the area. Once he went through the doors and the cool evening air greeted him, he sighed. Aoshi thought that Misao had no idea about how he had just saved him from telling everyone at the table that...

"I felt like I was trapped in there, anyways." Misao stated. She immediately let go of his arm and looked down at the ground. "I knew you were feeling the same way as I was."

"How?"

She smiled wistfully. "I heard you." Seeing the surprised look that Aoshi gave her, she explained. "You were the one that taught me, remember? I can hear a fly land on top of your head if I wanted to."

"Is that so?"

"Yes." He laughed, but she didn't respond. Instead, she dropped a question him him that he had never hoped to hear in a lifetime. "Aoshi. You said before that looks could be deceiving, right?"

He stared at her, dumbstruck. "You heard that?"

"Obviously." Misao stared up at him, every inconceivable emotion flickering in her eyes. "When... when you look at me... what do you see?"

"What do I see, Misao?" he echoed. My God, not this, not now. Her eyes pleaded for an answer. It was painfully evident that she chose to draw out whatever opinions he had of her. "Well, I see a beautiful young woman that has martial arts skills equal to anyone that I know..."

Her eyes grew distant. "No, that's not what I mean. I mean..." She bit her lip, and instantly he knew the coup de grace was to come shortly. "About... do you, I mean not that I was trying to listen, but you said it loud enough so I could hear it..." Misao stopped herself with her hand and tried to regain her thoughts. "Do you love me?"

Aoshi couldn't speak again. It had to come sooner or later. Most everyone at the Aoiya joked about Misao's undying devotion to her 'Aoshi-sama', but this was the first time she had been so forward with her emotions. Happiness, fine; sadness, also fine; but love? It was dangerous territory.

Do you love me?

When Aoshi failed to say anything for that crucial second, she stammered to explain herself. "When you left, I felt... I felt horrible. Every day I loved to wake up and watch you work with Hannya and the others... and I knew that I was falling for you. It was like without seeing you my day wasn't complete. Then one day... you left me." Her hands clenched into a fist, her kimono sleeve trembling.

"Misao, I'm so sorry."

She angrily pointed a finger at him. "I thought you might have cared enough to at least tell me that you were leaving. I didn't care where, I didn't care why, and I just wanted to know that you were going to be all right. You didn't even give me that. I loved you."

Aoshi finally spoke. She was close to tears now, and God he hated himself for ever hurting her like that. "I just thought it was an infatuation." Misao looked up at him, disbelief all over her features. "I thought you loved me because of a lack of options, not because I was truly the one."

So. There it was. It was said. Misao didn't look hurt by this like he had expected, but instead chewed her lip thoughtfully. "To tell you the truth... that must be the case. After all, I knew you would never love me back the way that I did you, so I wanted to move on."

"No!" Aoshi's outburst was so sudden that Misao jumped back. He instantly felt his face become enflamed. She looked up at him, hope and hurt being the two prevalent emotions in her eyes. "I mean... I don't want you to move on if your heart doesn't feel like it. That's all."

A breeze ruffled his bangs over his eyes and he tried to push them out of the way, but instead his arms found themselves wrapped around Misao's shoulders. She wriggled out of his embrace and tried instead to look at the sunset, tears in her eyes. Aoshi was stunned. "I tried to move on, but I found that I couldn't. I felt myself loving you more and more when you came back to me. When I found you. I realized that the only way to get over you was to hear the words come out of your mouth. Now... tell me..." her voice started to choke. "Do you... do you love me?"

"Misao..." he tried to put his arms around her again but she adamantly pushed them away. She only wanted one answer, a vocal one. Aoshi felt a twinge when he saw that it was he who taught her to think this way. "If I tell you, will you run away?"

"I hope not, I really don't... just... tell me the truth."

Aoshi raised his eyes to the sky to prevent tears from spilling out. To his horror, they started to surface after Misao had told him that she loved him. He concentrated on the sky and the bright kaleidoscope of colors. The bright reds and oranges of the sunset, all melting into the dark blues and blacks of the nighttime of the heavens. "Misao, look above you."

She did as instructed, but didn't say anything.

"Now, what do you think is holding the sky up from falling down?"

Misao shook her head. "Aoshi, I don't—"

"Just... answer me." Misao started crying again. He was acting like a total jerk even in his eyes, and he understood that it looked like he was avoiding the question. "There was... a story that Jiya told me once. A long, long time ago... just please, answer."

Misao stammered. "But... but the sky doesn't fall!"

"How do you know this?"

She grinned through her tears, and suddenly she looked like a child all over again. All those lazy days training in the Aoiya rushed back over Aoshi. "You told me, a long, long time ago... that the sky can't fall."

Aoshi stopped pointing at the sky and looked at Misao. The sides of his mouth were curled into a little smile. Just for her, and no one else. "And what did I say?"

"The angels in heaven use stars to pin it up," was her reply. Misao reached up and threw her arms around his neck happily, all the while crying into his shoulder. "And I remember what you said afterwards, too."

"Don't repeat it; I know what I said." Aoshi pushed her back and cupped his hands around her face, flicking away a stray tear with his forefinger. She only cried harder, but they were tears of happiness. Misao found herself unable to speak; staring into his eyes with him smiling at her was all that she had ever dreamed of. There was no ice in those eyes now, just warmth and happiness. "I know what I said..."

"I thought you just said that so I would stop chasing the fireflies."

He chuckled lovingly. "Of course not. I may be a man of few words, but the words I do say... I mean."

Misao felt her heart stop in her chest as the love of her life, Shinomori Aoshi, bent at the waist and kissed her on the cheek. It may not have been exactly what she had envisioned before, but today had been the day for surprises. A chaste kiss, but it certainly was a wonderful beginning.

"I love you, Makimachi Misao."

All the stars in the heavens fell for her. The entire world seemed to be spinning, spinning, and spinning just for her. Her and her Aoshi. When he looked into her eyes after kissing her cheek Misao could see all of her past, present and future in a single instant, captured in those 'ice blue eyes'. He smiled once more, and Misao couldn't tell if it was the dizziness in her head and illusions of grandeur or if was really true, but she could have sworn that a strange orange light encircled Aoshi's head. Before she could protest or point it out, it was gutted out like the flame of a candle.

That must have something to do with his talking...

Misao's heart quickly grew heavy. Now that the miracle had been wrought, it would probably never appear again. Granted, it was odd, perhaps the oddest thing she'd ever experienced in her short life, but she somehow felt prepared.

Aoshi taught her that.

This was the most natural thing in the world. She felt so right in his arms, and the young okashira could only thank the angels in heaven for giving her such a rare gift.

I think Aoshi knows it too.

He stared off into space for about a minute, looking at his hands repeatedly and turning them over, as if they held the answer. When Aoshi felt his lips stay absolutely still, he knew what Misao knew. The power was gone. "Misao, what are you thinking?" he asked hesitantly. Her downcast eyes told him that something needed to be said again.

Where do we go from here?

"Are you going to go back to the same Aoshi as I knew you before? Never talking, never showing your feelings? I'm scared that now that I love you more than ever..." she looked away. "You'll leave me again."

He slid his hand into hers, but did not smile. Aoshi gazed at the sky and let the wind caress his hair. "Misao. You should know... actions speak so much louder than words."

She smiled, and allowed herself to sink into his embrace. They stared at the sky, together, until a blaze of light streaked across the heavens. The girl, no, woman in his arms giggled and pointed at it. "It looks like the sky is going to fall. One of the pins got loose."

Shinomori Aoshi hugged her even tighter and felt her relax, her lithe frame against the built one of his own. A genuine smile finally touched his lips and he breathed in the subtle scent of her hair. Sunshine and daisies.

If the sky is falling, there is no one else I'd rather be with than you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author's notes: *claps* Yatta! Hey, don't kill the ecstatic author, I just finished Aoshi and Misao, something I've never thought about before! Woot! I'm just glad it's over... seriously, I need your comments now more than ever because I've never written this coupling before. If you bothered to read this far, a comment on how bad or good I am would really pluck up my spirits. Really =)

KxK fans: All right, I bet you all are (hopefully) interested in this. In case you've forgotten, Kenshin has been turned transparent by Pandora's Box. Because I've never written KxK before and am not particularly inspired to write it, I've decided to open up an opportunity for all authors. If you want to co-author the next chapter with me, please leave behind your name on the review box along with your email address and I'll get back to you. More points if you email me and save me the trouble ^_^ There are way better KxK writers out there than I and I want my first experience in their world to be good. He's transparent for heaven's sakes! What do you see our beloved Rurouni doing? How will it affect his relationship with Kaoru? So many possibilities, so many authors... drop me a line at coronaflare@mail.com or review with your email address.

Until later, keep on writing!