An Aoshi and Misao Story

Part 1

It was July, 1881 and Kyoto was in the grips of a horrible heat wave. It wasn't as simple as a rise in the temperature. The people of the flower city would have been grateful for hot, dry days. Rather, it was a vicious, humid heat that sapped the life from every one and left its victims lethargic and empty. Dusky gray clouds would hang low in the sky and promise rain and then disappear, mocking the people who had dared to hope. Despite the heat, life continued, albeit at a slower pace and it was on a dull, dreary July morning when she left Kyoto and all its bitter memories behind.

Aoshi was the first to realize she was gone. Perhaps, if she had known that, it would have lightened her heart a bit. He gathered the others in a search that grew more frantic as the day progressed. By the time night fell with an almost audible thud, he was beside himself with worry. Of course, to the casual observer, an Aoshi beside himself with worry merely looked slightly concerned. But someone more intimately acquainted with the okashira would have noticed the tension in his body, the turmoil that wailed and thrashed like a violent storm in his ice blue eyes.

He searched her room over and over again, as though some clue might appear if he just looked hard enough. All he found, however, was more and more evidence that, despite all of his training in the art of observation, he had been surprisingly blind when it came to Misao. Several beautiful kimonos were hung neatly on their stand, reminding him that she was a lady, when necessary. An elegant scarlet silk obi concealed a handful of razor sharp kunai and a thin, frail umbrella was the host of a concealed dagger. A lady sometimes, but always a ninja. He couldn't help a slightly sardonic smile at the thought.

A sudden gust of wind blew through the open window, ruffling the pages of books left stacked on the floor. His eyes observed writing that decorated the margins and empty spaces of the volume. Closer observation revealed ideas, criticisms and elaboration in Misao's loopy scrawl. Curiosity sat him down and made him pick up the first book on the stack. He would have expected a romance or some silly children's story, but the title of the tome elicited from him a near audible gasp of surprise. Sun Tzu's Art of War'. Quickly, he scanned the other books in the pile.

Heike monogatari, Hagakure, A Book of Five Rings, the only book that could be classified as even moderately silly was The Tale of Genji. She had been reading books that he himself had studied as a young man being groomed for leadership. He flipped the pages, reading her comments on the texts. The more he read, the more he felt like he had never really known her at all. The laughing image of a child that had always dominated his perception of her began to change on that oppressive July evening and the woman that replaced her was a complete stranger to him.

July fell into August and the clouds finally delivered their promise, drenching the city with unending torrents of rain. At the Aoi-ya, the search for Misao continued, but the web was growing larger as more distant members of the oniwabanshuu were brought in. Reports flooded in from as far south as Kumamoto and as far north as Sapparo. Occasionally, there would be a sighting, but for the most part, she remained hidden. As for Aoshi, he had departed weeks earlier to conduct his own search. Ironically, he was unknowingly retracing her own steps from years earlier, when she had gone the width and breadth of Japan looking for even a flicker of his trench coat in the wind.

He stopped first in Osaka and then traveled to Tokyo in the hopes that she had gone to see friends there. But no one at the Kamiya dojo had seen her and he left Tokyo dejected and depressed. It seemed as though she had simply vanished off the face of the earth. His dogged search continued, on and off for months. It was sheer luck that he happened to be in Kyoto on the cold December morning when they received a letter from Misao. It was short and almost terse, written in the loopy scrawl that he had long ago committed to memory. I'm fine. I left because I wanted to, she began, not elaborating on the reasons. The note was finished with a request, please, do not look for me and try to bring me home. I'll be back when I'm ready. Aoshi crumpled the note in his hand, wondering when exactly that would be.

Misao, for her part, was not interested in being found. She was hurt and angry and bitter. It had taken a lot to bring her down, but eventually, they had done it. Okina attempting to arrange her marriage to some idiot from Osaka had been the final straw. She knew deep down, that the old man's blundering attempt at an engagement had been because he was looking out for her well being. But Aoshi approving the match had wrenched her heart from her chest. She could practically see it lying on the ground, smashed and ruined. For years she had given and given and given in the hopes that someday she might get something back. She had tried every trick in the book to get him to notice her and had failed every time. She was twenty years old and had spent most of those years chasing after Aoshi's coattails. And it seemed as though he had spent most of that time avoiding her. So, she left. There was nothing for her in Kyoto except stagnation. If she was forced to marry some goon who would stick her in a kimono and keep her pregnant most of the time she knew she would rot away. And then all that would be left of Misao was an empty shell, like Aoshi.

Her first impulse had been to flee to Tokyo and stay with Kaoru and Kenshin. But, early on she had vetoed that idea. Her friends, though good natured and concerned for her welfare would try and send her back, or at the very least, alert the oniwabanshuu in Kyoto. If Misao wanted to be free, she would have to cut all ties. And she did. It was lonely at first, but she was truly amazed by how fast she got used to it. Being alone wasn't bad, actually, the silence allowed her to focus entirely on her own screwed up psyche.

No wonder Kenshin is so mellow! She mused to herself as she fanned the flames of her campfire. A few months of intense introspection had allowed her to work through a lot of her issues. But if I start oro-ing and dono-ing, then I'm going back to Kyoto. She said out loud to no one in particular. And then she laughed loudly at the image of herself as the hapless rurouni. She was still chuckling when she began grilling the fish she had caught for dinner.

She wandered for three years, up and down the country, trying anything that interested her. She did the usual and boring jobs, working as a waitress, a maid and a seamstress whenever she needed to make some money. Working at inns and private homes also gave her a place to stay during the winter. She became quite good at cooking, embroidering and disarming amorous suitors. More than once she lost a job for physically maiming men who got a little too friendly with her. After her last escape with her dignity intact but bruised, she decided that perhaps she could try other things. Being Misao, she was not afraid of taking up unusual work.

She was a performer in a circus where her skill with kunai wowed the audience but caused more than one target' to wet themselves. She tried desperately to forget her disastrous turn in a kabuki theatre in Nagasaki, where she ran into men who were prettier than Kamatari. The theatre owner had thought Misao was a man, albeit a bishounen, owing to her bound chest and masculine attire. And, being desperate for money, she had played the part well until an extremely embarrassing incident with a group of Onnagata at a local hot springs. Those emotional scars would last for years. Less embarrassing were her other jobs. Kaoru would have been extremely envious of Misao's job selling chocolates and other Western confections in Yokohama but nobody would envy the thankless work of peddling medicines around Yamagata.

She would have been completely content to continue bouncing around Japan if she had not met Akira. Akira changed everything.

Two and a half years into her journey, Misao found herself bored with her wandering. She had seen and done a lot, more than she ever could have if she had stayed in Kyoto. She had proved herself and others wrong. She was no longer the silly, genki girl that had followed Aoshi around like a love sick puppy, throwing temper tantrums and prone to periods of prolonged hyperactivity. She had been sheltered by the oniwabanshuu and she had never really grown up or been responsible for anything. Two years on the road had matured her and forced her to face her shortcomings in order to survive. She had, and now she was at peace with those parts of herself, but there was something else that nagged at her, something that wouldn't let go.

She was calmer, yes. She thought before she spoke, sure. She no longer used her kunai to settle arguments, but when it came to Aoshi, to love and men in general, she was still as clueless as she was as a child. Her brief entanglements with amorous employers and obnoxious patrons aside, Misao felt like she didn't understand men. She had vowed, when she left Kyoto a couple of years earlier, that she would not return until she felt ready. But she didn't feel like she was. She was chewing on that particular problem when she ran headlong into someone, knocking them both to the ground. Some things hadn't changed. She was still a complete klutz.

Ninja that she was, Misao rebounded quickly and was on her feet before her victim had even been able to catch his breath. He lay on the ground, with a slightly stunned look on his face, the packages he had been carrying sprinkled around his prone body.

Sorry! I'm so sorry! Are you okay? Misao flew into action, somehow managing to pick up all his packages and heft him to his feet. The young man brushed the dirt off his clothing, trying desperately to interrupt Misao's litany of apologies. It's all right! He managed to exclaim, reaching out and grabbing her arm to get her attention. When her startled blue gaze was securely locked onto him, he continued. Really, I'm okay. You just knocked the wind out of me for a second, that's all. He gathered his packages out of her arms and gave her a short bow. Thank you for helping me. Have a nice day, sir.

Misao saw red. She exploded, throwing down the hood that covered her face. The long cloak she wore shielded her from the cold January wind but also hid any evidence that she was, in fact, a woman.

The young man turned a healthy shade of crimson and stuttered an apology. I'm sorryyou looked like a guy That made things worse.

Half an hour and several daikichi-imo later, Misao forgave the young man. Licking the cinnamon from her fingers, she cast a speculative glance at her benefactor. Despite his rather severe appearance, he was handsome with kind, warm brown eyes. Slightly overlong inky black bangs were constant victims of the irritated sweep of his hand, which tried valiantly to keep the hair out of his face. Constant failure didn't stop him from trying and while she watched, he tied his hair back with a leather string. Suddenly, he seemed to realize that she was staring. He asked, blushing slightly under her intent stare.

She blinked and smiled sheepishly. Sorry. I was just wondering what I should call you.

He blinked back, surprised at her forwardness. Call me?

She smiled. My name is Makimachi Misao. She bowed and then looked at him expectantly.

Harada Akira. He stuttered, running his hand through his hair yet again in his nervousness.

Thank you for the daikichi-imo, Harada-san. Misao said, and I really am sorry for knocking you down.

He nodded and gathered up his packages, preparing to leave. Your welcome. Have a nice day, Makimachi-san. He bowed and rushed away.

She sighed and pulled her hood back over her head, and was reaching down to grab her bag when a voice called out to her.

She turned and saw Akira standing hesitantly a few feet away.

It occurred to me that you're a wanderer, he began, shifting from foot to foot. If you don't have a place to stay, you're welcome to come home with me. My family owns an inn.

That's so nice of you! Misao exclaimed, a moment before her face fell. Oh, but Harada-sanI don't have any money.

That's okay. If you're willing to do a little work

She said, rushing up to him. I have lots of experience working in inns! She grabbed a couple of his packages and gave him a blinding smile. Lead the way!

End Part I

A tiny glossary & explanations:

1. Kunai-Misao's favorite smiting weapon
2. Heike monogatari, Hagakure, A Book of Five Rings, The Art of War, Tale of Genji-Classics of Japanese literature, The Tale of Genji is a Jerry Springer-esqe twisted love story, the others are famous books of strategies, war and fighting techniques. Good smite reading. (I like the word smite today)
3. Kumamoto, capital city of Kumamoto prefecture, near Nagoya in South Japan, Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido prefecture in the very North of Japan. (Sapparo is also a very good beer)
4. Misao's disastrous experience with Kabuki-men called Onnagata played women in Kabuki theatre. Think Kamatari. Women didn't act, therefore Misao would have been promptly fired once it was discovered she wasn't a man!
5. Yokohama is a port city, remember the train episode? Kaoru was dying to try chocolate! Western confections and fashions began to seep into Japan during the Meiji era, especially in cities with constant contact with the West. But you knew that! ;)
6. Daikichi-imo-very nummy confection of kneaded sweet potatoes and cinnamon. Yummy, yummy!
7. Gah, these explanations are longer than the story! Heh heh.

Part 2