Disclaimer:Ruruoni Kenshin, Aoshi, Misao, and the other characters appearing here belong to Watsuki Nobuhiro. I only borrowed them because I had no one else to play with.
The Last Time He Smiled
It was the thunder that kept Misao awake, so uncharacteristically loud and unexpected as it rumbled through the deep night. The air hung heavy with the promise of rain, but the evening had gone without even a drop falling.
Her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, flicking through the room in an attempt to keep herself occupied until sleep came. When she caught sight of a damaged old umbrella propped up in one corner of her room, she smiled to herself. She remembered how that umbrella got broken, and how Okon and Omasu had teased her about throwing it away. Looking at it now, she realized that she could never bring herself to part with it.
She had used it the last time she remembered him smile.
It was a particularly difficult day. Aoshi had just arrived with Kuro from Tokyo, and his face was lined with fatigue. They had been expected back two days earlier, and she had waited in worry for his return. As he strode back into the Aoiya, Misao couldn't help but run and fling his arms around him.
He let her embrace him for a moment, as he had done ever since she was a child. Then carefully, he extracted himself from her arms, and gently brought her back to the ground.
"Is anything wrong, Aoshi-sama?" she asked him.
Aoshi shook his head. "We managed to fix things, don't worry about it."
She knew better than to press him for an answer when he was in such a mood. Instead, she took his hand and led him to a table. "Why don't you wait here while I go prepare your tea?"
He simply nodded.
When Misao finished preparing his tea, she left the cup on the table. Aoshi was still sitting there patiently. "I'll be outside if you need me."
"Will you stay for a while?" he surprised her by asking.
Misao would have gladly complied, but instead she shook her head in regret. "I have to run into the market to get some fish for tonight's dinner."
"It looks like it's about to rain," Aoshi remarked. Something told her he didn't want her to go, but she couldn't imagine why.
"I have to hurry then," she said, turning to leave.
But Aoshi had stood up. "Wait. I'll go with you."
"But aren't you tired?" she inquired. "You should go and rest, Aoshi-sama. I can take care of this myself."
He looked at her pointedly, leaving no room for argument. Misao gave in. Days like this, he was simply too stubborn. On the way out, he grabbed a red umbrella standing in a corner and handed it to Misao without a further word.
As they walked to the marketplace, Misao wondered how to deal with this Aoshi. He had been so secretive about the Tokyo trip, that she assumed he wanted to be left alone. Yet here he was trailing after her on a gray afternoon, to buy a basket of fish.
How she loved the man.
They had already bought the fish when it began to rain. It descended on them without warning, a quick burst of heavy drops. Misao got herself considerably damp as she struggled to get Aoshi to take shelter under the small red umbrella.
"I'll be fine, Misao," he said stoically. "We have to hurry home."
"You're soaking wet!" she scolded him, trying to lift the umbrella above his head but only succeeding in getting herself wet as well.
But just as she stood on tiptoe, he finally relented. The sudden motion as he grabbed the umbrella from her caught Misao off-balance, causing her to slip on the muddy ground. The basket flew from her grasp.
"Misao!" Aoshi called out in alarm, extending his arms to catch her. And he would have, if only he hadn't let go of the umbrella at the same time. As he leaned forward, the umbrella dropped to the ground and tripped him up.
They ended up wet and muddy, in the middle of the marketplace with a ruined basket of fish and an equally ruined umbrella.
They must look ridiculous, Misao thought to herself, laughing quietly as the rain poured around them.
"What's so funny?" he grumbled.
"You," she had answered affectionately. "You've been in a grumpy, stubborn mood since you arrived." She smiled at him as they untangled themselves from each other. "Aren't you glad to see me?"
Then he reached out and stroked her cheek, leaving a trail of mud there. There was a faint twinkle in his blue eyes, and a smile on his lips. The mud streaked her face like a thick cake of rouge, and Misao knew she had seen better days. But he didn't seem to mind. "Now I am."
They walked home all wet, Misao's arms wrapped around her Aoshi-sama, drinking in the warmth of his skin.
Strange. But that seemed like such a long time ago.
"What are you smiling about?" a low voice murmured into her ear.
Misao turned sideways and leaned into her husband's chest. Outside, she heard the first drops of rain fall, bathing the Kyoto night with the scent of summer, of beginnings.
"Nothing," she replied, looking up at him. "I was just thinking of the time we bought that fish and we slid and ruined that umbrella."
In the dark, Misao saw the corners of his lips stretch slightly upwards, blissfully content. "That was only yesterday."
Author's Notes:Forgive the waff-iness of this vignette. I struggled whether I should post something so short, but I lost. The idea took me by the fingertips and just wouldn't let me go. Just imagine them ten years after Jinchuu, and you get the idea. That said, I hope you enjoyed the read. Thanks to Seychella and SAGE for pointing out a few errors to me. Gomen and arigatou!