MISMATCHED

By Yuki

Chapter 18 – My Lotus

Author's note:

Really sorry for the delay, I wasn't able to update for several reasons. First because our computer just totally crashed, which meant that I lost all of my files (story drafts, mp3s, fanarts...) I try not to think to much about it but... starts swearing like mad

And then I got caught up with my work, changed jobs and all the different kinds of crap that you have to go trough in life that I had to put all my fanfictions on hold.

takes a deep breath Well, here is it... this isn't the original version anymore as I lost the first draft. I don't know if this is any different from the first one I made but I hope this didn't totally suck.

Thanks to everyone who had reviewed and patiently waited for my slow (really, really slow) updates. I'm really sorry that it took me more than a month for this chapter, I know I promised it's supposed to be finished by now. I really hope that you can all forgive me.

Massive OOC-ness up ahead. You've all been warned.

Chapter 18

My Lotus

He's like a lotus

I know that at days

He won't let me in.

He's open,

He's closed

- (Major crap. I forgot the title of this song, I heard it once and I couldn't get the lines out of my head, so if anyone out there knows the title of this song and the artist please let me know. Many thanks!)

OMASU

Omasu was in shock. She really was.

This certainly could not be happening to her. No. Not to her.

She turned to stare at Shiro who looked too stunned to speak as well. She knew this was coming. She had known that this was where their plan would seriously muck up. Knew it the very moment Misao had her cornered against the wall with Okon wisely and hurriedly following Kenshin and Kaoru out the door and into the rain.

For a moment, she had been in complete awe with Aoshi in his full commando mode giving out the order of death: "Guard this door, don't move, don't breathe, don't leave it or else..."that she failed to realized that she was about to be involved in some major deep shit trouble.

Oh, pardon her words and all, but she had felt her stomach sinking past the floor as she watched Aoshi grab Misao's hand, slowly backing away while murderously glowering at them and finally turning at the corner and well... as true ninjas that they were, making no sound as they went to Kami knows where.

Omasu cocked her head and listened to the rain.

"Omasu..." Shiro began.

"Shhh. I'm trying to listen..."

"Omasu, help me get down."

"Shiro, be quiet." And as soon as she said this, the shouting match started from inside the locked door. Omaus winced as she listened to the most amazingly colorful curses from Sagara-san. I haven't heard that before! She though, her ears twitching slightly, didn't realize that one could… with… oh! How scandalous!

But, as much as she had wanted to widen her vocabulary, she had to act quickly. The rain had started to pound down hard and she wasn't so keen on going outside into the raging storm. Plus, Omasu loathed the rain with passion. It was messy and gloomy and wet and as a way to mock her, it was raining now like it would never ever stop – now of all days.

For ten seconds she was tempted to just give up and make some tea, after all there were far more important things that she could do than run around the Aoiya in this terrible weather, but alas, she was no quitter. And if there's any consolation, it would be the fact that once caught, Misao and Aoshi-sama would prove to be very interesting subjects indeed. Probably well worth her time and her effort.

Without so much of a backward glance, already trying to think up strategies, escapes routes, ways on how to deflect expertly thrown kunais, Omasu was already on her way out on when Shiro called her.

"Omasu!" Shiro hissed. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Tea." She answered with mild annoyance, frowning at the kunai-stricken, wall-stuck Shiro. Couldn't he see that she was about to give up a quiet afternoon of sipping tea just so she could go spy on Aoshi and Misao? How dare he ask her where she thinks she's going? Was her sacrifice so diminutive that he couldn't see it for himself? Does he need some sort of explanation?

"Tea?!" Shiro said in his quavering voice, on the verge of hysteria, no doubt.

Omasu rolled her eyes. "Yes, hot water, tea bags, sugar maybe or honey."

"Help!" Shiro squeaked, rolling his eyes heavenward. AS though praying to all the gods and goddesses.

"Didn't you hear Aoshi-sama? You are to guard this door. You and me, we have a duty. We will honor that duty, Shiro." Omasu said, aware of the precious time slipping by her fingers. She can't dilly-dally now. "I'm honestly sorry Shiro, but I can't have this chit-chat right now."

"Chit-chat!?" Shiro said in his high-pitched incredulous voice. "Please, Omasu." Shiro's eyes wandered over to his left and then to his right, "they'll drive me mad."

Omasu sighed. "Think of the river. Meditate. You know, be strong. Be like Aoshi-sama. Be like the rock."

"The rock?" Shiro said, his eyes getting larger by the minute.

As fascinating as he looked right now, confused eyes practically bugging out and all, Omasu had wasted enough time. "Hai. That's right. You got that right Shiro." Omasu gave him a reassuring smile. "See you later, Rock-san. You tell me everything that happened in this room, ne?" And off she went, vaguely hearing Shiro repeating the words: The Rock? The Rock? The Rock?

Omasu shook her head and felt that there was too much question in Shiro's voice for the mantra to work, but she wasn't staying around anymore. She started searching the house.

Room after room. With the ceaseless creaking, moaning sounds the bamboo floors were making, Omasu searched high and low, even underneath the tables and amongst the closed wooden cabinets that had not been open in a hundred years or so that it smelled too much of dust and memories. She was starting to lose hope. They could not have hidden above the roof, that'll be too dangerous. Aoshi would never put Misao-chan in that kind of situation. But where?

Three minutes of going around the house, she heard Shiro screaming all hell and damnation to Okina and the oversexed people of Tokyo. She wondered what happened to him being a rock and all, but then she heard the pounding of the walls and the muffled screams, moans, groans…

That pretty much sealed her decision to go outside and face the wind, the rain and mud as well. Better that than... than, well whatever it was that was causing all that racket.

As soon as she stepped out, she was drenched, possibly up to her bones. Rapidly blinking, trying to shield her eyes from the needle-like rain pouring down from the angry heavens, she scanned the yard and that was when she found Misao's royal blue ribbon all bunched up over at the gate, the ends of her ribbon both pointing out towards the town that was now undoubtedly flooded ankle-deep.

She just had to smirk at that.

If Aoshi-sama thinks that he can fool her with that old trick, it just goes to prove how very little he thinks of her capabilities.

She wandered around the yard, sloshing through the mud half expecting to find the two behind one of the massive trees, crouched down low. If not, surely, they were somewhere near, the tricky discarded ribbon already a proof.

After a few more miserable minutes of glancing at every tree, every moving shadow and even a quick trip up the roof where she nearly slipped and fell to her death, Omasu had been about to give up. The hell with spying. Screw love all together, Aoshi would never get over his pity-party and Misao would never have the courage to shake him senseless like Kaoru-chan or force him to have sex with her like Megumi-san... love sucks and so much more so was this freaky rain that absolutely came out of nowhere.

The rant would have included Okina's psychotic tendencies when lo and behold – there it was: The old storage house with the door tightly closed when in fact it had been, she was sure of this, open only moments before The Confrontation.

Inside, no doubt, were Aoshi and Misao.

Doing what exactly?

Omasu frowned. Well, she really didn't like to think about that right now. Besides, she didn't have the time for scandalous inappropriate thoughts. She was back on the game.

Mission resuming: Subjects now found.

Her problem now however was how she could get near the damn storage room without being detected.

Omasu looked around, employing her tactical expertise. She wasn't going to stay in the rain one minute more. The only place she could go to that was relatively near the storage room was a tree.

Very old, very sturdy.

Surely, it would hold her weight. It must. She wasn't in anyway fat. And from the tree, she can probably get some spying done. She remembered a small window to the side of the storage house; it was high enough to allow sunlight in, but not too low to give those filthy rodents a chance to get in. It wasn't boarded up and even if she can't see them, she would still be able to hear pieces of their conversation. Besides the tree would be safer, the leaves would serve as cover, shield her from the rain. And besides it was her only option.

Taking a deep breath, she stood up, sprinted to the tree, and effortlessly jumped, landing gracefully over a branch.

The leaves slightly shook, scattering water droplets all over the roof.

A thousand plicks and plocks filled Omasu's head. It sounded like tiny stones tapping against glass and she expected either Misao or Aoshi to storm out and randomly start throwing kunais at the roof or at the very tree that she was hiding from but apparently, the two were too occupied with.... whatever it was that they were doing.

Omasu sighed with relief. Good choice. Tree. Perfect! And the important thing was that the branch held her weight, even when she leaned further, resting her lithe form against the slightly damp and roughened surface of the branch.

Here, the rain continuously pelted against her back although with less intensity. She was still soaked, cold, and shivering, but Omasu smiled, starting to feel better.

Let the spying begin.

Aoshi and Misao

Misao started outside, transfixed at the sight beyond the door: green leaves brushing against the dark sky, silvery water droplets falling down from the bruised, darkened clouds. The wind wasn't harsh, but you could feel its presence, the way it made that almost-weeping sound as it brushed it's hand fleetingly against the wooden walls, making them creak and moan. Misao tilted her head and wondered from where did this rain come from? And why hadn't she noticed? Usually, she'd be attuned to everything around her.

But lately, everything else faded away into the background. She could barely feel the slight change of temperature or hear the singing of the lonely bird perched just outside the Aoiya.

Everything had slipped past her except for Aoshi.

She glanced at him: he who held her attention, her heart, and her dreams. As always, he looked so distant and cold, standing at the darkened corner of the room admittedly looking somewhat cuter than normal, with water running down the side of his face down to his chin...

Misao mentally groaned. If she could just bang her fist on the floor, she would've done so. Not really out of frustration, but more for the sake of her sanity and maybe on some twisted level, to get Aoshi to notice her.

Although she wouldn't actually bet her life on it.

She should probably try stripping, that ought to make Aoshi sit up and give her all the attention she wants.

As though reading her mind, Aoshi glanced at her and Misao felt her face go warm. She quickly looked away and pretended to be in complete, total awe of the...

Blank, boring pattern-less bamboo walls.

Fascinating, Misao, truly fascinating. What tremendous art work! Quick ask Aoshi if he wants to have it framed. The voice in her head chided her.

Misao gritted her teeth and solemnly prayed that eternal damnation fall upon the gods of teen-age angst and unrequited love.

She took a deep breath and superstitiously glanced at Aoshi.

He hadn't said a word since he took her hand and led her out of the gate, surprising her for a moment when he suddenly stopped, slid an arm behind her neck and – how the hell he did it, she might never find out – tugged at her ribbon, freeing her hair from the customary braid that she had always worn since she was a child.

Misao smiled at the memory. Feeling his arm brush against the nape of her neck was... well, exhilarating. There was no other word for it. Her heart had stopped beating and had slammed painfully against her chest almost at the same time.

The way Aoshi had looked at her when her hair had fallen over to her side, spilling over to her shoulders and back was... it was...it was as though he was seeing her for the first time, it felt like he was truly looking at her and not through her.

She was just about to grab Aoshi and ravage him senseless, forget the fact that they were standing in the middle of the street, in front of the Aoiya gate no less, when he abruptly turned and unceremoniously dropped her ribbon at the gate.

She had stared at her blue ribbon; all bunched up and now soaked in rain and mud, water and soil.

Stained.

Argh, her favorite ribbon.

Ok, so maybe Aoshi was a bit odd. Truly bordering on creepy-odd, but hey... this was her Aoshi-sama.

Then, without further explanation, let alone an apology for ruining her ribbon, he took her hand once again and led her away, never minding the rain, as though it didn't exist... like nothing existed but their entwined hands.

And now, here they were, inside the old temple that Aoshi had used as his only sacred place where he can hide from her and from the rest of the world. The only difference was that she's with him right now. It's just that he isn't talking to her.

Big surprise there. Well fine, she wouldn't talk to him either.

Maybe the silence would both drive them mad. Screaming-pounding-the-head-against-the-wall-mad.

Aoshi-sama, head banging against the wall...

Misao winced. Truly an uncanny image.

She heaved an angry heavy sigh, the sound almost as loud as a shout inside the calmly quiet room.

It was unfair. Megumi and Sano are locked inside that room, probably... well, one of them was probably dead by now or pinned against the wall or against the floor... but at least she could be sure that there's some sort of action going on between the two. Unlike here.

Here where the silence was as unbearable and as heavy as a two-ton brick hanging from her heart, dragging her down.

She watched as Aoshi moved to the other side of the room, as though trying to escape her sigh of fury. She tilted her head and briefly considered stripping for a minute but then decided against it.

Stripping required sexiness that she has yet to acquire. She was sure that if she had started undoing her obi, she would be clumsy about it and end up...well, the possibilities are just terrifyingly endless. Such as, she might end up strangling herself to death or tying Aoshi-sama down. A lot of good that would do her and yeah by the way, good luck on tying Aoshi-sama down.

She glanced at Aoshi once again and decided that he looked too serious.

Too seriously tall and strong and warm.

Misao, disdainfully averted her eyes just when Aoshi looked at her. If she had kept on watching him, she might have seen the longing carved on Aoshi's face. How he looked at her, as though she was the very reason that he was breathing and maybe in a way she was. Because without her, Aoshi didn't think he had any reason to live at all.

With her head bowed down, she looked too much of a lost child that Aoshi had to look away.

The moment their eyes could have met, when both their hearts were at their sleeves, the love, the passion, this burning longing for each other would've been too evident that they wouldn't need words, unfortunately passed.

And while Aoshi wondered why his heart, that he once thought had grown too cold, too cynical and jaded could be melted not just by her smile but the mere thought of her smile: warming him to a point where he just couldn't stand to be near her because it felt as though every inch of his skin was on fire and that it would quickly get out of control, Misao who was too seriously drenched, could felt the warmth coming off in waves from Aoshi's corner.

Not just Aoshi's battle chi. Not just his usual aura that she was so accustomed to, but something different. Something she had never felt before.

Warm currents, electricity on her skin, simmering... nearing boiling point.

He was watching her and she knew it.

A thrill of anticipation shot through her and for a moment, Misao believed that everything was possible, that she had reasons to smile to herself and grow confident once more. If there was anyone who knows Aoshi at all, it will be her. Somehow, that sounded enough.

But then as a droplet of water from her damp hair rolled down her cheeks and plonked into the sodden floor, Misao shook her head, reality and doubt erasing that little hope that had spurned inside her heart.

If indeed, Aoshi was watching her, she knew what she looked liked: A drowned weasel. Tangled dark hair and muddy patterns all over her kimono. How Saitou would love that mental image, she thought grimly.

She rubbed her palms together, regretting the day she took up Megumi's challenge. What was she thinking? It had been a blatant contest of stupidity and it looks like she was winning.

You have not even tried yet. A new voice inside her head suddenly spoke up.

Misao rolled her eyes. It was more likely that she tried too much.

You always said that you aren't a child anymore. Prove it. Make him see. Make him believe it. It was a clear strong voice. A voice she had never heard before but it sounded so much like her. An older her. Kind of. She tilted her head and frowned.

What should I do? She asked silently and tried to listen closely, tune out the sound of the rain, the wind, and the singing cicadas outside.

Listen to your heart.

To her heart. What if it was wrong? What if her heart wanted Aoshi but wanting him isn't enough?

You'll never find out. It will poison you. Regret.

Misao didn't want to live that way. Everyday wondering for something that had already slipped past her fingers, living in the past, stuck there.

She looked at her hand, was she going to sit here all day and sneak glances at Aoshi? Was she ever going to get past his seemingly ice encrusted heart?

She shivered, suddenly feeling the coldness seep into her and she had to hug herself to chase back that warmth that had fled from her, her chin almost painfully pressing against her knees.

From his little corner, Aoshi made a short sudden gesture, the kind she was used to seeing from him when something needed to be done, something that would involve a lot of courage and heart. He took off his long coat, gripped it with his two hands, displaying lean muscles in his arms and shook it with such force that water droplets splattered across the wall.

"Here." He said simply, handing her his coat. She hadn't even notice him walking towards her, as though the room had become smaller. She lifted her hand, wanting to take hold of his wrist and pull him to her but it was his coat that she had grasped.

He was still out of her reach.

She could feel his eyes on her when she wrapped herself with his coat, the ends of the familiar jacket pooling around her feet. Surprisingly, it was relatively dry and warm.

This warmth enveloped her, but it made her ache, made her want to feel this warmth from his skin, not like this, all second hand and impersonal.

She tried not to snuggle deeper into his coat. It was a nice place to be, but she knew it was a temporary thing. She'll have to return this and then she'll be back to feeling cold and unwanted again.

"Arigatou." She whispered softly trying to swallow past the burning lump in her throat.

He didn't answer her but he didn't walk away either.

Now or never, Misao thought. She closed her eyes and dredged up her courage before it left her with nothing but poisonous regret.

"Stay please."

Her request echoed around the room, painting the room with her voice that wasn't needy or melancholic, but strong and calm and maybe even inviting.

Misao smiled slowly, marveling at how different she sounded, when inside, her small heart was all squeaky and nervous. Her smile turned brighter when Aoshi-sama didn't seem to think it over twice; he sat down, his knees lightly brushing against hers.

For a moment the song of the rain accompanied them but the silence wasn't as suffocating as before, now that they've both realized that they could speak, it will not shatter them.

Misao was about to say something, what she wasn't sure of, but Aoshi beat her to it.

"Better?" He asked mutedly.

Misao nodded her head, not daring to look at him. She continued to stare at the rumpled coat covering her toes.

"Gomen. The rain, I shouldn't have..." Aoshi began but Misao didn't want him to start thinking that it was his fault, that he must have done something to protect her, shield her from the rain.

"I'm fi-fine." She said, not looking at him, teeth clashing against each other. Very convincing, Misao, she chided herself shaking her head. She straightened her back and turned to look at Aoshi. "I'm..."

She was supposed to say fine, she was supposed to say that she can take care of herself, a little rain wasn't so bad, that she loved him for everything that he had been, is about to become...but those words never got out of her mouth. They died somewhere in her throat.

Aoshi's eyes burned right through her, bright and blue and warm. His cheeks were hollowed out from clenching his teeth too tightly.

She had never seen him look at her that way. Not even when he took the ribbon from her hair. It had been curious awe mingled with soft surprise, now it was all longing.

She knew this, because she knew too much about longing and for the first time, Misao's heart soared with the realization that he too longed for her. She watched as Aoshi looked away, as though suddenly realizing for a moment, that he had shown her his feelings that he had always been too careful to hide.

She smiled and from the corner of her eyes; she surveyed Aoshi as he flexed his arm, trying to release some of his tension.

"Showing off, are we?" She whispered softly.

When Aoshi stopped, straightening his back. Misao blushed, clamping her teeth against her lower lips, trying not to giggle out loud, realizing what she had just said. She coughed instead, loud embarrassing donkey-sounding cough.

"Warmer?" Aoshi asked her, as though he hadn't heard what she had said. Although Misao sure that he had heard. Loud and clear.

"Hai." She answered softly, suddenly shy. Which was ridiculous, all things considered, after all, she had grown up with him, he knew her best. He knew that she was in love with her. She tried to look into his eyes and get something from it... a clue at least of what he must be thinking now or what he was feeling. But he was back again to looking cool, calm and collected. The three essential C's of Aoshi's life.

She tried to get up; move closer and look up into his face... just ask him. Ask him now if he still thought of her as a child. She fidgeted in her seat.

"Stay." Aoshi told her, putting an arm on her shoulder and making her sit down once again.

Feeling her cheeks flush with heat, Misao shrugged off his hands, "I'm... I was just..."

Aoshi shook his head and turned his back, taking a deep breath and facing the wall he had just recently pelted with water droplets that were now silently dripping down.

Tears, Misao thought.

A sign perhaps. Would she shed tears today? Out of happiness or sadness?

Misao glanced at Aoshi, studying his profile. "You think she won't follow us here?" She asked quietly, her voice sounding soft. The moment the question escaped her lips, Misao had a mental image of herself kicking herself. Complicatedly weird, but true.

Where did that come from? What happened to asking him how he felt for her?

Aoshi's lips twitched in what seemed like a smile, as though reading her mind. "Tree." He answered her mysteriously.

"What tree?" Misao asked suddenly interested. "You mean, she's here? I mean," Misao glanced at the swaying trees outside, "out there, in the rain? On a tree, spying on us?"

"Not here. The one near the storage room."

Misao frowned.

"Aa."

"Omasu is up on that very tree?"

"Right this very second, trying to listen in on our conversation. The window is high, but not high enough to give her a full view of the room." Aoshi explained, like a child who had played the biggest trick in the world but trying to make it sound like it was nothing. Misao could detect a smile in his voice. A smirk. The kind she had never seen him wear but she knew he'd look cute in a smirk. Probably even cuter than Sano.

"And you're sure of this because?" She asked raising her eyebrows and wondering why she felt as though she's also part of the scheme. A partner in crime of some sort.

Aoshi shrugged. "I trained her." He answered simply.

"And now you're playing tricks on her. Not very nice, Aoshi-sama." She clucked her tongue in mock dismay, surprised that she could actually tease him.

"Spying is a tricky business. Once in a while, you have to let them know that it's not always the clues left behind that counts, it's the instinct."

"Instinct?" Misao asked, feeling her shoulder brush against his, amazed that he hadn't jumped back yet, hadn't huddled over to his corner and be broody. She liked the feel of being this close to him.

Aoshi glanced at her and Misao nervously jerked away. Aoshi looked ahead and cleared his voice. "Instinct." He said, looking off into the far corner of the room, "What your heart tells you."

Somehow, Misao was sure that they weren't talking about spying strategies anymore.

"And what does your heart tells you?" She asked finally, wondering where she found the courage to ask him that but then again, it might just be inside her. It might be even Aoshi himself: his nearness that was inspiring her to be this brave and ask all the important questions without sounding like a child.

Aoshi looked at her and then shook his head and turned away from her. He surveyed the room as though the answers would be magically written in the wall for them to see.

She waited for his answer but when it became apparent that he would not say what's inside his heart, for whatever reason that he only knows, Misao wondered if maybe the reason why Aoshi would not tell her was because the answer would be something that she would not want to hear and that Aoshi was, as always trying to protect her feelings.

But that would be impossible. How could he look at her that way earlier if his heart was telling him a different thing?

"Aoshi-sama."

"Nani?" He asked still facing away from her.

"Why did you take me here?" She didn't know where that question came from. She was planning on forcing him to tell her the truth, whatever the truth may be.

Aoshi looked at her once more and without looking away, finally gave her an answer. "Instinct."

"Oh." How vague can you get? Misao wanted to ask him but held her tongue. Do not alienate your soon-to-be-fiancée. She took deep calming breaths instead and wondered if punching Aoshi-sama right smack on his nose would knock some senses into him. She can adapt Kaoru-chan and Megumi-san's ways if needed.

She glanced at Aoshi, both hands already clenched in a tight fist but then, seeing his perfect nose, she decided against it. Why ruin something that was already perfect. Work on improving it.

"But why did your instinct tell you to take me here?" she insisted, knowing that she sounded so much like the younger Misao who used to ask all the one-hundred thousand questions in one whole sitting.

He looked at her for the longest time and shook his head. "I'm a selfish bastard." He answered in a low growl, which infuriatingly, Misao found sexy.

Ok, Misao, focus on the answer and not on his voice...

This is it. This was where she righted the wrong and erased whatever nonsense Aoshi-sama had placed inside his head. She took a deep breath, reached out to hold his arms and forced him to face her.

"I remember you when I was little; you'd sit next to me and tell me stories. They were all wonderful and they always made me want to grow up real fast so that I can be with you in all of your adventures. I wanted to experience it with you and not have you tell them to me afterwards. I couldn't have known back then why I felt that way, it's just that you make me feel safe and I'll never forget that Aoshi-sama. Then you went away. You told me that it was because you had things to do, to understand..." She was looking deep into his eyes know and she knew that he was trying not to see her. Really see her. Because his eyes were drawn to the side of her head, not meeting her eyes. Swallowing hard, she continued, trying to break that damn ice wall that he had built around his heart. She could do it. She has to, because back then it had always been Aoshi-sama who had been strong for her and now it was her turn.

"If you hadn't gone away, I would've never missed you as much as I did. I would've never realized that I..." she swallowed, suddenly realizing what she was about to say.

She searched Aoshi's face, which had become as hard as granite, steel blue eyes once more. She wanted to touch his face and assure him that he might not be the prefect man but his heart was good and that she loved his heart more than anything else.

She wasn't able to speak. Couldn't even open her mouth. She held on fast to his shoulder, her small fingers digging into his flesh as though she could transfer her thoughts to him, that way she wouldn't have to speak because she was afraid that her words would be inadequate and that this might be her last and only chance with him. If she failed now, she will fail not only Aoshi-sama but her heart as well.

She will fail them.

Aoshi grimaced, "Sometimes I still think that I should've been buried with Hanya and..." his voice broke.

"Don't say that." She pleaded. The thought of loosing him sent a dull ache in her heart. A re-opening of old wounds inside her. The same wounds that she got upon learning that her friends, her mentors, her only family had been killed and that her Aoshi-sama had become such a different man. Someone that she could barely recognize.

And now, she's so close to getting that man back...

"I vowed to protect you, at the very grave of your parents." Aoshi continued as though not hearing her

"So you have." She told him urgently, her small voice sounding so much stronger to her own ears. She wished Aoshi could hear her conviction, her sincerity...

Aoshi shook his head. "No I didn't. I sought power and blood and I have dishonored that vow."

"You came back home... to me. And you are protecting me still. In fact, to be honest, you protect me too much. I am not a child anymore Aoshi-sama."

Aoshi stared at his hands and then back to her face. "I know that."

"Then give me some credit and tell me the truth."

Aoshi sighed, as though in defeat. "What do you want to know?"

"Do you... I mean, us... me and you... could we..." Misao paused not knowing how to ask him, what to ask him... and then her possessed mouth did the trick. "Where did you bring Kaoru-chan the other day?"

Aoshi raised his eyebrow.

He obviously did not expect that question and Misao knew that from the surprised look that mirrored her own. But she shrugged it off, although mentally, she was screaming and kicking at her own self for asking the most inane questions!

"Where I took Kamiya-san?" Aoshi repeated, sounding like he wanted a confirmation that she was asking this from him.

She met his eyes. "Well, I just want to know."

For a moment Misao wondered if Aoshi actually smiled at her, it had been so brief, so little, so quick that she wasn't sure if her eyes were playing tricks on her. When she tried looking for any sign of mirth in his face, it was gone, he was back to being his old Dead Serious Self.

"There's a small garden at the edge of the town. When I was a boy, I go there to be angry, kick the trees, punch the grounds till my fists bleed, swear, cry, dream. Everything that a ten year old would do."

Hearing him say that was like a fist in her stomach and a knife in her heart. She looked away, "Then you love her?" she asked in a quiet voice.

"Who does not love Kamiya-san? She's a wounded girl trying her best not to let anyone know." Aoshi answered with a shrug. "She has a kind heart."

"That is a yes then." Misao said, slowly inching away from Aoshi. She knew this was coming. Knew it from the very start, but she had been stubborn and stupid and oh, look where being brave actually got her! Good going Misao!

"Yes."

She pulled away entirely; she couldn't stand being near him. It made her ache all over. Not jut inside, but everywhere.

But this time he held on to her.

"But I didn't say that I am in love with her. Battousai, yes, he's head over heels in love with her. Foolishly in love with her, but not me. I cannot allow myself that kind of foolishness."

It took Misao a full minute to realize what Aoshi had told her. The pain and regret and disappointment fizzled out, only to be replaced by anger. She pushed Aoshi away, "You and Kenshin and Sano, you're all crazy. You worry too much about the past, what about the now?"

"Now?"

"Yes now!" She said almost screaming. Kami, she's going to have to kill or kiss Aoshi-sama for making her heart go so crazy. Making it stop for a minute and start it all up again, making her want to cry and then making her want to poke his eyes out.

Men! She poked his chest, still having the sense not to ruin his beautiful blue eyes. "I mean, right this very second, this instant, tell me what you feel." She said, punctuating each word with a stab on his chest.

Aoshi didn't seem surprise at all that she was actually doing this. For some reason, there's a smirk hiding beneath his calm face and that infuriated Misao more.

"Don't just sit there and look at me like I have three heads and a tail!" she finally screeched wondering if she was somehow channeling both Kaoru and Megumi. She raised her hand, not knowing what she'll do with it, but thank Kami, Aoshi was fast enough to catch it in mid-air.

He held it tight and shook his head.

Misao belatedly realized that he would never in a million years tell her what he feels for her. She knew that the moment she asked him but she also knows his eyes. And when it darkened to its deepest blue, that she could clearly see her reflection in his darkened irises, she knew, as her heart had always known, that Aoshi loved her. Loved her in ways that she might not yet really understand, but he would soon let her know.

His other hand found her shoulder and then... she was pressed so close to him that she could feel his heart pounding inside his chest.

She had to close her eyes and just feel.

If Aoshi's eyes were warm, his hands burned. Her right hand still clasped in his left hand, she felt his other hand move, fingers grazing her cheeks, soft like autumn breeze and then he cupped her chin.

Somewhere there was rain, there was sun, a rainbow in the far horizon but it didn't matter because all her dreams were coming true right now, at this very second.

She felt Aoshi lean into her; felt his breath on her cheeks, the intimacy of it thrilled her. And when he moved his mouth, she felt his lips against her skin.

"Misao."

That he said her name without the obnoxious chan, that he said it so sweetly, that he said it in his rough-soft voice as though her name was enough for him: water, oxygen, food all lost their importance, it was just her that he needed, that he wanted. Her name...

She wound her arms around his neck and nestled her face on his soaked shirt. He smelled of rain and grass and green tea and Aoshi... and when she moved her head to tell him that, the words never got out of her lips.

He was kissing her now.

There was just silence inside her head. Pure profound silence.

So this was what it was like to be kissed.

It feels so... peaceful. Inside. No raging storm, just the quietness of her heart that had finally stopped yearning and hoping... Misao leaned further into the kiss and felt herself flying, flying away...

Aoshi once told himself that to protect her he must keep away from her and now, now that he knew her taste, he would never, could never stand to be away from anymore.

He cradled her head and tilted it to the side, deepening the kiss.

He was drowning. Couldn't breathe. Muscles in his arm aching. His heart pounding so hard that his chest felt as thought it would explode. But he didn't care.

She pulled away and it was he who moved to capture her lips again.

Can't get enough. Never will.

She ended up on her back and when she moaned ever so softly, as his hands grazed the skin of her arms, something woke Aoshi up. Realizing what he was doing, what he wanted to do and what he was actually about to do, he pulled away but she kept her inside her arms. He actually smiled at that, marveling at the strength inside her small body.

"Misao." He said, wanting to apologize.

She smiled up at him, "You taste like rain Aoshi-sama and tears." Her fingers traced his face but they were dry. He watched as a tear rolled down from her eyes to her cheeks and he traced it with his fingers.

Misao hiccupped and then giggled. "I guess that would be me."

"Gomen."

"For kissing me?" Misao asked, her smile slowly fading.

"Iya." Aoshi quickly said, wanting to see that wonderful child-like smile on her lips. "Gomen, Misao, for letting you make that silly bet with Takani-san."

Misao pouted. "You would have done the same thing. She's Megumi, can anyone actually say no to her?" She asked raising her eyebrows.

Aoshi bent his head to rub his nose against her. He felt almost silly, almost child-like at the way he was acting, but when he heard Misao sigh, he couldn't help but do the same thing again. He loved the sound of her sigh. "No, no one can say no to her. But I should have at least stopped that Chicken Head Punk from kissing you." Aoshi said, tightening his grip on her.

"In the forehead? It wasn't much." Misao's eyes were full of wonder. The blue-greeness of her eyes sparkled with tears, but she was smiling still. And she was so beautiful.

"I'll knock some of his teeth later." He promised her.

Misao considered this for a moment and shook her head, "Megumi might have already done that."

She had a point. But still, Aoshi might still want to knock some of Sano's teeth off. Whatever murderous thoughts Aoshi might have had, was wiped out entirely when Misao leaned forward to kiss the tip of his nose. "You're adorable when you're jealous." Misao murmured against his skin and Aoshi thought that he might start practicing being jealous more often.

They stayed that way for a long time, just staring at each other. "I wish you had shown me your secret place." Misao finally said, a hint of regret in her voice.

Aoshi raised his eyebrows. "You know all about my secret place."

"No I don't." She said pouting up at him.

He took her hand, so small and yet so full of strength, and placed it above his heart.

Misao's face squinched up in confusion, but when she felt his heart beating, in complete sync with her own heart, her eyes grew wide, instantly understanding what he meant. "There?"

He nodded. "Yours."

"Mine." She said softly as though trying to confirm what he had just said.

He nodded once but slowly pulled back. "But Misao, there are things that I need to resolve. It wouldn't be fair to you..."

Misao immediately cut him off, placing a finger against his lips. "We have a lot of issues to resolve. I'd help you. I can help you, if you'd let me."

"It's a burden that you shouldn't have to carry." Aoshi explained, pulling away from her. He watched as Misao closed her eyes and sighed, shaking her head and muttering something about borrowing bokkens from Kaoru. After a whole second of inaudible muttering, Misao finally looked at him, her own blue eyes stern and almost angry.

"After kissing me like that Aoshi-sama, it's a little too late telling me about burdens that I can't carry. I'm strong. I am not some lost, little weeping child in the street that needs to be swept away and locked in a castle. I don't want to live that way, like a fairytale. I want to live with you, share life with you. Everything, Aoshi, all the good and the bad, the happy and the sad." She paused, took a deep breathe and looked at him earnestly, her eyes bright blue flames. "I know how strong you are and maybe, I still have a lot to learn, experiences to gain, growing up to do, but I'm not helpless. I have my own strengths too."

Aoshi actually allowed himself to smile at her. He took her hand and gazed at it for a long time. "I know that." He'd seen her do so many things girls her age would never be capable of doing. And she had saved him, hadn't she? Not just today, but ever since she found him again, she had been saving him. "But, it's not going to be easy." He said, giving her one last chance to change her mind, even though his mind, his heart would never be changed. He didn't love her like this before. But this love had grown and she alone had nurtured it with her patience and her warmth and her light. She deserved this one last chance to be freed from him and all that he still has to endure.

"We'll do it. Together, ne?" She was looking at him with her determined eyes. "We'll be stronger that way."

Aoshi nodded, wondering if Misao knows how strong she was. How brave. And how he was loving her more for that.

"Ne, Aoshi-sa..."

He placed a finger in her lips, wanting to get rid of that blasted "-sama" off his name. He raised his eyebrows and as always, even without having to say anything, Misao understood him.

"We'll do it together, ne, Aoshi?"

"Aa."

The smile she gave him, triumphant and nervous at the same time touched his heart in so many ways that even when he grows old, he'll remember that smile.

"Prove it." She said, pulling him back into her arms once again.

"How?" He whispered, his arms slowly snaking its way around her.

"Kiss me again."

And they said no more.

Author's Note:

Ok, ::whew:: that was long... kind of long winded too, I noticed. Edited it up a bit. Changed a few things here and there. Hope it turned out better than the last one.

To any Aoshi and Misao fans, ugh, I hope that this is ok... I'm not really good with Aoshi and Misao, hence the OOC-ness.

But I did enjoy writing this and I hope that in some way, you also enjoyed reading it.

Will now be working on Kaoru and Kenshin. Finally! Let me know what you think. Don't hold back ok? Is the dialogue so bad you want to chop my head off? Grammar sucks... you all know the drill.

Please leave your flames, reviews, comments, suggestions and numbers of your cute, single 20-something guy friends. Hehehe.

Thank you so much for your time and hope to see you all soon!

-Yuki

P.S. You'll all know what happened to Omasu on the next chapter...I promise.