Disclaimer: Nobuhiro Watsuki owns Rurouni Kenshin and its characters. Lowly fanfic writers like me can only bow at such genius.

Author's Notes: Set before anime's Episode 89. It wasn't a social visit when she first set out for Tokyo, but Misao must have had her reasons for staying longer at the Kamiya dojo than expected. Here's my take.

Misao Ascendant

It happened the night that Kuro and I brought a bloodied Omasu back to the Aoiya. It was supposed to be a routine mission, a little midnight sying on a rival clan's activities. I brought Kuro for his sharp eyes and Omasu for her stealth, brought them to the oustkirts of Kyoto where we were lured by the scent of new information. I should have known better.

It had been a massacre.

In the end, only two of their twenty men were left to retreat. It didn't take a wise man to know that this attack was their open declaration of war against us, although it amused me that they would dare go against the Oniwabanshuu. One of those lying on the ground had managed to slice at my left arm, leaving a long harsh gash that stained the dark fabric of my uniform with angry blood. Kuro, for all his bulk, now had a dozen cuts and bruises all over his body. Unfortunately it was Omasu who suffered most from the attack, a deep wound on her right shoulder, a deeper one in her abdomen. She was unconscious by the time the last man had fled.

We brought her back as quickly as we could, rousing everyone in the Aoiya as we placed her in her own bed. Her blood dripped all over the tatami floor. Someone -- maybe Shiro -- had gone off to fetch the nearest doctor. But with all the activity, I was not prepared for Misao's reaction. She came rushing into the room at the noise, set on the edge as she always was. But she took one look at Omasu and she paled, her eyes wide and luminous in the night. Then very carefully, she walked to Omasu's side and wiped the blood away.

There was so much blood everywhere.

When the doctor came, she refused to leave, even when Okina called her away. She did not respond. I had to lift her arms and forcibly carry her out. She made no protest.

"Misao," I said, shaking her a little when we were outside. "Misao," I repeated, a little louder this time.

She still held the cloth she used for Omasu. Then she took my left arm and tore the cloth away, exposing the deep cut. She did not meet my eyes as she wiped the blood off without a sound.

I surrendered myself to her touch.

***

That night she came to my room, uninvited, slipping soundlessly inside just as she had when she was younger. But the last time we had slept in the same room was a lifetime ago, the night before I left Kyoto and took the other Oniwabanshuu with me. As she walked in, her face was an expressionless mask but her eyes were the eyes of a lost child. There were so many things I wanted to ask her.

Finally, she spoke. "I didn't want to be alone."

I nodded wordlessly, getting up from the futon. She took my place there, hugging her knees to her chest like a fetus floating in her mother's womb. It was a long time before she closed her eyes. I sat on the cold floor and kept watch for whatever demons may come.

***

The next day I left before she awoke. When I returned after my morning meditation, she was gone, my bed neatly made. I only caught glimpses of her throughout the day, strangely bothered at how silent she remained. Later I learned that at her insistence, she had relieved Okon from her post at Omasu's side.

Later that night, she was back in my room, this time offering no explanations. She smelled of sorrow and dried blood. Again, I let her have my futon, preparing myself for yet another night of sleeping upright.

Hours later, when I thought her to be asleep, her clear voice broke through the night. "Does it hurt, remembering Hannya and the others?"

I felt the old wounds. We had never talked about them, not even once, since my return. Misao had always latched on to lighter topics of conversation. I realized that before them, loss and death were foreign concepts; she had been too young to feel the pain of her parents' passing. Perhaps it was my fault for making her this way, shielding her from the violence that was inevitable in our way of life. Doubtless now, the shock of seeing Omasu so close to death had made the old fears resurface, fears that she thought buried underneath her smiles.

I had to remind myself that she was only sixteen. She was only a child.

"Sometimes," I answered truthfully. "I suppose the pain can never completely go away."

She shifted in the futon and faced me. In the darkness, she reached out and touched the gash on my arm. "Does it hurt, this scar?" Her words were sharper than any blow my kodachis could give.

I felt something in me cut in half. "Only when you look at it."

***

When I was younger, Misao embodied everything that I fought to keep safe. She was my innocence. She was my purity. She was my home. Growing up in the Oniwabanshuu, the only affection I ever truly felt was the warmth of her embrace.

I had sworn to protect her, and yet I brought death to her door time and time again.

There were things that I would always regret, things that a lifetime of meditation or prayer would never atone for. Once, I spoke to her in a language she could understand. Now most of my silence was born out of my choice to stay out of her life, because I did not want to destroy the only home I could return to.

Unconsciously, her hand had found my little finger and clung to it in her sleep. That night, a realization: No matter how hard I pushed her away, she never let me go.

***

The next day it rained relentlessly.

I was discussing things with Okina when she burst into the room. "She's regained consciousness," she cried out. Her eyes had the familiar twinkle in them, delighted and unapologetic, that I had missed in the last few days. "Omasu's going to be all right."

She was gone before either Okina or I could speak, like a breath of air that vanishes upon release. As pleased as I was that Omasu was fine, I was infinitely more content to see Misao smile once again.

***

I didn't expect her to be back that night. But there she stood, the thin yukata clutched around her slender shoulders. It was still raining outside, and the cold made me faintly reluctant to give up the comfort of my warm bed. She slipped under the covers just as I struggled to leave.

She reached for me. Her hand closed around my left arm, not flinching when she encountered the scar there. "Will you stay beside me? Just like before?"

If I had left, I would have been acknowledging the woman before me. If I had left, I would have been saying that being with her was wrong. If I had left, everything would have changed.

I stayed.

Just like before, she pressed against me, the top of her head fitting neatly under my chin, burying her face in my neck. And just like before, I breathed in the soft fragrance of her.

She was only a child, I reminded myself. Only a child.

How many lies did I tell myself that night? She felt all woman to me.

***

She was gone the next day.

The note she had left Okina explained that she was now on her way to Tokyo and that she was going to be fine. The old man handed it to me so that I could read her words for myself. "I've asked her to follow up on some leads on pressing matters. She kept putting it off because of Omasu, but now…" his voice trailed off.

There was something different in the air as I read her letter. And I understood now what I refused to acknowledge before. Things were changing, and Misao was not going to remain the child I wanted her to be. She was pushing me onto a path that I never saw before.

And it led straight to her.

I still needed time to think. But I calmly folded her letter and gave it back to Okina. "She's right," I told him. My voice was surprisingly steady. "She's fine."

She was grown up now.

End

Author's Notes: The inspiration that has been sorely missing in my life these past few months has only been provided recently by Nicholas Tse, Vic Zhou, and Ichiro Suzuki.