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Crimson Skies
By: Chibi-angel

Chapter 3


Standard Disclaimers Apply.

~~~~~~~~

[Misao]

Oh my… I overslept.

I immediately ran outside my room, rushing towards the kitchen. I didn’t bother greeting the people I passed by because I was such in a hurry. I slammed the kitchen door open, went straight to the sink and heated a pot of tea. Then, I gathered the necessary utensils, placing them on the tray I always used. When I had finished, I tapped my foot impatiently on the floor, silently pleading for the water’s temperature to miraculously rise up that second.

Aoshi-sama didn’t appreciate tardiness.

As I huffed in impatience, I crossed my arms over my chest. It was then that I realized my state of undress. I forgot that I didn’t even bother fixing myself up because of sheer panic.

Good thing the tea needed time to boil.

I bolted to my room to dress up and ran towards the kitchen again. By that time, I was already panting, not merely because of fatigue but because of the building pressure not to disappoint Aoshi-sama.

“Good morning, Misao!”

Oh good. The tea is already boiling. Now, what am I supposed to do? Oh yeah. Umm…

“Are you alright? Can I help you with anything?”

Prepare the tray. Check. Bring the extra parasol. Uh… Where is that parasol? Oh there. Uhh…

“Oomph!!”

“I’m so sorry, Misao!” exclaimed a surprised yet cheerful voice which could only come from…

“Soujiro!!!” I lifted my eyes to my assaulter, glaring at him, as I barked, “Why don’t you watch where you are going!!!? Can’t you see that I am in a hurry!!!?”

He raised his eyebrows, looking back at me apologetically as he scratched his head. “I’m so sorry, Misao. You seemed distressed and I wanted to ask you what’s wrong and then…” he trailed off, offering his hand to assist me in standing.

As if.

I rolled my eyes, placed my hands on the floor and stood up myself. “Next time, Soujiro… do. not. sneak. up. on. ME. ESPECIALLY-AT-THIS-TIME-WHEN-I-AM-IN-A-HURRY-TO-SERVE-AOSHI-SAMA!!!” At that, I turned around, carried the tray on my hand and stormed out of the kitchen.

Ugh! The nerve of that guy! What did he want anyway? I am already late as it is!

Trying to pick up the pace, I stashed the parasol on my side like a sheath of a sword and I started to run. I didn’t bother to check on the clock what the exact time was. All I knew was that I was late… what I didn’t know was how late.

When I had reached the temple, I could hardly breathe. Running up the stairs, trying to balance the tray while doing your best to keep your cool wasn’t exactly a walk in the park especially when…

Impossible!

Oh no! This is definitely bad. Of all the things I had to forget, why did I have to forget the pot of tea!!!!?

What should I do? Should I run back and get it? However, by the time I get back there, the tea was probably already cold so I’d have to reheat it. Then what? I would bring it to him this evening? Stupid. Maybe I would just tell him the truth about oversleeping and about forgetting. Or better yet, maybe I’ll just tell him that I was sick then he would be too worried about me to think of my mis—

I sighed deeply and with a heavy heart, I proceeded to the temple, preparing myself to tell him the truth. Just then, I heard soft footsteps ascending the stairs. I turned around, surprised to see the face I least expected.

Soujiro.

“Misao,” he said, placing the pot of tea on the tray I had placed on the floor earlier. “Omasu said that you were going to bring Shinomori-san tea and then, I discovered that you forgot to bring this and here… here it is. I think it is my fault anyway that you forgot.”

Unable to contain the happiness I felt that time, I ran over to him, throwing my arms around his shoulders. I sighed contentedly, squeezing him lightly. “Thanks, Sou-chan! I owe you one!”

“Sorry for startling you again, Misao,” he whispered to my ear.

I pulled back, smiling and picked up the tray to go inside the temple. Before I stepped inside I glanced over my shoulder and gave him a wink. “You’re lucky I didn’t bring my kunais this morning.” At that I entered the temple, giggling childishly.

Did I just hear him say ‘Ara’?

What’s with rurounis today?

As I entered the main hall of the temple, I took a deep breath, mustering up all my courage. Putting on my brightest smile, I sauntered where Aoshi-sama was trying to pretend that nothing was wrong.

“You’re late.”

“I know, Aoshi-sama. I am very sorry.” I lowered my head, waiting for him to acknowledge my apology or even ask why I was tardy.

It never came so I decided to take the initiative.

“Oh, Aoshi-sama, I am so sorry I was late! It is a long story actually. It started last night when I thought there was an intruder in the Aoiya…”

I narrated the whole incident, trying to be as unbiased as possible. I didn’t want to put Soujiro in the hot seat when I also had my share of liabilities. When I had finished with my narration, I was already out of breath with nonstop talking but still, I held my smile at him, silently hoping that he would appreciate my efforts to serve him and protect him, for that matter.

His face was veiled by his bangs so I couldn’t read his reaction to my story, not that he was the expressive type.

I sighed audibly, reminding myself that I wasn’t talking to some gorgeous statue but to a gorgeous hunk. He might be stoic and unmoving but nevertheless, he breathed, making him a part of the human race.

That’s right, Misao. Mentally making fun of him was the least thing you could do for ignor—

“You shouldn’t take things too lightly, Misao.”

“Huh?” I replied, his words not clearly registering in my head.

“You shouldn’t take things too lightly, Misao,” he repeated.

When his words sank in, I felt my heart stabbed. That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting. ‘Wha… What do you mean?”

“It was so irresponsible of you to attack Tenken last night. He could have killed you. What were you thinking?” he regarded me with his eyes so cold, it pierced me.

“I wanted to protect the people of the Aoiya!” I reasoned with much conviction. “I wanted to protect you,” I finished, barely whispering.

“You shouldn’t have done that. I could have protected myself. You should have warned the others instead. What if he killed you!?”

“He didn’t, did he?” I know that I should be happy that Aoshi-sama was concerned about my well-being but his words held a deeper meaning and it hurt me…

“He could have,” came his inevitable reply.

In more ways than none, I expected him to say that. I knew he didn’t think much of me. That fact hurt me but I didn’t let it get the best of me. He had the right to look down on me on the matter, after all, he was the Okashira before me and he was the one who trained me. What kind of student would think of himself better than his master, right? But I wouldn’t let him think so little of my feelings so I looked into his eyes and said, “Then I would die happy, knowing that I was fighting for you.”

“Think, Misao,” he stressed. “Don’t act on emotions. If you get your emotions in your way, you could yourself and others get killed. I had expected so much more from you. You are turning eighteen soon. I thought you would have been more matured in your actions and decisions. If you don’t want to be treated like a child. Don’t act like one.”

Tears were already threatening to spill from my eyes but I swallowed it down. I mustn’t.

Not now.

I mustn’t emphasize his point by crying in front of him. Crying like a child.

~~~~~

[Soujiro]

I couldn’t take it anymore.

I could feel the pain radiating from Misao’s kokoro. How could Shinomori-san do that to her? He knew she was already hurting. Why wouldn’t he stop?

Although I knew what I was about to do was wrong, I did it anyway. I barged inside, pretending to be in a hurry and said, “Misao, Omasu-san is looking for you. She said it is important.”

Aoshi raised his eyebrow at me while Misao bowed at him. She picked up the tray, stood up and walked towards me, her head downcast.

I bowed at Shinomori-san and led Misao out of the temple. I took the tray from her, freeing her hands.

We walked together in silence. Her sadness was really bothering me but I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Everything that was happening was new to me. Just then, I heard her choke a on a sob. That sound strengthened my resolve.

I led her towards the cliff, motioning her to sit beside me under a tree. She discreetly lifted a dainty hand to wipe away her tears before looking up at me with a forced smile on her face, “Am I supposed to meet Omasu here?”

I faced her with guilt, looking deep in her glassy eyes. “I’m sorry, Misao, I lied. Omasu-san wasn’t looking for you. It was just that I couldn’t stand Shinomori-san hurting you like that.”

“I’m fine Soujiro,” she smiled wider. “You didn’t have to worry about me. Aoshi-sama and I were just discussing a couple of things.”

“You know. You don’t really have to smile all the time. Just be true to yourself.”

Misao’s eyes widened after hearing what I had said as tears brimmed up in her eyes. She lifted her gaze to the sky to prevent them from falling.

Upon seeing this, I placed my fingers gently on her eyes, motioning them to close, spilling the tears she was holding back. Then, I caressed her cheeks, wiping away the tears.

Slowly, she opened her emerald eyes, looking up at me questioningly. “Why?” she asked.

“Because I know how it felt like to keep it all inside.”

She nodded slightly, sighing deeply. From that point on, she didn’t try to suppress her tears anymore. She raised her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them as she buried her face on her knees. Her delicate back quivered as her sobs grew louder.

This was the first time that I was with somebody crying and it really baffled me that despite the connotation that tears were for the weak, it never crossed my mind that she was one.

I didn’t know what to do. How was I supposed to comfort someone who was emotionally hurt? Do I even know how to comfort at all? With much hesitance, I placed my hand on her back, stroking it tenderly to pacify her. “What’s wrong, Misao?” I asked.

“No, Soujiro,” she sobbed, raising her eyes to meet mine. “Don’t ask me that. I should be the one who should ask that.”

Huh?

“…What’s wrong with me?” she finished miserably.

“What do you mean?”

“What’s wrong with me?” she repeated. “What do I have to do in order to please him? What do I have to change in order to be enough. Tell me,” she pleaded. “What!?”

I searched my mind, trying to understand the depth of her words. Then, it came to me, “It’s about Shinomori-san, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she whimpered. “Whatever I do. No matter how much I try. It’s never good enough. It’s wrong. It’s bad. It’s un-ladylike. Do I really need to change me in order to be accepted?”

I stared at her forlorn expression, feeling my heart sink with every tear that fell from her eyes. A person with such a pure heart as hers didn’t deserve to hurt like that. She didn’t have to change so I replied, “You don’t have to….”

She locked her eyes with mine as I wiped her remaining tears.

“…The Misao I have met is enough. She may have flaws… but it is normal. Everyone has them. No one is perfect but you see…” I paused and smiled at her. “Sometimes imperfections makes the perfect human. Do I make sense?”

At that, she sincerely smiled back. “You do but… How do I measure up?”

“Do you have to?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to?”

“Only if it would make Aoshi love me back,” she simply answered.

Silence came upon us after that but it didn’t remain for long. She folded her legs to her side and leaned on the tree. With a thoughtful face, she began, “You know what? I had always thought that I was doing the right thing. That whatever I was doing was enough because I was pouring out my heart on it. But it turned out to be wrong. Aoshi said that I shouldn’t use my heart in making a decision.”

What she said hit me.

“Misao,” I sighed. “For a long time, I had closed myself from all emotions. Do you know what happened to me the day I did that?”

She shook her head.

“I died… I had to kill the real me in order to become the perfect assassin and now, with the help of my journey, I am beginning to learn the real me… Misao, how could one say that one is alive without feelings, emotions or passions?”

“I know that and I definitely agree but…” she paused, her smile fading. “…it totally contradicts what Aoshi-sama said. He said that if I let my emotions control me, I could kill myself and other people. Soujiro, what should I do when right and wrong is so relative?”

Searching her eyes, I smiled at her again, “You already know the answer to that… You just told me last night, remember?”

“I know,” she let out a deep sigh. “Why is it so hard to be wise for yourself? Why is it that when other people ask me for advice, I could give it to them easily but when it comes to me…” she trailed off.

Silence fell upon us as we stared at the crimson sky.

Moments had passed when she spoke, “Soujiro?”

“Hmmm?”

She sighed, “I am just glad you’re here with me.” At that, she shifted closer to me and rested her head on my shoulder.

My eyes widened at her gesture as my heart pounded against my chest.

In time, I had relaxed with her beside me like that as I rested my cheek on top of her hair. Seconds turned to minutes and minutes into hours but we didn’t notice it. We just stayed there in silence, enjoying the view and each other’s company.

Finally, I spoke up, “Misao, The sun is already setting, we have to go back. They must be so worried about you.”

“No. Not yet,” she protested, not moving from her position. “Let’s stay here for a while and wait for the stars to appear. Please?”

Sighing deeply in contentment, I nodded, “Whatever makes you happy.”

Why is it that I couldn’t help but smile when I am with her?

This was all very new to me.

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