Standard Disclaimers Apply.
Before the sun rose the next day, I carried Misao back to her room as quietly as I could. I wouldn’t want the others to know that we slept in the same room last night.
I tucked her under the sheet, tracing the line of her jaw with my finger.
I wanted to stay with her longer but the obvious circumstances compelled that I should leave her room immediately.
At that, I left her room and returned to mine. I leaned my back against the wall where Misao and I talked last night and the other night before that. I closed my eyes, trying to remember everything that had happened between us in the past few weeks that we had known each other.
Somehow, when I was with her, peace didn’t seem to elude me as it did before.
I watched the sun rise outside my window, somehow entranced at how the sun slowly illuminates the sky. It wasn’t long before I heard a knock outside my door. I stood up and opened the door with a smile on my face. “Good morning, Misao!”
She smiled back at me but her fidgeting feet told me that she wanted to tell me something else.
I raised both my eyebrows to encourage her.
Upon seeing my silent inquiry, she muttered, “I’m sorry if I weren’t responsible enough for my actions that you had to carry me back to my room.”
“Ne, Misao-chan, don’t apologize. I should even thank you.” I scratched the back of my head, giving her an easy smile.
She looked back at me, wondering why I said that.
Foolish girl. She didn’t even know how much she had given me already.
“Thanks,” I repeated. Not wanting to sound so overly-dramatic, I narrowed down my gratitude to last night. Widening my smile, I raised my hand, giving her arm a soft squeeze. “It has been awhile since I slept peacefully.”
“You’re always welcome.”
“Misao, I’m just going to fold the futon, see you later at the dinning hall?”
The morning routine went on as usual. The playful bantering Misao and the other Onniwabanshu engage in used to surprise me as I was never used to an informal meal. But now, I just found it endearing.
They were so close with one another.
“Soujiro! Are you just going to stare at that!?” Okina-kun reprimanded as he caught me lost in my thoughts.
I gave them a sheepish grin as I continued eating. I really should stop spacing out this often.
“If you don’t want it, I want it! After all, I need this for energy!” Just then, Misao plucked a slice of fish from my plate with her chopsticks, shoving them immediately in her mouth.
“And excess fat!” Omasu slapped her hand playfully, giving her a disapproving look. Turning to me, she widened her eyes and clicked her tongue. “Seriously, Soujiro, you shouldn’t give away your food just like that to Misao. She’s growing sideways while you are getting thinner.” Leaning her head forward, she whispered to my ear, “Besides, would you still marry her when she’s all fat and sagging?”
“Omasu-san!” I exclaimed, feeling the heat rise up to my cheeks.
“What did she say?” Misao whined.
“Nothing.” Okon winked at me.
“I just love to make this cute boy blush.” Omasu laughed out loud.
I sighed. I saw that coming.
“He’s not a boy anymore!” Misao’s sudden comment threw me off.
“Case closed.” Shiro and Kuro said in unison, both bursting in laughter.
Poor Misao glared at each of them as she tried desperately to get the joke.
As always, the joke was on her.
“Like we said, case closed.”
I chuckled at that, raising my hand to cover my mouth…
…and my flushed cheeks as well.
After breakfast, I pulled Misao to one corner. "Misao, can I ask you a favor?"
She didn't even know it yet and she already agreed. What a girl! I often asked myself if she really was for real. Going back to the task at hand, I asked, "Will you accompany me to some place today?"
"Are you busy?" I smiled, trying to conceal the disappointment in my voice.
"No, it's okay. Where are we going anyway?"
"To Shishio's lair."
She paused for a moment, looking to the ground as if searching for a lost memory. "That's where the final battle took place, right?"
I nodded, absent-mindedly, wondering what's going on in her mind. Although I knew that she never really went there with Himura-san, I still did not know what kind of memories she attached to that place. Affirming what she said, I replied, "Yes, I heard that it burned down but I never really saw what happened."
"Surprisingly, I never went back to that place. Maybe because it…"
Then, it occured to me.
"… reminded you of when Aoshi was bad?" I finished for her.
Somehow, I felt this aching feeling inside my heart. No, it couldn't really be jeolousy.
No. It wasn't that.
It was just that almost everybody had someone waiting for them.
Suddenly, I was beginning to learn what love truly was. I envy those who had somebody. As I stare at Misao, a small smile appeared on my face, I had her but...
...she didn't really belong to me.
I was snapped out of my musings when Misao suddenly answered, "Yes, but he's back now. That's all that matters."
Why was I still able to mile at her when I was feeling my heart sink?
"I am glad to be here with you." She said softly, taking my hand as we began walking.
With that simple act, I remembered my promise. I would protect her happiness. That's why I was able to smile at her. And it wasn't even my cold and unfeeling smile. My smile meant something because it wasn't an empty facial expression.
I smiled... for her.
We walked in silence for a short while before I slapped my forehead with my palm. I remembered something. I couldn't believe that I had forgotten something as important as that!
Misao looked at me quizzically, wondering why I had just hit myself.
Given her an easy grin, I asked, "You and Kaoru-san fought with Kamatari, right?"
"Yeah. How did you... Well, of course you knew! You were comrades!" Misao smiled at the memory.
A few weeks ago, I would have been baffled by her reaction to a battle memory. But now that I knew her better, I knew that this amazing woman in front of me could never hate anything or think of a memory with much malice and contempt.
"I didn't really know what happened to her after that." She shrugged. "All Chou told us was that he was working as a spy now."
I nodded. "Before he left, I was also able to talk to him. He told me that he was posing as a woman and... he told me about you."
"Hmmm?" Misao looked at me curiously, waiting for me to elaborate.
"He said he admired you and Kaoru-san for your courage."
At that, she nodded in understanding and smiled, "I hope he is alright now, wherever he is."
I smiled back at her, watching her serene expression at that moment. Kamatari was right and she knew it. She had confidence in herself that she knew all her strengths and weaknesses. This confidence was the reason why she was hesitant to change. She knew that nothing was wrong with her. That she was already enough to be loved.
Nevertheless, despite the doubts and confusion she experienced, she undertook everything for love.
That was what I called courage.
It had been a long time since I had trekked the path we were taking. I couldn't really say that I missed it but it did bring back important memories of the past.
We stopped by in front of the clearing and I heard Misao gasp. "So this is how it looks like."
"I never thought it ended like this," I muttered aloud. The sight was depressing. Just as I heard, everything burned down. Shishio-san, Yumi-san, his vision.
Although I had to admit that I did not believe in his principles anymore, I still could not help but feel sad that everything we had worked for burned down. He had a wonderful vision for Japan, the means may not have justified it, come to think of it, but as Misao said good and bad is relative. For him, what he was doing was for the greater good of Japan.
"Huh? I'm sorry. I was so lost in my thoughts."
"You said you never thought it would end like this and you're right. Who would have thought that in these desolate remains, life could still grow. Just look at the grasses and flowers here!" Misao exclaimed as she picked up a flower and handed it to me.
She was right. I was so engrossed at thinking about the losses that I failed to see that in its ashes, life sprung out.
While I saw death, she saw life.
What would I do without her?
When we had returned to the Aoiya, I immediately went back to my room to compose myself.
What was I going to say to Aoshi-sama when I come up to him this afternoon? This was the first time in two years that I had not served him tea when I was in Kyoto. It was not only my duty but my pledge as well that I never missed serving him except if I was in another place. Surely, he would ask me why.
It wasn't really that I had forgotten about it. How could I forget about it? Serving him tea was like sleeping. It was an essential part of my day.
But today... I decided to spend my morning with Sou. When I saw that look on his face when he asked a favor, I knew I wouldn't let him down. He needed me and I needed to be there for him because...
...he occupied an important part of my being and I did not want to let him down.
Actually, I just wanted to be there for him.
And I was glad I came. I had been with him in an important day of his life.
If I had to be honest with myself at this moment, I would have to admit that I knew I would have enjoyed Soujiro's company better. At least, with him, I would not be so self-concious.
But, of course, my day would not be complete if I did not see Aoshi-sama.
With that last thought, I left my room and headed towards the temple. I decided I was ell Aoshi-sama the truth. After all, there was nothing wrong with accompanying my best friend to the relic of his past.
I took a deep breath, calming my raging nerves. Despite my seeming confidence on the matter, I couldn't help but feel agitated. Like something was going to happen.
I approached Aoshi-sama silently, kneeling in front of him, waiting to be acknowledged. When he finally looked my way, I bowed my head and said, "Aoshi-sama! I came to apologize! I …"
"…you were with Tenken. Omasu brought the tea this morning."
"Oh…" Was he mad at me? I really couldn't tell since he regarded me with the same coldness everyday but his eyes... they wouldn't leave me. They pierced me as they scrutinized me.
Silence ensued as I almost hyperventilated with tension.
If he was mad, why wouldn't he just tell me?
Suddenly, he spoke, "Misao, tell me, what's your relationship with him?"
I was taken aback by his question. What did this have to do with anything? Did he think that I betrayed my duty for him because of Soujiro?
Sighing deeply because of my unvoiced questions, I replied, "He is my friend. We talk, do chores together, hang-out. Why?"
"Since when did friendship involve sleeping together? Misao, what are you thinking!?"
I was speechless. For the first time in my life, he yelled at me. "How did? Did Omasu…"
"I saw you."
My mind screamed out loud. What exactly did he see? We were just sleeping together, it wasn't as if we made love. But still, what did he see and how did he see it?
I stood before him, wide-eyed, shocked.
He stood up and shook my shoulders as he demanded," Answer me! What do you think you are doing?"
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, forcing myself to calm down but all efforts were futile as I heaved every word that came out of my mouth. "I wanted to comfort him that night. I wanted to chase away his nightmares because he is the best friend that I ever had..."
"By being his whore?"
My heart burst in pain. "You know me better than that."
Tears were already threatening to spill but I held them in. I looked back at him defiantly.
It didn't mean that because I loved him, that I gave my heart to him, he could insult me like that.
I still had feelings!
Upon meeting my eyes, his faltered. He looked down on the ground as he stammered, "I didn't mean that Misao."
"Then, what do you mean!? "Aoshi-sama, I am not a mind-reader! No matter how much I want to understand you, I can't! I don't know what you want! I don't know what's going on inside your mind and worst of all, I don't know what's going on inside your heart!"
He sat there, astonished at my outburst.
I yelled at him because this was my only release. If I didn't yell, I would break down in front of him and I wouldn't be able to say what I wanted to say.
I wouldn't let that happen anymore.
"I'm sorry, Misao."
At that instant, my anger dissipated.
I nodded briefly at him, giving him a sad smile as I stood up. "I can never be mad at you, you know that. Sometimes, you just forget that adults could still get hurt. See you tomorrow, Aoshi-sama."
I searched her eyes the minute she walked out of the temple. As she stood beside me, I cupped her cheeks with my hand. "He hurt you again, Misao-chan."
She shrugged and sighed deeply.
I couldn't bear seeing her like that.
Almost immediately, I wrapped my arms around her, pulling her to me in a tight embrace, wanting her pain to seep through me. She rested her head on my chest, sighing once again as I kissed her hair, gently stroking her back. We held each other like that for what seemed like eternity.
Just her and me, our hearts beating against each other.
After a while, she pulled back, took my hand and smiled.
I smiled back. I almost forgot that was already late in the afternoon.
She leaned her head on my shoulder, holding her hand as we sat. We just stared at the horizon in silence, grateful for each other's presence.
"Sou, can I ask you a favor?"
We remained quiet after that as we awaited the last rays of the sun to disappear. As the sky changed to deep purple, she turned to me, looking deep in my eyes. In a low voice, she said, "Will you teach me how to kiss?"
"What?" My eyes widened in surprise as I felt heat rose up my cheeks.
"Please," she pleaded, biting her lower lip. "Tomorrow… I want to kiss Aoshi-sama. No more pretensions. No more changes. Just me and my feelings."
I looked away from her.
Why did my I feel my heart break into pieces as I heard that? I was her best friend. I told her I would do everything for her.
She was just my best friend! So, why?
Why did it hurt so much?
She placed both her hands to my cheeks, coaxing me to look back at her. "Please," she repeated.
"But Misao. How can I teach you when I haven't kissed anyone before?" What I said was true but then again, it wasn't the real reason why I didn't want to kiss her.
When I kiss her, she wouldn't be kissing me, she would be kissing him.
It was then that I realized how much I wanted her.
Was this how love felt like?
Did this mean that this was the same kind of pain she was feeling because of unrequited love?
Sighing, I gave her a small smile. "As you wish. Anything to protect your happiness."
I looked deep in her eyes, pressing my nose against hers. I took her hands from my face and wrapped them around my shoulder as I placed my left hand on her nape and my right hand on her chin. Slowly, I pulled her closer until our lips met.
That brief touch would have made me the happiest man alive if only she didn't close her eyes.
How was I to know who she was thinking of while kissing me.
Suddenly, a tear escaped from her eye as she pulled my closer for another kiss. This one lasted longer than the previous, but her tears wouldn't stop falling.
I pulled back. I didn't want to kiss her while she was crying. I caressed her hair and wiped away her tears with my hand. "Please don't cry. Whatever happens, I'll always love you just the way you are."
She looked at me, wide-eyed in shock but I just smiled at her. Slowly, I pulled her closer for another kiss.
However, this kiss was different for I poured all my love for her in this kiss. Yes, I loved her. I didn't care if her kiss wasn't for me anymore. All I knew is that I loved her and I was going to show her how much.
I wasn't an experienced kisser so I let my heart guide me on this. I opened my mouth to capture more of her lips when I felt her tongue inside my mouth.
"Don't stop," she murmured into my lips.
When I raised my eyes from our lips, I saw her. She was looking back at me.
I pulled her from her seat, placing her on my lap, wanting to close the little distance between us. I wrapped my arm around her waist, pulling her closer to me as I dove into the pleasure that is her mouth. I removed the band that held her braid and caressed her long silky hair as I continued massaging her lips with mine. As our tongues met, I held on her neck, opening my mouth further to deepen the kiss.
She placed her hands on my hair as well as I felt her heaving chest against mine. We were both already breathing deeply but none seemed to mind. We were so lost inside our own world that we didn't even feel the drops on rain seeping through our clothes.
Thunder rumbled softly from afar.
It was raining again.
And just like that other fateful rainy day, my life would be forever changed this day.
Finding the need to breathe, I pulled back but my lips were not left unoccupied for so long. I trailed kisses from her lips, to her jaw, to her neck, searching for her sensitive spot there. Shishio-san often kissed Yumi-san there and I wanted to give Misao the same pleasure he gave her.
Misao bended her neck to one side to give me better access and I stopped at her pulse, giving her a small bite before I continued suckling on the sensitive flesh. She placed her hands on my arms as I felt her breathing became ragged again.
“Sou-chan.” As a soft moan escaped her lips, her body tensed.
"I'm sorry, Sou," she stammered.
Suddenly, she stood up from my lap and ran away from me.
I could only stare at her retreating figure as my heart stopped.
In this cold rainy night, I felt like I was dying again.
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