"All these are yours? They're so beautiful!" Sarasa peered into the trunk that held Ageha's stage costumes, lifting a pale yellow veil.
Madame poked her head in the tent. "Age– oh hello, Sarasa! I didn't know you were here."
"Sarasa is going to help Kicho get ready today," Ageha said with a smile. "How does it look for tonight?"
"Three-quarters of the seats are sold," Madame said. "People spread bedrolls in the streets outside the theatre last night as soon as the handbills with your name went up." She handed Ageha several letters stamped with sealing wax.
"Then we must give a memorable performance," Ageha said.
"Don't we always?" Madame laughed, and left with a wave. "Enjoy your swim."
"Swim?" Sarasa asked.
"Swim is what I do to relax before a show. We'll do that later; for now, you can help by picking out my outfit for tonight," Ageha said. "Find something that goes with a red shirt; I have a friend coming tonight who loves that color." He was sitting at his small dressing table, looking through the letters Madame had given him. Three he tossed on the fire without opening them, two he put aside, and the last he opened and read, smiling faintly.
"How's this?" Sarasa held up light violet trousers and a long golden sash.
"Good, that's good." Ageha folded the letter, tapped the paper against his lips thoughtfully, and only then glanced at the clothes that Sarasa had draped over the trunk. "OK, now just keep me company while I shave my legs, and then we'll go swimming."
"Shave your legs?"
"Of course," Ageha said. He wrote a note which he gave to Kagero with a whispered command; as soon as the owl swooped out of the tent Ageha set a small basin of water, some soap, a sponge, and a dagger in the center of the rug. "The customers don't like Kicho to be hairy." He untied the robe he wore over his short black tunic and then sat, his legs on either side of the basin.
Sarasa, who before today had never seen Ageha when he was not swathed in his head-to-toe blue robes, turned away with burning cheeks. She'd seen men's legs before but … Ageha was different. She didn't think she'd blush this much even if she ever saw Shuri's legs.
Not that she planned to.
See Shuri's legs.
Ageha, perceiving her embarrassment, said, "No need to be shy. Just think of it as watching your big sister." There were soft splashing sounds.
Sarasa smiled. "I didn't have a big sister, and even if I had, we wouldn't have done things like leg-shaving. Water is too precious in the desert." She picked up the silk pants. "These clothes are so soft and beautiful." She held them up to herself experimentally, then frowned and turned. "Ageha – these pants are long. Your legs won't show, so why – ?"
Ageha, who was making a lather by rubbing the soap with the sponge, didn't look up. "Private performances. After the show."
He looked up at her slyly. "I never know when I will need to buy a thousand cows for you."
She shook her head, not understanding.
"I'll tell you what," he said brightly, moving the basin of water aside, then patting the spot between his knees where the basin had been. "Come and sit here."
"Every girl should shave her legs at least once. But since you can't, due to your other – " he paused, searching for the right word, "– costume, you can help your big sister."
"Ah, I don't know …" Sarasa felt her cheeks flame up again.
He patted the rug again. "Let's go. You're wasting my swimming time."
"Can't I just do the soaping part?" Sarasa asked a few moments later. "I'm afraid I'll cut you."
"No, no, I trust you." He swirled the sponge over his shin until it was foamy with soap bubbles, then picked up the dagger point first and held the handle out to Sarasa. When she reluctantly took it he put his hand over hers, angling the blade, guiding her as she scraped the lather away. "See, it's easy."
"Now you try."
Sarasa leaned forward, sponge in one hand, dagger in the other, and meticulously soaped and scraped his shins and as much of his calves as she could from her position.
Ageha leaned forward, running his fingers over where she had shaved. "Nice job. Feel."
She swallowed, then rubbed the back of her hand quickly down his shin. "Yes. Smooth."
"Okay, now I turn over and you do the back of both legs. That's hard for me to reach."
The next few minutes were filled with the splash of the water, the faint swish of the sponge, the scrape of the blade. From outside came the creak of wagon wheels, laughter, children screaming in glee, and the sound of an oud-and-mandolin duet.
Ageha seemed much more masculine from the back, the sleek muscles in his legs and thighs hard under her fingertips. She wouldn't let herself look at where his tunic had ridden up, baring the hollows of his hips.
Finally she was done.
"Well, thank you so much," Ageha said, rolling back to his original sitting position and putting his chin on her shoulder. He kissed her cheek.
Sarasa, blushing – his face was so close, his good eye looking directly into hers – asked softly, "Is that how big sisters kiss?"
"I'm not sure," Ageha said. "I didn't have sisters either." He brought his hand up, turned her head a little, and then kissed her lips, slowly and sweetly.
After a moment, Sarasa pulled away, stammering, "I, you see, there's this boy, and, I like you very much, but not – "
Mercifully, Madame poked head into the tent just then. "Sold out!" she announced; and then, taking in the situation, gave them a look that was half reproving, half amused and left.
Before Sarasa could say more Ageha rose gracefully to his feet. "So I see." He held out his hand to help Sarasa. "I find that the earlier I learn my role, the more convincing the delivery of my lines can be."
~ The end ~