Ookanehira set the breakfast tray down in front of the Aoe bedroom's shoji. His heartbeat was faster than usual, but at least he wasn't shaking or sweating. He had worked himself up today to finally make a request of Juzumaru. He had practiced in front of the mirror and taken pointers from Imanotsurugi. The saniwa gave him access to her stationery boxes. He couldn't disappoint himself when he was this prepared.
"I brought breakfast," he knocked on the shoji. He shifted into a seiza position and kept his head down. When the shoji slid open, he bent forward. "M-may I comb your hair?"
"Hm?" Nikkari chuckled softly. "Is that an offer?"
Damn it! Ookanehira glared up at the wakizashi. He had bet on Juzumaru being the one to answer his call. Nikkari was going to ruin everything. "I wasn't talking to you! What're you doing here?"
Nikkari titled his head to the side and held his little grin. This tachi could be teased about his new relationship with Juzumaru, but Nikkari decided there would be better opportunities. "I'm going out to the dining hall. Care to join?"
"I'm staying here; you can leave."
"Very well," Nikkari patted Ookanehira's shoulder and whispered. "My brother's in his bedroom."
Then, Nikkari walked away to leave Juzumaru and his partner alone. Ookanehira tsked at Nikkari's back. He picked up the tray and found the entrance to Juzumaru's bedroom open. The tachi faced a mirror and brushed the ends of his white tresses with a comb. He was wearing just his night robe. Should Ookanehira really be here to see such a sight? Juzumaru was pretty now, even with messy hair.
"Ookanehira-dono?" Juzumaru turned around to look at the redhead. "Were you speaking to Nikkari-dono?"
"Y-yes," Ookanehira kept his gaze down. "I brought you breakfast.... Can I ask you something?"
"Of course you may; what is it?"
"C-can I comb your hair...while you eat?"
Ookanehira's heart thumped at Juzumaru's silence. If he never asked, then this moment would never have happened. After Juzumaru finally addressed Ookanehira's feelings in the park, where the sakura petals rained and flowers bloomed at their peak, Ookanehira thought to take things seriously and try to make progress with whatever they had in this relationship. Was all his preparation for nothing?
"I appreciate your assistance," Juzumaru placed his comb on the tatami mat. "Please start at the ends and work your way up."
Somehow, the breakfast tray was set in front of Juzumaru and Ookanehira was behind him. That beautiful hair rested on Ookanehira's palm and he combed the white strands, just as he had done with Imanotsurugi.
Starting at the bottom of the tresses, he inched higher and higher. He repeated his steps; he needed to do this right. This repetition was calming enough to remove the usual nerves Ookanehira had when around the other tachi. He brushed out tangles and knots until they were smoothed out. Some locks were short, others were so, so long. Some strands started black and then turned white. Hair changing colour like this usually was a sign of aging, mortality, but this hair was a part of Juzumaru's beauty.
The hair was soft and clean. How did Juzumaru maintain these tresses so well? Sometimes his hair dragged along the ground or engawa. At the park where their relationship changed forever, sakura petals decked his hair. At the citadel's onsen, Ookanehira once stole a few glances at Juzumaru when he washed his hair. Juzumaru, in a shower stall, had his back turned away from Ookanehira. Juzumaru rubbed shampoo into his hair and then washed it all off. His hair looked quite thin then and the strands clung together, like a dipped brush. How Ookanehira envied water at moments like that.
"I-is this too rough?"
"You're doing very well, Ookanehira-dono," Juzumaru ate rice. "May I ask why you wanted to brush my hair?"
"I...thought it might be nice to...just spend time together," he said. Last week, he was flipping through various television channels until he settled on a program about a mother and daughter duo styling each other's hair; that gave him inspiration. They even demonstrated how to decorate cakes and cookies. Their careful attention to their craft was mesmerizing and inspirational. It was the sort of dedication he aspired to when it came to building his strength. When he heard someone entering the living room, he switched to a sports channel.
"Should I return the favour?" Juzumaru said.
Did he mean comb Ookanehira's hair? Just the thought of Juzumaru's hands on his head made Ookanehira blush.
"N-no, it's fine," why was he like this? Entering the battlefield was less nerve wreaking than doing a simple task involving Juzumaru. Ookanehira was now on the grey parts; the middle length of the hair.
"If we make a habit of this, may I study my sutras as you brush?" there could be much time gained if Ookanehira was dutiful about this.
"Sure," whatever helped Juzumaru further to enlightenment. Ookanehira could spend his mornings at the dojo and train instead. If Mikazuki or Oodenta walked by, that was a chance to challenge them. They usually just ignored him. Being here with Juzumaru, for whatever reason, felt like a better use of time. Being here and having idle chatter made him content. Is this what Ookanehira was missing in his life? With their relationship taking this new path, they could do anything together, be honest with one another. Ookanehira never knew such an atmosphere was possible or even enjoyable.
Even when he combed Juzumaru's bangs, both of them so close to each other, his hands didn't shake as much as he feared; he wanted to this hair justice. Doing repetitive tasks truly did refine one's abilities.
It took about an hour to finish brushing. In the end, the crown of juzu beads were set on the back of his head and he dressed in his casual wear. Juzumaru and Ookanehira were both out on the engawa, ready to start their day. Sparrows chirped their morning greetings.
"Are we in the fields today?"
"Yeah," Ookanehira nodded. His tomatoes were growing in their plot. Perhaps they could work on cultivating a patch of vegetables together. "Oh, I forgot this."
He took out the gift in his pocket. A hair clip with a pair of roses in their master's stationery box caught his eye. When the decoration was attached to Juzumaru's hair, it sparkled red under the sunlight.
Juzumaru rubbed a finger over the decoration, feeling the craftsmanship. These flowers were larger than the lotus hair clip that Ookanehira had given before. "Would you like me to walk about with this?"
"I-I don't mind; you look nice. Let's go do our chores," Ookanehira had been embarrassed about Juzumaru walking about with the lotus clip before. Today, Juzumaru's long hair was glossy in the morning light. Pride swelled inside Ookanehira, knowing that they worked together to create a lovely sight. Next time, he could braid the hair or use more clippings to support those tresses up and out of the field's dirt. He could pick real flowers out from the gardens and make a crown.
Ookanehira had to learn how to style hair by watching that mother and daughter show again. He could practice on Imanotsurugi to perfect his technique. Juzumaru's happiness was worth more than any teasing Ookanehira received.