Could You, Would You?

December's SL Challenge


Credits: Inspired by "Wipeout" by Silver Miko and "Sleeping Aoshi" by Shin Sankai.
Misao sneezed.

It was her least favorite time of year… the time when Omasu, Okon, and Okina got strangely pink in the cheeks and she, Shiro, and Kuro tried to escape, and subsequently failed. As far as she could tell, Aoshi-sama had no preference one way or the other for this "special time of year".

It was, very simply, year end.

Year-end meant one thing to her and one thing she hated.

Cleaning.

The entire house would be cleaned from top to bottom. The floors, the walls, the furniture, everything and it was every bit as exhausting as the task sounded. She would have loved nothing better than to escape but as she was serving as the Aoiya's hostess, and had been for over six months, she could not shy away from the activity. It had been made especially clear to her by Okina that it was her duty to stay and assist and he'd gone out of his way to imply that Aoshi-sama would disapprove of her not tackling the job of hostess completely and wholly.

So, presently, she was kneeling, washing the wood panel front doors of the Aoiya quite diligently. Her mind wandering along as it always did. She had a hundred things to do. There was food to be prepared and the cleaning to be finished, not to mention the decorations! She hadn't even started the decorations! She felt like a one woman brigade about to charge right off a bridge.

Omasu and Okon and the others were helping, certainly, but she still felt like it was her responsibility to oversee everything. Rightfully, it was. It was her job to make sure everything was done and pretty and tasteful and perfect and it was giving her a bit of a headache.

Or… a lot of a headache.

But Aoshi-sama… he had decided to employ his time on "services higher than himself" and volunteered to clean the Temple. Initially, she'd wanted to stomp her feet and yell, well after he'd left of course, instead she'd just angrily taken to cleaning. She didn't see why he couldn't stay home and work like the rest of them. Not to mention it would reduce her stress considerably… it would probably also distract her.

She felt her face flush as she imagined him kneeling, his muscles rippling, the sleeves of his garment sliding down his forearm revealing tone, firm flesh… oh!

She brought one soapy hand to her reddened cheek. She was so going to be an old maid… a perverse old woman… what if she ended up like Okina chasing young men around the town? She shuddered and picked up her rag and began to wash once more.


It was late when Aoshi-sama came back. So she assumed. It was hours after nightfall, as far as she knew he wasn't back yet. She wondered what other volunteers were down at the temple helping out. She wondered how many pretty young girls… how many spent their days blinking and flirting with him… she bit her lip.

She wouldn't be jealous. There was too much to be done. Sleep was what she really needed. Curling deeper into her blankets she frowned and shivered. It was chilly.

She wasn't going to get to sleep anytime soon. Aoshi-sama did nothing to preserve her state of mind these days. Either he was being unintentionally provocative or absently sparking speculation. In an attempt to ease her mind, the week before she slipped away and gone down to the area where lots of the young men liked to hang about. Lots of fights took place in the area and despite her eagerness to do something fun, she restrained from getting into any tussles.

She wanted to think it wasn't true but she couldn't deny the facts. Aoshi-sama and she simply didn't communicate much. It wasn't as though they'd drifted apart when they hadn't been all that close to begin with… but unless she pushed for interaction, there wasn't any.

He was just… there or not there. He didn't speak up, he didn't participate, he didn't hang out with them, he just sort of… boarded there and she had a sick, tingling feeling that that was coming to an and. She feared he was going to move out.

She didn't know why, it was just a feeling she had. She sighed and stood up throwing her blankets back. She pulled on her robe and slid open her door. Was he back?

She told herself she didn't care, that she didn't want to care anymore. He was going to move out and she was never going to see him again and she wouldn't be able to follow after him because she had responsibilities now.

She wished… she missed when she was younger. She wasn't old by any means having just turned twenty but she felt old. They were treating her like an adult, it was depressing. Life was much sweeter when she was a child.

She crept down to the kitchen and set some water to heat and sighed as she leaned against the wall. She didn't bother with a candle, she liked the darkness. It always felt colder in the dark.

She turned as she heard sound and saw movement; there was no mistaking the tall man as he stepped in the kitchen. Was he just getting back? This long after everyone else had gone to bed…?

"Good evening, Aoshi-sama."

He didn't jump or turn. He gave no indication of being surprised at her being there in the dark.

"Good evening, Misao."

His voice was perfect. She wondered if he knew how much she loved it and then she doubted that. She was certain he didn't know it.

"Are you just getting back?" she tried to keep her voice neutral and felt as though she failed. She wasn't jealous, she told herself to repeat the phrase in her mind a hundred times. Maybe it would stick.

"Yes," he answered. He tinkered around with something at the counter with his back to her for several moments. He offered no explanation and she frowned.

There could be an ocean between them; she wondered how it got there. She turned her eyes toward the fire that was heating her water. It would boil soon but not soon enough.

He moved suddenly and turned and whatever was in his hands was hidden. He didn't light any candles either, fumbling in the dark.

"Good night, Misao."

He brushed past her and she murmured a reply back. "Good night."

She left Aoshi-sama off her salutation. Maybe she'd stop calling him that. He wasn't her leader anymore and she wasn't even sure… no, she wouldn't say she didn't love him, she did.

It was a bitter, hurtful thing now though… just… time together had strained her feelings for him more than time apart ever had. She'd lived on a child's hope for years and now she was an adult and that hope had changed, morphed into something else.

She hated to call it "reality" but often felt that's what it was. She heard him, his footsteps go up the stairs and then he was gone, seeking solace in his room with whatever he'd had in his hands.

He was a stranger to her, wasn't he? He wanted to be. He didn't want to be close to her. She didn't take him tea anymore. She didn't go to the Temple, she didn't… she didn't do any of the things she used to do for him.

It was sad. She missed those days, she smiled ruefully. Her heart clenched in her chest. Nothing would bring back what was lost and she hadn't ever had anything to hold onto either, she knew that now but she didn't like to think bout it.

In the daylight, she could at least see something to be happy about. At night, though, she was left to doubts and miseries.

She glanced back at the teapot. She could hear the bubbles inside. She flicked off the fire and poured it into a cup. The moonlight was bright through the window and she could see enough not to splash her fingers. Her mind wandered as she prepared her tea. She could not keep her mind still at all…

Hearing sound behind her, she abruptly turned only to see Aoshi standing several feet away. The whites of his eyes seemed strangely bright.

"Ah… I thought you went to bed," she gasped out, trying to settle her pounding heart. She took a calming breath and turned back to her tea.

The column of steam felt good against her face so she leaned further over her cup. She didn't feel nervous with him like she used to, now she felt scared. Scared he was going to tell her he was going. If he left again without telling her, she wouldn't forgive him.

"No," he answered belatedly. "I cannot sleep yet."

"You aren't going back to the Temple early tomorrow?" It was a casual question, not a probing one, she had no ulterior motives. Not really.

He didn't seem to speculate over it, he answered. "I am."

He wasn't getting much sleep then, was he? She frowned. Should she say something about that? She decided not to.

"Are you leaving?" she blurted out suddenly. "Moving out, I mean, of the Aoiya?"

He stayed very still and she feared she'd stumbled upon the cause of his distant behavior. "Should I?" he asked.

"No, you shouldn't but that doesn't mean you won't, so are you?" she shot back. She was careful not to knock over her cup.

"No."

"Then why aren't you here anymore? Every time I turn around you're somewhere else, you're never here, you never help, you never come to dinner, I don't have time to come and find you, you could save me the trouble and just stay once in a while!"

His head turned a fraction of an inch. "I understand you're busy."

Yes!

Yes, she was most certainly busy. She would love to chase him down but she couldn't, she had promises and obligations to keep!

She sighed feeling defeated. She always lost with him, didn't she?

"Perhaps?" he spoke up again, turning his eyes toward her. "You could grant me a favor?"

Her eyes widened. "A favor?"

"I will not be finished with my temple duties until the cleaning has long since ended here. If you have time, could you perhaps add it into your schedule?"

She gaped.

He wanted her to clean his room!

"I… a… sure," she answered feeling a little on the stunned side.

Unlimited access to his room? Permission to touch and "oooh" and "aah" over all his stuff?

It was a gift! She wanted to jump up and down in place and hug him and… she carefully held that in.

"I was going to start the decorations tomorrow but I can put it off until tomorrow in the evening. I'll do your room tomorrow afternoon. Anything specific?"

"No," he answered. "You may handle it as you like." He quietly left her but she didn't mind his going.

Access to Aoshi-sama's room! Ah-ha! She felt like she floated back to her upstairs and her zooming thoughts prevented sleep for hours.


Come morning, Misao was no longer thrilled about the prospect of cleaning Aoshi's room. She hadn't gotten very much sleep and was very much feeling the effects and the other denizens of the Aoiya were staying well out of her way. Dressing lazily, she headed down to the kitchen and grabbed her bucket and supplies and immediately began work in the common room. The others were responsible for the dining hall. Her responsibilities included the common room, the Okashira's office, her own room and Aoshi-sama's room. She growled as she kneeled by the table.

She hated cleaning.

By the time she stomped upstairs to clean Aoshi-sama's room, she was exhausted. She didn't want to do yet another room even if it was Aoshi's but she would because she promised and because it had to be done. It was her responsibility.

That was a phrase she could go a while without thinking or hearing.

Pulling open the door she stepped inside. Afraid she would be tempted to go through his things to answer all her deep, unsatisfied unanswered questions she left his door open.

His room was tidy and didn't appear the slightest dusty. She decided to start with the table and work outward. Thankfully for her he had rolled up and put away his futon saving her some extra work, it was not like Aoshi-sama to be remiss in his cleanliness though.

She set about polishing the table despite the aches in her arm from muscle overuse during the past two days. There was simply no helping it. As she finished she decided that she would have to move both the table in his room out and the rug that was placed underneath it to protect his tatami from the furniture weight. She sighed. Then she'd have to thoroughly sweep the whole room. Ugh.

She neatly stacked the few items on the table to the side and carried the table itself out into the hall where she left it. Noting a box had been beneath the table she picked it up and shook it.

It sounded like paper.

She glanced at the doorway quickly and then gently slid the box top off. It was filled with paper. She wasn't going to touch it though, no matter how badly she burned with curiosity. At least, she hadn't intended to. When she caught sight of her name, blazed in perfect kanji in perfectly crisp blank ink on white parchment well… wasn't that a virtual invitation?

It sounded like one to her so she grabbed the slip of paper and quickly shut the box.

It had her name on it that meant one thing.

It was hers.

She slipped it into her kimono top against her skin and stood up. She needed to sweep… who could say when Aoshi-sama would come home?

Midnight.

She knew it was late, midnight at least. The house was dark and silent and the others were long since asleep. She was the only one awake. Aoshi-sama had not returned. The decorations were done. The pine decorations outside the door, the kadomatsu, were set out. She was almost done. There was still the matter of food prep which was predominantly the others responsibility as she was not exactly kitchen staff but… of course, being hostess, everything was her responsibility.

Well, responsibility could take a hike as far as she was concerned.

She sipped her tea irritably, shifting where she sat and then jumping as something poked at her. Abruptly, she recalled the letter she'd lifted from Aoshi-sama's room and she pulled it out. It had slipped low on her waist just shy of sliding out from her obi and onto the floor where, inevitably, it would've been lost.

She unfolded it and neared the candle to see. It was not one page, but several.

"Misao -

I was hardly more than a child myself when I left you. Taking the title of 'Okashira' does not endow one with magical powers or divine wisdom. I could do nothing but take one day at a time as I'm sure you are learning. In that journey, I did many things I now deem to be a mistake.

We live with them, we regret, but we can never change them. Leaving you was hurtful for both of us, but it was not a mistake and I would not change that course of action. Do not begrudge me one of the best decisions I ever made during my course of time as Okashira.

Could you look past your hurt to see that?

Would you forgive it?

Sometimes opportunity isn't always what it appears… sometimes the line between good and bad and forward and backward blur… sometimes one gets lost in the confusion… Kanyruu was a mistake, the greatest I ever made. It cost too much. The only consolation left to me being that you were not there. Had you died before me, a pool of blood at my feet, I'd have walked no further. I would have taken to my grave there upon the floor of corruption as I deserved.

Could you be cared for be a man as flawed as I?

Would you allow it?

I walked wounded over endless miles. I found and fought men. Slaughtered them. I cut them down where they stood. Blood rained down upon me, spattering my clothes, my skin, my face, my hands, tainting me forever…

Could you see me clean again?

Would you allow my dirty skin to touch yours?

In darkness, I sought out Okina. I fought him to prevent interference. I fought him to undermine any strength the Oniwabanshuu may have gained under his guardianship. I fought him to weaken your resolve.

I fought him with the intention to kill.

Could you see me lapse back into darkness?

Would you survive it if I did?

'Never show your face to me again.' I hear the words in my dreams amidst the bodies of the others. I hear it endlessly. I see your eyes, I see your tears, I hear them. They rake me inside clawing at my flesh. I wanted to break you of your attachment to me; I wanted you to hate me, to allow me to die as I wanted. I wanted you to let me go to my grave thinking I had no one to love me. I wanted to betray everyone, let no one exist who would lay a claim upon me.

Could you take it?

Would you stand up under more abuse were I to cast you off again?

Could you understand?

Would you try?"

She felt like she was panting, breathing hard, her breath lost to her.

He…

"Does it pain you?"

She looked up to see him but he wasn't visible. His voice had been clear from the direction of the doorway. He must, she determined, be beyond it, purposely out of sight.

"I wasn't going to give it to you. You're too busy to be bothered with me."

She felt as though her breath had been kicked out of her a second time. "Bother?" she breathed. She took a long moment and thought, her mind frantically racing. A bother… him? Aoshi-sama!

She stood smoothly and drifted toward him. In that moment, she felt strangely wonderful and graceful. She felt fluid in the darkness, much more so than she did in daylight. Maybe it was the kimono, maybe it was his letter, maybe it was the candlelight, maybe it was just meeting him in the dark…

What to do? Could she? Would he let her? She stepped out of the doorway. "I finished your room."

"Aa," he murmured. "Thank you."

Silence lapsed between them as Misao thought yet again. He was close; she could feel his body heat he was so near.

No.

Tonight, she thought, there was not time enough. She reached down to grab his hand and she raised it to her lips. Pressing a kiss to the back of it she turned her eyes up to him.

"Are you going to the Temple, tomorrow?" she asked softly.

"Yes."

She nodded wordlessly. "Will you be late?"

"Yes."

She nodded again and slipped past him. "Goodnight, Aoshi-sama."


The house was silent. It smelled faintly of incense from her earlier burning. She'd gone from room to room lighting them to give the house a delicate scent. It was pleasant and she was happy with her work.

The cleaning was done as was the decorating and the food prep was, amazingly enough, ahead of schedule. Things were working out perfect for once. She liked to think it was because of her…

Scratch that, she knew it was because of her. With Aoshi-sama out so often she had dedicated herself entirely to her working about the house. There was only one thing left for her to do. She reached up and patted her abdomen, she could feel the letter there secure beneath her obi. It had been with her all day. She'd read it over several times questioning whether or not what she was planning was the right thing to do… was it?

Should she abandon her crazy plan of action before she embarrassed herself horribly or would he let her?

That stopped her; it cut her deep in a way that was unexplainable.

Would he let her?

She stood, for the third night in a row, in the kitchen. Staring out a back window, she waited to hear his footfalls. It couldn't be much longer now, that's what she kept thinking, over and over. It couldn't be much longer… if he was delayed for too long she would have to go back outside and make adjustments. She sighed and dipped her head allowing the steam from her tea cup to gently drift over her face.

Behind her there was a creak.

She straightened and glanced back but saw nothing. She had never mastered the fine art of ki detection. She had been told; by numerous instructors that she simply lacked the concentration. Thinking that perhaps she could use Aoshi as a focus, she tried to sense him.

Was he lingering around the kitchen in the shadows or was her imagination running overtime? She closed her eyes and sought, searched… but got nothing. Maybe he wasn't there… maybe she just couldn't do it.

Her head lowered in defeat. She wouldn't give up trying but it had been so long since she'd first tried and she still wasn't getting it. There was no one there.

It didn't really matter, she thought, she turned back to the window and looked out. Above, the moon was close to full.

Again, behind her, there was a sound, ruffling, a shuffle of cloth. Was she alone? Perhaps a mouse was lurking about? She stepped away from the counter and toward the darkened doorway.

She was surprised, startled, when she stepped past the doorway into total darkness and right into the chest of another person. Not any person, not a stranger lurking about the Aoiya, but Aoshi-sama. She knew… the feel of him, the way he smelled…

Her heart leapt into her throat and stayed there pounding like a wild drum player. Her body swept cold and then flushed hot as familiar arms came around her, two large hands pressed against her narrow back.

Was it a comforting movement? Was he trying to steady her fearing that she was unsteady?

She could hear her own breathing she realized.

"Aoshi-sama..." she murmured. "You're late."

"Aa."

Of course, she knew he intended to be late. She was ready... was she stalling? Why wasn't he letting her go? Did she want him to?

"I..." she paused. "Do me a favor?"

There was no hesitance in his reply. "Yes?"

"Come with me outside for a few minutes. I want to... Just come, okay?" her voice was unsteady, thick with nervousness. Could she do this?

There was nothing, she thought to herself, to be ashamed about. She was a girl of multi-talents, she reminded herself briefly. She could do anything.

He followed along behind her silently. She dared not look back until they got there. She looked up to the vents to see the steam was still pouring out.

Her water was still warm.

Good.

She opened the door and stood back and, without glancing at her, he stepped in. She had a stool set and waiting and silently she motioned him toward it.

She watched with amazement as he folded his tall frame down onto the tiny seat. His long legs bent in sharp angles toward the ground. He looked straight ahead. She came around behind him so he couldn't see her, gathering her courage close to her; she tried to force it into her fingers. Her supplies were near; she scooped up a bucket of hot water. Glancing back she checked the hook on the wall for the yukata she'd sneaked from his room.

It was still there.

Trembling, she placed her hands mid-way upon his shoulders. She pressed down to stop the fine tremors in her fingers. Slowly, she trailed her hands inward, curling the tip of her fingers beneath the collar of his yukata. Gripping it tight she began to pull, slowly tugging the material apart. Bronze skin and muscle was taught beneath her fingers as she pulled the loose fabric to the rounded cap of his shoulders and then down.

He stayed still as she slipped it down his arms to rest at his wrists, pooling at his waist. Dropping her cloth into the bucket, she wet it good and soaped it up. She leaned forward, almost against his back, her mouth near his ear. She squeezed it over his opposite shoulder with one hand while leaning her face over the other shoulder.

"It's cleaning time, Aoshi-sama," she murmured. "Everything has to be clean to start the New Year."

The water dribbled out of the wet rag and down onto his skin. It dripped over his shoulder and down his chest and down his back, soaking into the cloth around his waist. She dared not remove that. He shuddered, whether because he was cold, or because of her actions, or because of her words.

"Being the hostess of the Aoiya, I'm responsible for everything..." she swallowed the huge, dry lump in her throat. "Let me do this for you."

He shuddered again and remained silent, stiff. She glanced up to see his eyes were shut tight.

She lowered the rag to her bucket, drawing away. Warming it in the water she brought it back to his skin and slowly washed his back. Up and down in broad strokes. He said nothing.
She moved to his left arm, drawing his complacent hand from the cloth. Carefully, she did each finger, around the nail, over the knuckle to the palm before bringing his hand to her mouth. She pressed a soft gentle kiss to his palm. She kissed along the fleshy pads by the wrist and up the pinky, flicking her tongue against the delicate tip before skipping over to the next finger. Up and down all the way to the thumb.

He didn't move.

Didn't shift...

Didn't even seem to breathe...

Tenderly; she did the opposite arm the same. When she brought his hand to her mouth, he trembled. He dropped his chin toward his chest, his muscles twitching.

She gently lowered his arm and dragged her bucket around. She looked up at him. His chest heavily scarred and bared her to gaze was beautiful. No one in the world could be more beautiful than him, she thought.

Despite the steam, the air in the bath house was cold and he was wet. They shouldn't, she decided, linger much longer.

She licked her lips. "Are… Can you start the New Year clean, Aoshi-sama?" she murmured.

Gently, he tugged at her sleeve and she stood up. He pulled her near, pressing his mouth against her cheek. Breathing softly against her ear, he spoke.

"No." He paused. "Not yet."

She pulled back and gazed into his eyes. "Its… will you come home more often?"

"I always come home, Misao."

"Yes, but… you don't come home enough anymore. I never see you."

He shifted and she was pressed back as he stood up. Disappointed, she moved and grabbed the yukata from the wall and handed it to him, watching him curl the fabric around his body shielding him from the cold.

"Let's go to bed, Misao."

Separate beds, she was sure. She just followed him back to the house. In the morning she would clean up the mess she'd left in the bathhouse. With a sigh she headed to her room, somewhere along the way she lost Aoshi-sama in the dark.

Expecting to be alone in the darkness of her room, she was startled when she saw him. He was in front of the window, his silhouette perfectly outlined.

"Could you live with this? Would you taint yourself with me?"

"I don't think you're tainted at all," she answered softly.

He started for the door. He paused halfway. "Earlier… I…"

"You don't have to say anything." She moved toward her futon. She had already prepared her bed and now she was very thankful she had. The floor was chilly…

"Tomorrow evening, would you…?"

She tried to calm her heart. "Same time?"

"Yes."

"I'll see you then," she answered softly. She didn't dare turn to look back at him, she couldn't. Softly, he left the room and she crawled into her bed and curled up. She could still remember how he tasted, the calloused tips of his fingers against her lips... the tainted hands of Aoshi-sama…

Would tomorrow be the same? She closed her eyes and relived it, sleep eluded her for hours.


Aoshi stood in front of his door. He stared at the plain colored panel lost in thought. The house was quiet except for the snoring down the hall. Was… he had let her… he'd wanted her touch, her attention for so long… Okina had roped her into playing hostess and he was suddenly bereft. She was too busy for him; he was left to fill his own lazy hours as the craving for her grew. The letter was old; it felt like ages since he'd written it…

Tomorrow, he vowed, he'd return the soft touches bestowed upon him….

Tomorrow he would give her the words and reassurances and promises…

Tomorrow, he would ask her to be his always…

To lie I his tainted bed…

To bear hell with him.


Notes:

This is the official ending of the non-lemon version. One or two more scenes are going to be tacked onto the end of this piece and the bath house part of the story is completely different in the other rated version. That version of this fiction is not yet available for viewing. I'll send a notice to SL and post a note in my bio when it's posted and you may go there at your discretion.

Really though, I don't think I captured what I wanted to with the clean concept and I will attempt to fix it with the other piece.