“What is all this…stuff?” Nanao asked, surveying the bottles on the vanity that Matsumoto had. She had no idea why her fellow lieutenant had called her to her personal quarters, but she was not sure she wanted to be there. It was nearing Christmas, and if she had to listen to Matsumoto talk about her relationship with Hisagi-san one more time she’d scream.
“Perfumes, lotions, make-up…and glitter,” she said. “Or rather, body shimmer. To wear on exposed areas to glisten in the light.” She smiled at the lieutenant, then guided her to the chair in front of it. It was a Western piece of furniture, an extravagance, really, but Nanao was fascinated by it. “The rest of the Shinigami Women’s Association took a vote. You need to get a date to the winter dinner that Captain Commander is holding.”
“I wasn’t planning on going,” she said, panic rising in her chest. She never went to that annual dinner longer than she had to. And she certainly never went with a date.
“President Kushajishi said she’d take away your Vice Presidency if you don’t have a date this year,” Matsumoto said, clamping her hands on Nanao’s shoulders, as if she sensed the urge the woman had to bolt. Nanao’s level of panic rose. The position wasn’t much, but if she wasn’t Vice President Lieutenant Kushajishi would run amok and Soul Society would be in serious trouble. She couldn’t risk it.
“What are your plans?” she asked resignedly, slumping forward.
“I’m taking you out with me tonight,” she said. “We’ll hit all the bars, and we’ll find you a date. But first, we need to make you look beautiful.” She touched her glasses lightly. “I need to take these off.”
“I can’t see without them,” Nanao said, beating her to the punch and taking them off, setting them on what little empty space there was on the vanity.
“We’ll put them back on,” she said. “Now, I’m going to make you look sexy. Do you have anything nice to wear?”
“I have a dress kimono,” she said slowly. “It was a gift from…him.” She rarely referred to her captain by name or rank when talking to others about him. He was simply “him” or “the one who gives me a headache that doesn’t have pink hair” or some other unflattering descriptor. She had never worn it before, and had instead put it away almost immediately after getting it. She hated to admit it, but he had good taste. It was exactly what she would have picked out for herself if she’d had the chance or the money, and it was very expensive. She could tell by feeling the fabric, which she did every so often, running her fingers along it or rubbing it on her cheek.
Matsumoto shook her head. “We don’t want to risk ruining it,” she said. “Captain Commander hasn’t decided whether he will allow us to wear fashions from the living world, and we should keep it just in case. We’ll just sexify your work outfit.”
The next forty five minutes were pure hell, as far as Nanao was concerned. Matsumoto put so much on her face it felt like the layers were an inch thick. She pulled her hair out of its neat twist and let it hang down near her shoulders. She had thought to curl it but decided against it. And the whole time she spoke of fashion and the living world and her boyfriend. Nanao had wanted to scream. Finally she was done, and when Nanao was allowed to put on her glasses again she was shocked. As foreign as everything felt, she looked…pretty. Far prettier than she thought she looked on a daily basis.
“You should wear your hair down more often,” Matsumoto said and Nanao got off the chair and leaned further in towards the mirror to get a better look. Her face felt as though it was covered in five or six layers of products, but it didn’t look like it. Her lips were a deep red, and the…mascara, she believed it was called, made her eyelashes curl up. She actually looked alluring. “One last thing, though.” She took down a small container, opened it up and dusted the top with a puffy brush. Then she swept it across her bare skin. “Shimmer. It’s just the right touch.”
As she moved in the light she saw the glitter and saw that it made her look more radiant. “Thank you, Matsumoto-san,” she said profusely.
Matsumoto watched her stand up, then took a good look. Then she went to the vase by her nightstand and plucked out the flower. She broke off some of the stem, then tucked it behind her ear. “I think you look fantastic,” she said with a warm smile.
“Yes, but will it get me a date?” she asked.
“I think so, yes. You’ll have to keep the men off you, or beat them back with a stick.” Then she clapped her hands. “Let me change, and then we can go.”
Nanao nodded, turning back to the mirror and taking a good look. She looked the part of a sexy woman, but could she actually pull it off?
“And what about you, Captain Kyoraku?” Hisagi asked after spending ten minutes talking about Matsumoto.
“There have been few women who have garnered my interest,” Kyoraku replied with a sigh, looking at his cup of sake, which had sat untouched for ten minutes. He was with Ukitake and Hisagi at the sake bar they frequented. Hisagi had not ordered a drink, saying he was going to wait for Matsumoto and her guest, and Ukitake had his usual jasmine tea that the establishment provided especially for him. He had been melancholy for quite some time, since the return of the Vizard. Risa had made a comment last week and he was ruminating on it.
She had said, while annoyed at him, that he was far too old to keep playing around. She and Nanao now shared the lieutenant position, and he had been teasing Nanao a bit, as was his nature, while the women were trying to work. Two lieutenants did make the paperwork go faster, but it had robbed him of something he had gotten used to, his time alone with his Nanao-chan. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed it until Risa said that. Perhaps he had played around too long and it was more of an annoyance to his Nanao-chan, when he had never intended it to be.
Everywhere he looked there were couples. Even Ukitake had a partner, though it had struck Unohana speechless when he asked her out on a date. Kyoraku had been there to witness it, and even now he still didn’t believe it. But he was surrounded by happy couples, and it was starting to depress him, especially as the annual dinner for the captains and lieutenants drew nearer. He had never really cared whether he had a date or not, because he usually went with Ukitake, but this year that was not an option.
“Hey!” Hisagi said suddenly. Kyoraku turned and saw Matsumoto come in in a dazzling red kimono. And then his jaw dropped as he saw who walked shyly behind her. He knew Nanao was lovely, he had known that for a long time, but never before had she looked this stunning. “You look great, Ise-san.”
“Thank you,” she mumbled, blushing.
“You do look quite beautiful,” Ukitake said with a smile. Then he caught sight of his friends face and chuckled. “I do believe you’ve rendered your poor captain speechless.”
Her blush deepened and she ducked her head, her hair spilling forward. She then lifted it up to look at Matsumoto, but she had already wandered to a more secluded booth with Hisagi. Kyoraku caught the look of panic on her face and shelved his shock. “Come sit with us, Nanao-chan,” he said, gesturing to Hisagi’s empty seat.
“Thank you,” she said quietly, sitting down in the booth.
“Would you care for some sake? Or perhaps Ukitake would share his tea?” Kyoraku said, directing the last question at his friend.
“I was about to leave anyway,” Ukitake said, the hints of a sly grin on his face. “I don’t know why I ordered the second pot of tea. It’s warm, and freshly brewed. Please, feel free.” He got out of the booth and looked at them. “Enjoy yourselves!”
Kyoraku watched him walk away with a slight bounce in his step. This had been a complete set-up, he thought. How they had managed to pull it over on him he didn’t know. He snapped his attention back to Nanao, and saw her looking very embarrassed. He signaled for two empty cups, and as soon as they were delivered he began pouring her tea. “I apologize for them,” he said.
“This was not your fault,” she said, taking the cup when he was done. Her fingertips brushed his and he swore he felt a jolt. “I am only here to find a date to the dinner, but I did not expect to be abandoned while I looked like…this.”
“Ukitake was right. You look quite stunning,” he said. “Why the need to find a date? I thought for sure you would come say your greetings and leave as you do every year.”
“I was told if I did not I would lose my position as Vice President of the Shinigami Women’s Association,” she replied. “I fear I am the only thing keeping our President from terrorizing everyone more than she already does.”
Kyoraku chuckled, and then he pushed his sake to the side and poured himself a cup. She saw him drunk often; perhaps while she felt so uncomfortable he could at least lessen it and remain sober. “I think you are correct in your assumptions. You are a model of restraint, and you set a good example for most of the other women.”
“Matsumoto will never learn restraint in certain areas, though her relationship with Hisagi-san has tempered some of her more wild tendencies.” He picked up his cup and took a sip. “But the other women, they look up to you. Even your president does. I see her being more cautious in most of her dealings with the others now.”
“I don’t think I’m a good influence on them,” she said, surprised. “I think they just tolerate me.”
“They see you are a good person, and I believe the more you are the way you are the more they see it gets results.”
“Not the results they want,” she said sourly. “The closer it is to Christmas the more talk turns to relationships. For that, they look towards Matsumoto-san and her hints and tricks.”
“What works for her won’t work for everyone else,” he said. “Is her approach working for you right now, other than garnering the attention of every male here?”
“They can’t all possibly be looking at me,” she said, shaking her head.
“If you were not sitting here with me I can assure you there would be men lining up to buy you a cup of sake.”
“Really?” she asked, surprised.
“Yes, really,” he said with a warm smile. “I could leave, if you want to know for sure.”
“No!” Nanao said, her eyes wide. She dropped her cup, but thankfully she had emptied it while he was talking. Still, she felt a sense of unease settle over her. “I don’t know what I’d do or say.”
“You would be shy, which would make you more appealing. You would seem mysterious, and then someone would get you to talk, Once you hit on a subject you were passionate about, you would open up like a flower in the sunshine.” He shrugged slightly. “Or at least that is how I suspect it would go.”
“I have no real experience with the attentions of men,” she said quietly. This was something he had guessed long ago.
“And for that reason what Matsumoto did was not nice,” he replied. “But I am here. If you want me to stay, I will stay.”
“Thank you,” she said gratefully.
“But I must warn you that if I stay I will scare off prospective suitors.” He took her cup and poured her more tea. He could see her debating it in her head, and finally she got a defeated look on her face. “I could always move to the bar and keep an eye on you from there.”
“Do you think that would work?” she asked, slightly skeptical.
“I believe it would. Just remember to order more tea. I will tell the bartender that under no circumstances are you to have sake, no matter how much men want to send it in your direction.”
She smiled at him, a brilliant smile that brought him up short. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
He collected his cup of sake, and drank it quickly as he stood. It was no longer cold, and he found it unsatisfying. “I shall keep an eye on you. Good luck.” And with that, he walked to the bar and ordered another cup of sake, then changed his order to tea. The bartender raised an eyebrow, but when he explained the situation he got a look of understanding and began making a pot of tea.
He had been right; not even a few minutes after he left a young man came up and spoke to her. He saw her shake her head, and then after he said something else she nodded. He went back to the bar, and it was quiet enough that he could hear him put in an order for a pot of tea. He watched, and felt something gnaw at his insides. If he had to put a name to the unfamiliar feeling, he could have sworn it was jealousy.
And it just got worse throughout the night, as that man left, disappointed, and another took his place. It didn’t take long for them to leave, some disappointed, some bored, and one in particular looked angry after he got a particularly sharp rebuke from Nanao. He had a good idea what that particular man wanted and he was glad that Nanao had sent him away. An hour later he wandered back over to her and saw she looked completely forlorn. “That bad?” he asked, standing next to her.
“I mean no offense, but are all men stupid?” she said with a sigh. He gestured to the seat he had been sitting in before, and she nodded. With that, he slid in. “None of them could hold a decent conversation, and one even tried to…to…” He could see she was getting angry just thinking about it, and so he pulled her cup towards him, as well as the teapot, and poured her a cup of tea. She took it gratefully and swallowed it quickly. Then she sighed again. “I give up. This was a waste of time.”
“Not all men are stupid,” he said. “At least one in this room can hold a conversation with you, while he’s sober, at least.”
“Who?” she asked.
“I can,” he replied, signaling for another empty cup.
She blinked, then looked at him warily. “And will you stay sober?”
“For you, Nanao-chan, I will,” he said with a nod.
“Oh. Okay,” she said, partly surprised, but mostly grateful.
“So, what would you like to talk about?” he asked, taking the cup that was brought to him. He poured the last of the tea into his cup and looked at her intently.
“I don’t know,” she said thoughtfully. “No one else tonight has asked me that.”
“Then let’s find something pleasant to talk about, something other than work.” He smiled at her, and got one in return. “Perhaps you could tell me what you usually do on your days off, and we could start from there.”
She smiled a little more brightly, and relaxed. “Well…”
Three hours later the bar was starting to get rowdy, as it usually did, from the patrons who did not have a good grasp on their limitations. He could see she was getting irritated, and bit back a sigh. The evening had been going well, too. He’d been having a wonderful time, learning many new things about his lieutenant. “Perhaps we should call it a night,” he suggested.
“Oh,” she said. “But…I’ve been having a good time.”
“Yes, but you are starting to get annoyed, and I have seen the effects on a personal level many times before.” Then he paused. “Unless you would like to join me for a walk?”
“I would like that,” she said with a smile. They both rose, and he went to pay for his drinks and the last five pots of tea they had shared, but the bartender said Ukitake had said to put it on his tab. He had to conceal a grin at just how much a set-up it had been. They walked out into the cold night and immediately he put the pink haori around her shoulders. He could handle the chill; she did not need to. “Thank you,” she said, clutching it close.
“Do you know what you’re going to do about your date situation?” he asked, looking at her.
She shook her head. “I suppose I could try again tomorrow, perhaps looking more like myself.”
He was quiet. He had had a specific reason for asking the question, and he hoped she didn’t balk at his suggestion. “I thought that, perhaps, you might want to go with me.”
She stopped dead in her tracks and stared up at him. “Are you serious?”
“I am, yes,” he said with a nod. “It does not necessarily need to be a date. We could simply go as friends.”
She thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “I think that would be a decent idea.”
He smiled at her. “That’s good.” He took a step forward, then another, then a third before he realized she wasn’t following. “Nanao-chan?”
“If I go with you I want it to be a date,” she said quietly. “A real date.”
Now it was his turn to be surprised. He had thought, maybe had even hoped, that she might want it to take that direction, but he hadn’t thought it would actually happen. He recovered quickly. “I can do that.”
“Good,” she said, a warm smile slowly spreading across her face, one that garnered a similar smile from him. She stepped up to him, then got on her tiptoes and quickly kissed his cheek. “But you have to promise me you’ll stay sober. I like you sober.”
“I promise,” he said.
“I’ll even wear the kimono you gave me,” she said, moving forward. “Or if Captain Commander allows more modern wear, I will go out and buy a dress.”
“As long as you come with a smile on your face, I don’t really mind what you wear,” he said, keeping in step with her. “But I ask that you wear your hair down, and perhaps continue this look of having a flower tucked behind your ear.”
“All right,” she said, smiling brightly at him. And in the moonlight, he could have sworn he saw her shimmer. He hoped she kept that, too. All in all, this had turned out to be a very pleasant evening after all…