I have been stuck writing-wise. It's partly procrastination, partly frustration at the convoluted storyline as it now stands.
There is only one way to fix writer's block: write, write, write. Right?
That's basically how this chapter came about. Think of it as part 1 of a sidestory that takes place within the B&B universe, roughly after Tsuzuki is cured of his anorgasmia, but before he undergoes his transformation. Then imagine that the entire universe has been timeshifted to Christmas Day.
I know it's a stretch, but if you've managed to read this crazy story this far I'm sure you can do it.
1. There are spoilers for the Vol 6 sidestory "The Child and I." You don't need to have read it, but the premise of this tale will make a bit more sense if you have.
2. I decided to change the spelling of Gushoshin to Gushoushin. There is no good reason for this. It's a symptom of my procrastination. I've also been wondering about changing Shoukanka to Summons Bureau, but I decided not to do this at the last minute. Might change my mind later.
3. I have made 003 gender neutral. I once thought 003 was female because in a Hanayume chapter Watari imagines 003 as a bride with a veil. But in this era of gay marriage and civil unions, why on earth can't a man be a bride and wear a veil? Wearing a veil is no indication of gender. 003's gender is never defined in the manga anyway – the Japanese seldom use gender-specific pronouns.
This could have been published as a separate story, although I feel it works better as part of the B&B universe. I'm also publishing it as a 'test' of sorts. If all goes well, the part 2 conclusion will be published in the near future - maybe. Definitely before Christmas anyway.
If this story is ever deleted, a back-up copy can be found on my website:
lyrebird dot aithine dot org
It was early morning in the Shoukanka. Seated at his office desk, Tsuzuki adjusted the red felt hat on his head. Trimmed with white fur and a matching white pompom, it was perched on his head at a rakish angle.
"There! How do I look?"
"You look like an idiot." Perched on his computer screen, Gushoushin Younger folded his feathered arms across his chest.
"Hmph! Don't be such a spoilsport." Tsuzuki pulled the hat forward over his head, so that the fur trim concealed his eyes. "How do I look now? More mysterious?"
"More ridiculous! What are you dressing up for?"
Tsuzuki pushed his chair back and spun it around. "It's the festive season! The season to be jolly! Hohoho!"
Gushoushin took to the air in alarm. "Are you drunk this early in the morning, Tsuzuki-san? What are you talking about?"
Tsuzuki picked up the matching red cape hanging from the back of his chair. It was trimmed with the same white fur as the hat. He cast it over his shoulders with an elaborate flourish worthy of a matador dodging an imaginary bull. "It's Christmas, silly. I'm going to dress up as Santa Claus, and spread good cheer throughout the Shoukanka! Hohoho!"
Gushoushin hovered in front of him. "But we don't celebrate Christmas. It's just another day at the office. Tatsumi-san said we couldn't afford to take time off in December—"
"I know, I know. But I thought it would be nice to go to work, wish everyone a Merry Christmas and pass around some sweets." Tsuzuki held out a green sack. Inside were cellophane bags tied with colourful ribbons. "I'm sure these chocolate truffles will lift everyone's morale and improve productivity. Surely Tatsumi would approve, right?"
"Ohhh, chocolate truffles!" Gushoushin Younger hovered closer, eyes sparkling with interest. "Where did you get these from?"
"I made them myself. Would you like some?"
"Err…" Gushoushin Younger shook his head. Everyone in the Shoukanka knew about Tsuzuki's terrible culinary skills. "No thanks."
"Are you sure? There's plenty to go around."
"It's all right, really. I'll leave them for the others."
"Don't be silly! Take it, take it!"
Gushoushin Younger reluctantly accepted the cellophane bag. "Thanks, Tsuzuki-san. I'll share them with my big brother."
"Hope you enjoy them! Maybe if you both like them, you might rethink my library ban. You know, I've been on my best behaviour lately. I haven't destroyed anything for a while."
Gushoushin Younger's eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to bribe me, Tsuzuki-san?"
"No, no, no! I just thought you might reconsider the severity of my punishment in view of my generosity. After all, charity is part of the Christmas spirit."
"It's a bribe! I knew it! Chocolates or not, the library ban remains in force!"
"All right, all right! I just thought I'd ask." Inwardly he cursed himself for his haste. He should have allowed Gushoushin Younger to eat the truffles first, waited until he was in a jovial mood – then asked them to reconsider. "Never mind." His violet eyes suddenly sparkled with mischief. "Maybe I'll just get one of those new-fangled tablet computers. I hear you can carry them anywhere and access everything online with the swipe of a finger. You need never visit a library again. Doesn't that sound wonderful?"
"Sacrilege! Nothing can ever replace a well-stocked library!" The bird spirit took out a truffle and hurled it at Tsuzuki's head. "You take that back, Tsuzuki-san!"
Tsuzuki ducked in the nick of time. "Hohoho! When you lift my library ban, I will!" He poked his tongue out, then scrambled for the door as a second truffle was thrown his way.
He didn't have time to fool around. He was on a mission to bring Christmas cheer to the Shoukanka, and there was no time to waste.
His first stop was Watari's laboratory. Watari was mixing a bubbly mixture in a beaker over a Bunsen burner.
"Hohoho, Watari!" Tsuzuki bounded in with his red cape billowing behind him. "Merry Christmas!"
"Hey, Tsuzuki! Nice outfit! You're really looking the part!"
Seated on Watari's shoulder, 003 let out a hoot of approval.
"Thank you! Just thought I'd come in here to spread some Christmas cheer!" Tsuzuki reached inside his green sack.
"Ooh! Do you have a present for me?"
"Only if you've been good," Tsuzuki warned teasingly. He held up a cellophane bag.
"Ohh, thank you!" Watari grabbed the bag and yanked off the ribbon. "Chocolates!" He gave it a deep sniff and sighed. "They smell delicious!"
"They're caramel chocolate truffles. I made them myself using a recipe my sister taught me. Try one."
"Err…okay." Watari's enthusiasm dimmed. "It must have taken a lot of time and effort."
"I was up all night making them."
Watari inspected the truffle as if it held a hidden explosive. It was a dark chocolate ball decorated with a drizzle of caramel. It looked and smelled scrumptious. Watari's mouth began to salivate in anticipation.
Did he dare eat it? Tsuzuki's terrible cooking skills were legendary. But surely even Tsuzuki couldn't ruin a chocolate truffle. How could anything with chocolate taste bad? Reassured by that thought, Watari opened his mouth to take a bite.
Neglected on the laboratory bench, the contents of the beaker boiled over. Yellow liquid spilled on the the metal tripod stand with a loud hiss.
"Damn!" Watari turned down the Bunsen flame. "My new potion is ruined!" He grabbed a paper towel to wipe up the mess.
"What does it do?"
"It's my new sex-change potion! I tweaked the original formula I found in that old book, and I'm confident this one will be a roaring success. But it looks like I'll have to make a new batch. Will you be my test subject when it's ready to go?"
"Are you sure it'll work? I don't want to be transformed into a little kid or an invisible man like last time."
"I'll test it on 003! If it works on an owl, I'm sure it'll work on us!"
003 lowered its head to its chest, doing its best to make itself inconspicuous.
"All right." Privately Tsuzuki wasn't as confident. Watari had disappointed him before, so there was little point getting his hopes up. "Best of luck."
"Pfft! I don't need luck. I rely on the tried-and-true scientific method to achieve results."
"I was talking to 003, not you," Tsuzuki retorted. He patted the little owl. "Make sure you stand up for yourself. Don't let Watari push you around, okay?"
003 hooted and nodded.
"Well, I better get going. I need to spread Christmas cheer to others in the Shoukanka. Merry Christmas to you both! Hohoho!"
"Merry Christmas, Santa Tsuzuki!" Watari called out.
When Tsuzuki was out of earshot, he turned to 003. "Phew! That was a close call. If it wasn't for that bubbling beaker, I would've had no other choice but to eat it." He fished the chocolate from the pocket of his lab coat. "It may look like a truffle and smell like a truffle…but with Tsuzuki as cook who knows what it'll taste like!"
003 leaned forward for a closer look.
"It sure looks delicious, though. Care to take a bite?"
003 hooted in alarm and fluttered away.
Watari chuckled. "Well, I don't blame you. Better to be safe than sorry." With a regretful sigh, he tossed the sweet in a nearby bin and went back to making a new batch of sex-change potion.
Tsuzuki's next stop was Hisoka's desk. Hisoka had arrived at work on time as always. He was shrugging off his jacket and unzipping his backpack.
Tsuzuki bounded over with his sack over one shoulder, red cape swishing behind him.
"Good morning and Merry Christmas, Hisoka!"
Hisoka looked up. "Tsuzuki? You're early for once." He stared at Tsuzuki's strange attire. "Why are you dressed like that?"
"It's Christmas, silly! I'm dressing up as Santa! Hohoho! And I'm giving everyone gifts to celebrate!"
"Oh, right." Accustomed to Tsuzuki's hare-brained antics, Hisoka resumed unpacking his bag. "You haven't forgotten about our meeting with Tatsumi-san, right?"
"He wants to discuss the expenses we've been incurring on our assignments. Apparently we need to cut back because the Shoukanka's going over its half-yearly budget."
"But it's Christmas! Doesn't Tatsumi realise that this is the season for giving? People are meant to be opening their wallets, not zipping them shut!" Tsuzuki stroked his chin, thinking. "Hey, maybe I can bring him around with some of these." He opened up the sack.
Hisoka peered inside. "That's a lot of chocolate. You sure you can eat so much? You may be the King of Sweets, but this is ridiculous-"
"Hisoka, you've got it all wrong! These are for everyone in the Shoukanka, you included." He held out one cellophane bag. "Hohoho! Merry Christmas!"
"Oh…thanks." Hisoka's tone was somewhat sheepish. "Merry Christmas, Tsuzuki." He held the bag awkwardly in his hand, unsure what to do with it.
"Don't be shy. Try one," Tsuzuki urged. "It's peppermint. See if you like it."
Hisoka carefully untied the ribbon, took out a chocolate truffle topped with green flecks of mint, and popped it in his mouth.
Tsuzuki waited expectantly. "Do you like it?"
Hisoka pondered the question. "It's all right," he managed to say. He shifted it around his mouth for a moment…until his face began to turn bright red.
"Phew! That's a relief." Tsuzuki chuckled to himself, oblivious to Hisoka's reaction. "I was worried about how they would turn out. It took me hours to make them last night."
Hisoka clutched his throat. His eyes began to water. He started to make a muffled gagging sound.
"Hisoka, are you all right? What is it?"
Hisoka shook his head. He turned around and searched wildly in his backpack for some tissues.
"What's the matter?"
Hisoka spat the chocolate into the tissue and wiped his mouth. "What do you think?" he spluttered, face still bright red. "It's…it's…"
"Does it taste that bad? I sampled a few and I thought they were nice, but..."
On the verge of giving an honest answer, Hisoka hesitated when he saw Tsuzuki's forlorn expression. These sweets had been made with the best of intentions. It wasn't Tsuzuki's fault he had no idea how awful it tasted to everyone else…and Hisoka didn't have the heart to break the bad news to him.
"No…" Hisoka cleared his voice. "The chocolate's fine. It's…" He put on an exaggerated coughing fit. "I'm coming down with a sore throat. It must be the winter weather."
"Oh." Relieved, Tsuzuki patted his back. "You know what your problem is? You don't take care of yourself. Why don't I make you a nice hot lemon drink with some soothing honey—"
"No thanks, I'm fine." Hisoka disliked being fussed over – plus he was terrified of being subjected to more examples of Tsuzuki's dubious culinary skills. "We better get moving. Tatsumi's expecting us."
In his office, Tatsumi checked his watch and frowned. Five minutes late.
It was common for Tsuzuki to be tardy, but Hisoka was normally good at keeping him punctual.
The door opened. Tsuzuki bounded in, white pompom bouncing on his red hat, and matching red cape swishing behind him. "Hohoho! Merry Christmas!"
Behind him, Hisoka shut the door. "Sorry for being late, Tatsumi-san."
"Apology accepted, Kurosaki-kun. Please take a seat." Tatsumi regarded Tsuzuki sternly. "Tsuzuki-san, didn't I tell you that Christmas is supposed to be a normal work day like any other?"
"Aww, come on, Tatsumi! Christmas only comes around once a year!"
"Thank goodness for that," Tatsumi muttered. "Why on earth are you dressed like that? This is a workplace, not a fancy-dress party."
"But I'm here to spread Christmas cheer as Santa Claus!" Tsuzuki opened his sack of goodies. "Have you been a good boy this year?"
Tatsumi blinked. "Have I what?"
"Have you been a good boy? Only good boys and girls are allowed to get gifts from Santa." Tsuzuki turned to Hisoka and winked his way. "I didn't ask you because I know you're always good."
"Hmph!" Hisoka shrugged, unimpressed by the compliment.
"Stop fooling around and sit down, Tsuzuki-san. Time is money, and the Shoukanka can't afford to waste either on such frivolity."
"You are such a spoilsport, Tatsumi." Tsuzuki swept up his cape as he sat down, then allowed it to drape over the back of the chair to avoid creases. "What's the harm in letting your hair down once in a while, huh? Guess what I've got in here." He pulled out a cellophane bag tied with ribbon. "Your favourite – mocha truffles coated in dark chocolate!"
Tatsumi stared. "No, it's not."
"But you have coffee every morning, don't you?" Tsuzuki picked up the steaming mug on Tatsumi's desk and brought it to his lips.
"That's mine, Tsuzuki-san! If you want coffee, make it yourself!"
"Aha!" Tsuzuki put it back down, eyes alight with triumph. "I knew it! You do love coffee! Why else do you drink so much?"
"I only drink coffee to improve my concentration at work." Tatsumi was visibly offended at the very suggestion his morning caffeine habit was motivated by pleasure.
"Which means you're going to love these mocha truffles!" Tsuzuki dangled the bag before Tatsumi's eyes. "Loosen up a little, Tatsumi! It's Christmas! Hohoho!"
Tatsumi ignored it. "You're using this Western holiday as an excuse to shirk your work duties, aren't you?"
"Aww, come on, Tatsumi!" Tsuzuki pressed his hands together and leaned forward, violet eyes wide as saucers. "Please try the truffles! Do it for me! I came up with these mocha ones especially for you! I just know you'll love them!"
Tatsumi sighed. He could never resist Tsuzuki's begging puppy act. "Take off that silly hat and cape first, and then I'll try one."
Tsuzuki's eyes lit up. "You promise?"
A reluctant smile tugged at Tatsumi's lips. "I promise."
"All right!" Tsuzuki whipped off the hat with one hand, and untied the cape with the other. "Now try one!"
Tatsumi sat down and untied the cellophane bag. "Thank you, Tsuzuki-san. As secretary, I cannot condone activities that disrupt employee productivity - but personally, I do appreciate the kind gesture." He took out a truffle that was topped with a swirl of white ganache dotted with chocolate sprinkles. "Where did you get them from?"
"I spent all last night making and decorating them myself," Tsuzuki explained proudly, "so they would look as good as they taste." He opened his sack and rummaged around. "There's plenty more where that came from."
Unseen by Tsuzuki, Hisoka shook his head. When Tatsumi raised a quizzical eyebrow, Hisoka put a hand around his own throat and stuck out his tongue.
"See? I've got another batch right here." Tsuzuki triumphantly held up a second bag of mocha truffles. "If you'd like more, just say the word."
Tatsumi smiled warmly. "That's nice of you, Tsuzuki-san, but one bag is more than enough."
"Is it?" Tsuzuki's gaze focused on the untouched truffle sitting on Tatsumi's desk. "You haven't even tasted it yet. Come on! I want your opinion on how it tastes."
"Not now, Tsuzuki-san. We have business to attend to first. I'll have it later with morning tea."
"But you promised!" Tsuzuki's pleading expression turned mutinous. "You've got to keep your word!"
"And I will. Later." Tatsumi's tone was pleasant, but firm.
Tsuzuki pulled the Santa hat back on his head. The white pompom dangled over his face. "Hohohoho! Looks like someone here hasn't been a good boy this year!"
Tatsumi slowly slid his glasses up his nose. "And it appears someone here is going to have their expense account halved because he's been spending too much on wining and dining while on assignment."
"What the…? Tatsumi, you're worse than Ebenezer Scrooge! How can you be so cruel?" Tsuzuki ruffled Hisoka's chestnut hair. "Look at poor Hisoka - he's still a growing boy, remember! Kids his age always eat a lot!"
"You moron!" Hisoka shook him off. "He means you!"
"Me?" Tsuzuki stared from Hisoka to Tatsumi, bemused by the accusatory stares cast his way. "But I always eat and drink in moderation."
"Your idea of moderation would put a pig to shame," Tatsumi retorted.
"A pig? How dare you insult me like that?" Tsuzuki snatched the bag of truffles from Tatsumi's desk. "You definitely don't deserve a gift from Santa this year! And there's no use begging for forgiveness because I won't change my mind!"
Tatsumi managed to keep a straight face. "Very well. I guess that's what I deserve."
Tsuzuki frowned. He didn't expect Tatsumi to accept his punishment so readily.
"Tatsumi-san!" It was Chief Konoe yelling from the office next door. "The stupid printer is jammed! Come over here and fix it!"
"Not again." Tatsumi stood up. "He's clueless when it comes to any form of modern technology."
They found a disgruntled Chief jabbing at the printer buttons.
"Damn printer! Why complain about a paper jam when there's no paper?"
Tatsumi ushered him away and opened up the printer. "You always need to take a look inside. I've told you this before, Chief."
"I did, and there was nothing there!" Chief Konoe growled. He noticed Tsuzuki in his floppy red hat and matching red cape. "What's with that funny get-up, Tsuzuki?"
"I'm dressing up as Santa to bring Christmas cheer to everyone in the Shoukanka," Tsuzuki explained. "Hohoho! Merry Christmas! Would you like a gift?" He held out the bag of chocolate truffles.
The old man's eyes lit up. "Chocolates!" He took the bag, his bad mood gone. "Thank you. This will go nicely with morning tea. Where did you get them from?"
"I made them myself. Try one and tell me what you think."
"Oh." Chief Konoe's brow creased in consternation. "You know, at my age I need to watch what I eat. My waistline isn't getting any smaller." He patted his protruding paunch. "Maybe I'll share these with Tatsumi."
"No! He insulted me, so he's not allowed to have any! Make sure he doesn't take a single bite!"
Tatsumi hid his smile of relief as he pulled out the ink cartridge and peered inside.
Standing by the door, Hisoka grimaced. "If only I'd known sooner," he muttered to himself.
It was a disgruntled Tsuzuki, free of his red hat and matching cape, who marched into Watari's laboratory later that afternoon.
"No one here seems to appreciate Christmas!" he declared as he dropped his sack of chocolates on the floor, slumped on the empty swivel chair and put his feet up on Watari's disorganised desk.
"Really?" Watari asked absently. He was too preoccupied pouring bubbly yellow liquid from a flask into a beaker to notice. "What happened?"
"Tatsumi accused me of being a pig and complained about my Santa outfit! Then he had the gall to halve the limit on my expense account – on Christmas Day of all days!"
"Ugh!" Watari winced in sympathy. "Was this before or after he ate your chocolate truffles?"
"He didn't deserve to get any truffles! I made sure to confiscate his gift bag before he could have one!"
"Good for you." To 003, who was perched on the retort stand, Watari mouthed the words: "Lucky Tatsumi."
The little owl nodded sagely.
"Serves him right anyway. That's what he gets for being a bad boy." Tsuzuki fished out a truffle from his pocket and popped it in his mouth. He closed his eyes and a blissful smile lit up his face.
Watari squirted distilled water into the glass flask, and poured the rinsings into the beaker. "Was he the only one?"
"Terazuma wasn't much better," Tsuzuki said, mouth still full of truffle. "He made fun of my outfit! I only allowed him to have a gift bag because Wakaba-chan pleaded on his behalf."
"She did?" Watari frowned. Surely Wakaba-chan knew about Tsuzuki's awful cooking. Maybe she was planning to use the truffles to play a trick on her notoriously prickly partner. She was the only one in EnmaCho who could get away with it.
"Yeah." Tsuzuki swallowed it down. "She wanted several, but I turned her down. I need to keep some bags for Saya-chan and Yuma-chan. I think they might be back from Hokkaido tomorrow." He noticed Watari swirling the liquid in the beaker. "How's the sex-change potion going?"
"All done. Now I need a suitable test subject." Watari put the beaker down and gestured to 003.
The little owl fluttered down to the beaker. It tilted its head to one side, studying the tiny bubbles as they rose to the surface of the liquid.
"Go on, 003!" Watari urged. "Down the hatch!"
003 took a quick scoop with its beak, lifted its head high and gulped it down.
Tsuzuki approached the lab bench to watch. "Does it work?"
"Patience! It doesn't work that fast!"
003 puffed its feathers out until its entire body was a ball of brown fluff. It hooted loudly three times, its beady eyes bulging out of its head.
"003! Are you okay?"
003's eyes rolled back. The little owl keeled over and hit the bench with a thud.
"003!" Watari shook little owl. "003! Can you hear me?"
"What happened?" Tsuzuki asked.
"I don't know! 003 just blacked out!"
The owl blinked and shook its head. It peered up at the two men with glazed eyes.
"003? Are you all right?"
003 staggered to its feet and hooted weakly.
"Oh thank goodness!" Watari brought 003 to his cheek. "I was so worried. I don't know what I would've done if you were injured in any way."
003 nuzzled him back.
"I guess this proves your sex-change potion doesn't work," Tsuzuki said. "But the most important thing is that 003 survived it without any ill effects."
"Huh?" Watari was indignant. "How can you tell it didn't work?"
"Well, 003 looks exactly the same."
"Aha!" Watari smiled knowingly. "But birds lack any external genitalia, and males and females often look alike in many owl species. The only true way to identify a bird's sex is to conduct a detailed physical examination."
"Yeah?" Tsuzuki felt squeamish at the prospect. "How detailed?"
Watari grabbed a latex glove. "Very."
003 hooted wildly. With flailing wings, she fluttered away out of Watari's reach.
"003! Where are you going? Come back here! I need to see if my potion is a success!"
003 evaded Watari's groping hands and flew around the room.
The laboratory door slid open. Gushoushin Elder hovered inside, a writing pad in his hand. "Watari-san, you have an overdue library book that's been reserved by someone else. It needs to be returned at once!"
"No problem, Gushoushin Elder! I'll be with you in a minute! 003, you stay right there!"
Gushoushin Elder watched Watari's futile chase of the little owl. He hovered over to Tsuzuki and whispered, "What on earth is Watari-san up to?"
"Err…well…" Tsuzuki let out a nervous laugh. "You don't really want to know."
"Come back here, dammit!" Watari lunged after 003, only to clutch at empty air. "All you have to do is spread your legs! It won't take long! I'll be gentle, I promise!"
Gushoushin Elder goggled. "Of all the…" He swooped after Watari and pecked him repeatedly on the head. "Leave 003 alone!"
"Oww! Stop that! What's the matter with you?"
"You disgusting pervert! You make me sick! Pick on someone your own species!"
"No, no! You've got it all wrong, Gushoushin Elder! It's part of my experiment!"
"Experiment? Is that what you call it, you sex maniac?" The bird spirit resumed its ferocious pecking attack.
Tsuzuki sighed. So much for testing the potion on 003. Surely a fellow human would be a better test subject that a poor hapless owl.
He picked up the beaker and gave the effervescent yellow potion a sniff. To his surprise, it didn't smell so bad – in fact, it had a pleasant citrus scent. Reassured, he took an empty vial and filled it with a small sample.
Tonight he would use it to conduct some tests of his own – and he knew one human in the land of the living who would make an ideal test subject.