Disclaimer: Bleach 2002-2005 © Kubo Tite
Summary: Abarai Renji, Kuchiki Byakuya and the duties of a vice captain with the topic of over spiciness at a local sushi bar. Set Pre Soul-Society.
It was right after his promotion to sixth division's vice captain, and before the retrieval of Kuchiki Rukia, that Renji learned about the eating habit of his well respected captain.
Abarai Renji never has and never will adore spicy food – he hated how they burned his tongue and made his eyes water. He'd perspire like he had gone into an overheated sauna, with his dampened shinigami robe attached right on his torso – a feeling that he'd never ever like. He didn't want to show other shinigamis a face as red as Zabimaru's ass - they would certainly shove him into Gotei 13's Hall of Shame if he ever confirmed that kind of look. And Captain Kuchiki certainly wouldn't like his subordinate acting like a cat being thrown alive into boiling water. He learned this from Rukia who had tried stuffing him with grinded red peppers on his lunch in their academy days – Rukia had a tendency to laugh out loud when he started lunging for any water or ice nearby. Once, she had purposely and secretly boiled every drinking water available in the vicinity and Renji thought that he had died again when he accidentally gulped the hot water while Rukia was rolling on the floor, laughing her ass off.
He really missed those good old days.
But Renji learned about his duties as a newly promoted vice captain, keeping a straight face that he would someday show to Rukia once he's capable of facing her with a raised chin. Half of Gotei 13's vice captain are females – they heal, latch onto their captain's back, throw flower petals on battlegrounds, they support their captains in their own unique way – though Renji could never understand why Captain Kyouraku's sense of beauty requires Ise Nanao to decorate flower petals on his background. He certainly couldn't just latch himself on Byakuya's back like how Yachiru gave off direction to her Ken-chan from on top of his shoulder. How he would love his captain's reaction if he ever addressed Byakuya with that honorific. But Renji feared he would never live the day to see that response from his captain, priceless as it be.
Though a vice captain's the closest person in the division to their own respective captains, Renji knew there'll always be that gap between him and the captain. His captain was the most honored captain in the Gotei 13 after Yamamoto Genryuusai Shigekuni himself, and though Kuchiki Byakuya nodded his head in approval when Renji clawed his way to the 2nd seat of his division, he saw Byakuya doing it from his soaring, honored seat of the noble Kuchiki household. When the order for Rukia's retrieval came, he was vehemently shocked and waited in fear or excitement as he saw it, and trudged behind Kuchiki Byakuya with his scarf swaying along with summer night's wind, mocking Renji with the soft, hissing noises every time Byakuya turned his neck slightly to check if Renji was still there with him or if the Hollows had finished him off.
What shocked him really was how Byakuya stopped in front of a fishy looking shop in the corner, with a cracked and worn out 'Urahara sushi' board in front of the shabby building. It was the first time ever that he saw Byakuya showing such an interest over something so simple, and Renji craned his neck to look inside the sushi shop, with a wooden bar and boards of sushi types plastered on the walls. It was not more interesting than any other sushi shop, and no customer was seen inside, even though the 'open' sign was hanging cheerily on the door, with a big word of 'Welcome' on the brown rug. Though, he wondered about the name Urahara that almost rings a bell.
"Do you like raw food, Renji?"
Kuchiki Byakuya has a tendency to talk necessarily. But Renji had learned how his captain's words have hidden meaning in almost every syllable, and in this case, it was I'm going to eat here. Whether you like it or not, you have to follow me. This was the also first time captain ever questioned or considered his taste or his choice in anything, but Renji found no chance to rejoice that Byakuya has a new found respect for him, and he forced an awkward nod when he saw Byakuya straining a confirmation from him out of the corner of his eyes.
A greet came from behind the wooden counter, and a man with a bulky build appeared with a wooden container filled with warm rice in his hands. Byakuya already took his seat before the man asked him to, and Renji has no choice but to follow. A vice captain didn't need to question their captain, in whatever decision or circumstances. Souls won't get hungry and they don't need to eat unless they used their spiritual powers. Renji was sure that he doesn't need to tell Byakuya this, as he sat on one of the stools right in front of the counter.
Renji's eyes almost jumped out of their socket when he saw Byakuya emptied half of the wasabi's tube into the small tray, and dip the sushi into it.
He was sure as hell that the moment that piece of fish touched his tongue, his face would be as red as Zabimaru's ass. Why, might be even redder than his ass, he thought!
But Kuchiki Byakuya chewed the sushi and swallowed it like a piece of mildly grilled chicken, and Renji knew his captain was indeed a masochist.
"Why, aren't you one of a kind, sir? That wasabi is our store owner's latest invention, the wasabi with tenth time spiciness of the normal wasabi. Humans would die with a tongue the size of their torso the moment they taste it!" The man (Tessai, was it?) stared at Byakuya with an interest. Renji could swear he saw Tessai's eyes twinkled merrily under the glasses. "Do you like it?"
"I don't dislike it," Byakuya replied, dipping his fresh salmon into the wasabi saucer again, and Renji winced until he felt that his tattooed brows were connecting.
"Why aren't you eating, Renji?"
Renji gulped inadvertently. Certainly the captain had checked his resume and took a glance on the list of his none favorite food?
"I…uh, I don't like spicy food, Captain."
"Eat." We have much time and many hollows to hunt. I don't want to hear you complain.
Renji looked in horror as Byakuya dipped the next sushi piece and placed it on his plate. The fresh salmon's pinkness glimmered appealingly under the thick, green spicy paste he feared to munch so much, he thought, though it wasn't the right time to do that and he swallowed hard.
Maybe I can just pretend to place it in my mouth and pretend to swallow. Then Renji realized the damage potency of how a piece of fish covered with one kilogram of wasabi could do inside his mouth, and with a tongue more sensitive to spiciness ever. God, a sensitive man would be tearing up and screaming like a demi hollow for months. But he would scream even louder. Renji inspected the table, and saw the only drink they provided was just a normal warm green tea, and it burned his palm the moment he gripped the cup. Byakuya sipped the boiling tea delicately and asked for a refill in his own fashionable way.
"Eat the sushi, Renji." This is an order.
Reluctantly, Renji retrieved a new saucer, filled it with soy sauce, and before he knew it, the shopkeeper had added a nice amount of wasabi into it.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, asshole?.!"
"Why, dear customer, you need to taste our superb and one of a kind wasabi – it'll be a shame of a lifetime if you never got to eat this," Something flickered behind Tessai's glasses, and he raised one of his thumbs, "It'll be an unforgettable experience for you."
Preparing his chopsticks, he finally took a final look on the raw fish. He wondered what it would feel like to die again. And this time, he'd die with regrets and a burned tongue.
"I need to ask you a question, Renji."
Renji looked over to see Byakuya concentrating on his cup, and blinked. "Yes, Captain?"
"Do you like my sister?"
Abarai Renji never expected this sort of question from anyone, especially his captain. It was something he dreaded since his first meeting with Rukia, and Byakuya didn't even turn to glance at him. But Renji felt his heart quickening with every beat, and he laughed nervously to brush off the tension that followed the question.
"Wh-what are you talking about, Captain?"
But Byakuya didn't buy his act, and the captain this time placed down his empty tea cup quietly, and turned his face to stare at Renji straight in the eyes.
Looking for means of escape, Renji searched around and found the piece of food left forgotten between his chopsticks. Shoving the food quickly into his mouth, Renji felt a familiar tinge of sourness, and less than a second later the spiciness exploded in his mouth, spreading with lightning speed to his ears and nostrils. Quickly, he lunged for the nearest drink and gulped the warm tea that he sprayed out instantly. Tessai got out of his tea-spray right in time, and as the tea splashed all over the raw fish, Renji could hear Byakuya grunting.
"The hell is this tea?" Renji pointed the tea cup indignantly. "It's hot! No, extremely HOT!"
"But dear guest, you always need boiling water to make tea. And this mister over here has no problem drinking it." Tessai motioned slightly to Byakuya, who was gulping his tenth cup for the night.
Don't you dare confuse me with that stoic faced masochist, Renji thought.
As if reading his mind, Byakuya took the bill and placed it beside Renji's plate. "Since you threw up your tea all over our food, the bill's on you tonight."
For a while, Renji was certain he screamed like a demi hollow.
When they left the sushi parlor an hour later, Renji hoped with all his might if there was a time that he can do Hitsugaya's Hyourinmaru, it would be now. He won't need his tongue anymore, anyway. The wasabi has numbed his tongue.
"They can see us."
He stopped fanning his out-stretched tongue and looked up to stare at the 'six' kanji printed on Byakuya's back. "Excuse me, sir?"
"The people in that shop can see us, Shinigamis."
When Renji turned around, there was no shop there, but what was left was an empty field. A black cat jumped out from behind one of the garbage can, and disappeared around the corner.
"He said that he doesn't dislike your wasabi, manager."
"Just exactly what I expected from the Young Master, after all," Urahara flipped out his fan, "But I don't think this line of business is suitable for me. Don't you think so, Tessai?"
"No matter what I say, you won't change your decision, sir."
Urahara Kisuke laughed and flapped his fan lightly.