1 of 1
The office was aflutter. That was the best way to describe the hum in the air. Since her Captain had instituted the "Office Party" for New Year's every year about this time the place sort of lit up. Eyes were bright, the smiles were wide and everyone seemed a little more forgiving about everything.
Ise Nanao hated the office party. Ever since that first one all those years ago where she'd actually left Headquarters early and her Captain had come to find her only to drag her back to work. First and last time that had ever happened.
Now, with the famed party only hours away, Nanao was languishing. She wasn't enjoying it. The day of the party was the worst work day of the whole year through. Everyone was so drummed up with excitement that they were careless. She had learned from experience that it was best to let the staff sit around and talk rather than to press them with work. Otherwise she had to log hours of overtime to correct all the absent minded mistakes. She hated mistakes on her office paperwork.
How many hours left? She glanced up at the clock.
"Vice-Captain Ise!" she looked up as her office door rattled open and a bright faced junior officer stood there. Only on office party day would one of her staffers dare to forgo knocking before barging in.
No point in even correcting it. Everyone's brains had melted. She silently cursed her Captain.
"Could you help us? We're trying to hang the banner, but no one can decide if it's straight or not, but we're sure you would know."
At least giving direction for decorations was better than sitting around. She followed the young girl to what had popularly been deemed the "party room".
Once there she found the room dotted with black robed shinigami's. The excitement in the room was like a buzz across her skin. She glanced around absently as she followed the girl toward the banner section. Two more of her junior officers were at the top of two ladders holding it up.
She glanced at the writing, coming closer to read it.
"8th Division super-smashing, ass kicking, sake-serving, wish granting, year end mayhem of happiness!"
The expression on her face must have been telling because all three of the young shinigami looked suddenly very bashful.
"Uh, we couldn't decide on whose saying was best, so we agreed to just put all of them up there."
And given that they were all so happy Nanao couldn't find it in her heart to give them a much needed verbal thrashing. She settled. "I see. Hold the banner up again."
She took a few necessary steps backward and gave them a few verbal cues.
"My Nanao-chan!" It was all the warning she got before her Captain made his appearance. That and one heavy arm was suddenly draped over her shoulders. In his other arm, she noted with disdain, was that horrible flower petal basket. Only this time of year it was filled with one thing only.
"Ah, I didn't forget, my lovely Nanao-chan gets the first slip from the basket." He handed her a blank slip from the basket. He always gave her the first one.
She'd tried throwing it away, but he always hovered around to make sure she wrote something and put it back in the basket.
The basket was another of his inane ideas. Everyone wrote a wish, something that someone else in the 8th Division could grant, and at a certain time of night, everyone drew a slip and granted the wish on the paper.
It sounded sweet. It was one of her Captain's more romantic notions, but by the time they got around to the basket everyone was sloshed and it got ugly in Nanao's opinion. Not to mention dirty. She could do without so much sexual innuendo in one room. It was like an orgy without all the touching. She hated it.
Worse yet, the popularity of the 8th Division party had grown since its inception. So much so that Captain Kyouraku had banned other division members from entering the party until after midnight because 8th Division house members were getting left out due to insufficient space in the building.
"Don't forget to write your wish, Nanao-chan. I'm watching you."
The arm over her shoulder slipped away and she scowled. Of course he was watching.
With a sour expression she turned and slipped out of the room while he was dancing around handing out slips. She wouldn't be able to drop her slip in for at least another hour when the basket was actually empty, so she retreated to her office.
She already knew what was going on her slip. As the years passed, she'd become increasingly bitter and increasingly lonely. Her position as Vice-Captain of the 8th Division was rarely challenged due to the sheer hassle of handling the paperwork and the troublesome Captain Kyouraku.
In all her time, so many people had come and gone. So many women through her Captain's arms…
Retreating to her desk, she sat. She'd finally forced herself to admit it; maybe five or so years ago she'd finally realized that she loved him. Stupid, pathetic fool that she was, Ise Nanao loved him, her Captain, Kyouraku Shunsui.
Angry, bitter, hopeful, she'd scrawled her wish on a slip that year.
"One kiss from Captain Kyouraku."
She hadn't gotten that wish, someone else had. But now every year she put in that same wish. She wasn't sure she had ever entered the wish in the basket for herself. Instead, she was more inclined to thinking she had done it to shove the rusty sword in her chest a little further in. The longer she stayed, the more she wondered how much longer she could really take it.
How much longer until she petitioned Captain Yamamoto for reassignment. She had, on numerous occasions, discussed it with him before and he had already given his approval. His acceptance of her decision had been simple.
"Shunsui is a difficult man and you have done us all a great service by keeping him in line so long. I will not chain you to him forever. If it becomes too much, I will let you go to somewhere else."
She had never, ever, told her Captain of that discussion, or of Captain Yamamoto's renewals of that offer in the many years she'd worked there. Somehow, she thought if he knew she couldn't take it anymore, it would hurt him terribly and she didn't ever desire to wound him.
With a sad frown she turned and looked toward her window leaving her slip blank. She never touched it until the very final moment. It was like setting sail to something precious. It hurt too much to hold on and it hurt as much to let it go.
It was terribly noisy.
She kept her eyes closed. It would only be a few more hours.
She groaned silently as the door was yanked open almost violently. Her Captain, his smirk, his eyes lit with excitement, his breath smelling, even from so far away, of alcohol.
"It is time, Nanao-chan! Where is your wish?"
She held it up between her fingers and stood careful to slip it almost up her sleeve so that he could not see it to snatch it from her fingers.
He'd tried before. It was by the barest luck she'd managed to keep it from him and ever since she'd been vigilant. He walked with her down the hall toward the party room with her almost bouncing on his feet. When they entered, when she entered, everyone went silent.
They had, since the beginning of the wish-ceremony, installed a stage they used. She followed her Captain to it. She was first to get a wish slip and first to draw a wish. Everyone watched as she placed her slip into the basket. She made sure, when she drew the first wish, to bury her own slip so that her Captain could not find it. She also went to great lengths to disguise the handwriting he and the others knew so well. No one ever knew who wrote the "kiss wish" as it had come to be called.
"Evening!" he called, silencing the few in the back who were still murmuring. "Nanao-chan and I are glad everyone came. With the last wish collected, lovely Nanao-chan draws the first wish."
She had long since gotten used to his publicly embarrassing her. When he referred to her as "precious", "lovely", "beautiful", "stunning", "adorable", "cute", Nanao-chan to the entire staff, she'd simply given up fighting it and ignored him.
She plucked a piece of paper from the edge, far away from where her own wish would be and glanced at the sheet. The word, singular, was not the usual scrawl for year-end wishes. It read simply, "rest".
She glanced up and everyone waited eagerly. They would be hung-over and useless to her tomorrow. "With Captain Kyouraku's permission, no work tomorrow."
He raised his sake cup and the room exploded in cheers. Good wish, she thought, as she vacated the stage. She was the first wish, her Captain was the last.
In his infinite effort to get her involved he had forbidden her from leaving the party until all the wishes were granted. A nail into her heart is what that was. She wrote the order of death and he enforced it by making her stay to watch him kiss someone else. She figured, in her last life, she must have been wicked.
Retreating to the side of the room, she made herself some tea without any suspicious additives and sipped while she listened. This ceremony was always chocked full of silly things.
"Give a gift, something upon your person, to someone you usually never speak to."
This was followed by a shy exchange of things between the person with the slip and someone else, a pin, a clean handkerchief, something small. Everyone usually brought something they could give away. Even she, Nanao, had a pen she had bought for the occasion tucked into her pocket.
"Find and compliment the one person you've always admired, but always been too afraid to talk to."
That wish usually brought some absurd love confession to her Captain. So Nanao waited for something she wouldn't hear being too far away from her Captain to see whatever blushing girl approached him.
Her eyes lit with surprise then, when someone appeared in front of her table.
Looking up, she found the same girl that had come to her office earlier and not knocked. The same young child with the bright eyes. She was very new to the unit, her first placement. Nanao could not recall her name.
The girl held a slip in her hands. "It says, 'Find and compliment the one person you've always admired, but always been too afraid to talk to.' It… I just wanted to say, I really admire you and I hope one day I can be a strong Vice-Captain just like you or become a seated officer and work for you, that would be even cooler."
The girl was blushing vividly.
"You're new to our division, aren't you?"
She nodded so fast it was almost as if she shook bodily.
Nanao was touched. She extended her hand to the girl. "Welcome. Try hard and become an officer; I look forward to working with you."
They shook hands; the girl's face erupted into a smile. Nanao was a bit surprised when the girl didn't start jumping up and down excitedly, and it looked like she restrained the urge by the barest thread.
"Thank you, Vice-Captain!"
The girl disappeared into the crowd and Nanao was again, thankfully alone as attention was diverted from her to the next well-wisher.
She lost track of the kisses, the hugs, the dances, the loud, embarrassing songs. It was all a familiar blur. It was, however, nice to see them happy when many of them were oft as stressed as she.
Covertly, she began moving toward the door. Not in one smooth motion, but rather in stages. Her Captain was eagle-eyed. He watched her. She moved around, speaking to this person or that, making idle wishes of Happy New Year.
She didn't go for the back door that led into the corridor; she went instead for the side door that opened out into the yard. Those doors were kept open, people continuously drifting in and out. It would be much harder to notice her slide out that door and then she could open the gate and be on her way home. It was always a mistake to return to her office, he would catch her there.
Just as she closed the gate behind her and turned, she saw him. It was dark, but she knew his silhouette. He was lounged, his back against the building. The noise from the party was dulled but still audible. His pink robe was missing allowing him to gracefully loll in the shadow. A warmth spread in her chest that he had found her. Every year he did.
"Escaping early, Nanao-chan?"
"I have attended," she answered.
"You didn't stay to see my wish," he answered. His voice was low. "I'm wounded, Nanao."
Whenever he reverted to "Nanao" she became cautious.
"I'm tired," she answered finding nothing else to say. "It was mostly over."
His reasoning that she stay was based on the fact that it was an 8th Division event and she was required to be there as one of its executive officers.
In a few moments they would be opening the doors to the droves of partygoers waiting at the front gates anyway. Perhaps she should've waited a few minutes longer. She cursed her own impatience.
He pushed away from the wall. She could see the sliver of paper between his fingers. White almost glowed in certain lighting.
Had he saved a wish? She had a bad feeling. He stopped advancing a bare foot away.
"You're slippery, Nanao." He leaned closer, almost over her shoulder, his breath against her cheek, her ear. She tried to concentrate on something other than him. His smell, the sound of his breathing, the sheer, utter heat of him in front of her. "But I got you, precious. I marked your paper."
If the ground could've disappeared beneath her feet it would've been the equivalent of feeling in her belly at that moment.
He marked… he'd given her… he'd no doubt stolen it from the bowl when he spotted it. That explained why he'd stood next to it all night, but she hadn't thought anything of that. He always did like to be the center of attention.
The paper between his fingers fell; he dropped it over her shoulder where it fluttered, out of her sight, to the ground. She swallowed hard.
She had been careless.
It was a last-ditch effort at sanity. When his hand touched her waist, she trembled bodily. She couldn't stop it. Her eyes were wide with nervous fright. He'd… this…
His hand closed over her hip and she was pressed, suddenly, against the wall. The chill of the building traveled down her spine. Hot and cold battled for possession of her body while she fought for conscious thought that wasn't lost in sensation. Her Captain loomed over her, crowding her against the siding.
"Your wish, Nanao…" his other hand closed very gently around her jaw and he tilted her head up. She wanted to say something but nothing would do. Nothing even came to mind. She wanted …
He leaned down over her and she fought to draw breath. Her lungs suddenly felt full of paper, her mouth dry. When his lips touched hers, her knees weakened and the hand at her hip drew around her waist, holding her tight.
The gentle touch of lips made heat flush her body. She tasted his sake when his tongue brushed her lip and then slid into her mouth. When he growled, his kiss turning hard pressing her head back against the wall, she clung to him, her fingers finding his hair, holding on to save from melting into a messy puddle on the ground.
Her heart pounded hard in her ears, her body was hot. So hot. She couldn't breathe. Never in her life had she wanted to strip and beg… she dropped her head back against the wall and panted.
"So much trouble, Nanao… All this time… Giving away my kisses when you wanted them."
She shook her head, closing her eyes. She couldn't talk. She couldn't answer.
He leaned back, setting her on her feet once more. Sliding a hand into his haori, he withdrew another slip. He had never put his own wish into the basket.
Taking her hand, he pressed the paper to her palm.
"Go home, love. Take my wish; I'm coming to collect it."
Barely able to stand, she pushed away from the wall and headed away. It wasn't until she reached her living room did she unclench her fist, looking at the tiny slip crumpled there. Unfolding the paper, she pressed out the wrinkles and looked at the black ink staining the page.
With legs that felt like jelly, she slid down to the floor. The paper escaped her fingers as door opened behind her. She didn't dare move. Didn't need to. She knew the silhouette cast across her floor.
"Do you want me right there, Nanao?"
She wasn't sure whether or laugh or cry or beg. She just needed…
"Anywhere," she whispered.
So desperate for him to just touch… behind her, the door slid closed.
Every year after that, she and her Captain exchanged private slips.