Something was off.

Matsumoto didn't make a habit out of watching her fellow Shinigami, and thus had little insight into what behavior was considered 'abnormal' for most of the Gotei-13. But that didn't mean she didn't notice when the captain of the Sixth Division underwent a sudden (out of the damned blue), slight (drastic), hardly noticeable (glaringly obvious) change in demeanor.

It was hard to pinpoint the difference, exactly. He seemed more relaxed, certainly, yet at the same time gained a wary air that she almost wanted to call shyness. And though it was always hard to tell what he was thinking, especially as she wasn't around him often enough to learn how to read him, he seemed a little bit... Preoccupied. His normally spot-perfect attentiveness often wavered now, and he he seemed to drift off, to the point of staring off into space; shifting awkwardly when called out of whatever thoughts he had been absorbed in. Also, perhaps strangest of all, was the fact that his pride in his constantly immaculate appearance had diminished, and while not unkempt to the point of fitting in with the Eleventh Division, he was, even now, a little... Ruffled (or at least less than perfect).

Taking in all these changes, the fact that she noticed within her limited contact with the man (though she was a bit of a gossip-monger and took interest in this sort of thing when it came to her attention, so it was also likely that no one elsehad noticed the extent of his recent deviation), and considering her confidence that she'd know if you could get narcotics of that quality in Seireitei; she just couldn't figure out what, exactly, had changed.

Until about fifteen seconds ago, When she had successfully drawn twenty-five pairs of eyes To Kuchiki Byakuya by pointing at him and shouting in the middle of Yamamoto's speech during the Bi-Weekly Progression Update Meeting.

The echoed declaration "Oh my God, you're getting laid!" still rang through the hall, and Rangiku decided that the normally stoic captain's slightly mortified look was all the confirmation she needed to prove she was right.

The slightly awkward silence was finally broken when Renji burst out laughing.

Ukitake sighed. It was inevitable, really- at least if you thought about it.

After Matsumoto's rather vocal revelation, rumors and speculation on Kuchiki Byakuya's love-life started shooting through half of Seireitei (the female portion mostly, he noted) so fast one would think an alarm had been sounded and an announcement made over loudspeakers.

So really, why should it be at all surprising that the central hub of these rumors was in his own division? After all, all of this inquisition had to be focused somewhere, and there certainly wouldn't be anyone brave (or dumb) enough to ask Byakuya himself, so the Sixth Division would be fairly quiet. So what better source of information could there possibly be than Kuchiki Rukia? She was his own sister; surely she must know something, right?

Ukitake couldn't help but wonder if the rumors would have quieted if Rukia was in a division with a captain less tolerant than he. But, as it was...

"Come on, Kuchiki-sempai! Don't tell me you don't know anything! How could you not notice a thing like this? He's your brother, isn't he? You live in the same house! Please, sempai, you can trust me, just tell me what you know!"

Oh, dear. It seems Rukia's on her last strand, as well. She had been getting so many questions lately, he wondered how long it would take for her to snap and start cutting people down.

"For GOD'S SAKE, why can't you accept the fact that I DON'T KNOW!! Why would I keep track of his every move? Do I look like his wife all of the sudden? It's not my business AND IT ISN'T YOURS, EITHER, so STOP ASKING ME!!!"

Ukitake withheld a chuckle and bit back the comment that yes, she did look like his wife, actually. In any case, that took care of that one, at least. And probably anyone in a three mile radius, as well, actually. Hopefully, the inquisitors would become less persistent after this little outburst. That would be quite a relief, wouldn't it? And probably save some potential injuries stemming from the young Kuchiki's irritation.

The thought that he was being rather easygoing returned, and he wondered about how the other captains would have dealt with the disruption. A scenario of this situation taking place in the Eleventh Division played out in his mind, and Ukitake couldn't help but smile at the notion.

Matsumoto Rangiku leaned back in her seat with a satisfied grin. Well, well, well now wasn't thisinteresting?

Really, she should have figured it would be this easy. After all, no one spends more time around Kuchiki than his vice captain, and Renji wasn't known for being particularly good at staying quiet about anything- so why didn't someone think to ask him in the first place?

Alright, to be honest she knew the answer to that one. Just because Byakuya and Renji were now on terms good enough to be considered actual camaraderie didn't mean that they were actually friends. The socially inept captain was not the type to divulge any information on his personal life to anyone, much less someone with whom his opinion changing to "Despite earlier impressions, you are in fact more competent as a Shinigami than a trained monkey" was a marked improvement.

If anyone had asked Abarai about his captain, his response would've been "Why the hell should I know?" So no one bothered to ask. Because really, why the hell would he know?

Of course, that didn't mean he didn't. Rangiku smirked to herself. This was so easy it almost took the fun out of it. Almost.

The vice captains of the Gotei-13 were out drinking together, as they often did when work was slow or particularly overwhelming. Most of them were on friendly enough terms for these outings to begin with that eventually they just started inviting everyone.

When this evening's activity had worn down and everyone felt the weight of their liquor enough to either go home to try to save themselves from a hangover or stay and try to have some form of conversation, things got decidedly more interesting.

It probably helped that the only people who would stick around and talk after having their fill of liquor were also the type of people interested in the personal lives of their co-workers (or, you know, gossip in general.).

It had also helped that Renji had the day off tomorrow, and therefore did not have to worry about showing up to work with a hangover, and was therefore more than happy to keep drinking.

Naturally, the most helpful aspect was the fact that with the proper application of alcohol, the Sixth Division's vice captain was very easy to get to get talking.

Rangiku thanked the patron god of the Rumor Mill for Abarai's loose tongue. She had a feeling the her companions did, too.

"But yea, you're right about Byaku...chiki...chou... Uh, that guy. I could see th' difference like, the next day. I mean, if I'da known th'that was all it took to loosen 'im up I wouldn't'a took near as... Uh... Yeah. I dunno anythin'."

She grinned again, and Nanao held back a chuckle at his pathetic attempt at a cover-up. A fact which was quite telling in itself, actually- him trying not to say to much meant he obviously had something to say. Specifically, something he's not supposed to say. Oh, yes, it wouldn't take much longer, now...

"Hm, right away, huh? So then you know when it started? None of us have been able to figure out how long Kuchiki-taichou has been involved with someone- so how do you know when?"

"How do'I know? I was friggin' there. Uh. But I'm not sayin' anythin'. 'Cuz there's nothin' to say. Yeah."

"Really? I don't know, Renji; it seems like you might know more than you're letting on here."

"Mm-hmm. But, whatever. It's not like you have a reason to know, right? I mean, why would you know who your captain's been fucking?"

"Who he's been fucking?" A stifled chuckle turned into a snort. "Th' way you say it, makes it sound like you think he's on top."

At that remark, everyone stopped. Renji had the look on his face that clearly says "Oh shit, did I just say that?" and everyone else at the table were stunned into silence for a few moments. And then, Rangiku saw fit to break the silence herself. "Oh, my GOD- you'rethe one who's been sleeping with Kuchiki-taichou?!"

"And he's on bottom?" And was thankful that Nanao was just as stunned as her, for such an intelligent woman to say something so glaringly stupid as repeating something that had just been said made her feel like less of an ass. And then Renji tried to save face, which was probably the stupidest thing of all.

"I never said that. I didn' say anything. What're you talking about? I dunno what you mean. I didn' say nothin'!"

"Holy SHIT! I can't believe this!"

"Good, 'cuz there's nothin' to not believe 'cuz I didn' say anythin'! So there's no problems! I think we need more booze now!"

Nemu was the one who managed to remain calm, and bring the tension down for the whole table. "Of course, Abarai-fukaitaichou. More sake is an excellent idea, and there's certainly nothing to worry about. After all, you didn't say anything, right? Ah- you'll spill- let me pour that for you."

Oooooh, she was good. Very nice, Nemu- you took control beautifully.

"You're damn right I didn' say nothin'. I didn' say anythin' about fuckin' Byakuya, an' I'm not gonna talk about how loud he can get, or how cute he is when he blushes, or anythin' else like that, 'cuz that would mean I said somethin', which I didn't. 'Cuz I never said anything. An' I'm not gonna. 'Cuz there's nothing to say. Nothin'."

Byakuya? Cute? What a strange notion! And even blushing, too! She didn't even think he was capable of something like that- blushing requires capillaries, after all, which would indicate that the stoic man is also capable of more than one facial expression. Seeing as he only ever used the one, she had assumed that he had frowned so often as a child his face really did get frozen like that.

That's kind of silly, isn't it? Hee. She must be getting drunk, too...

Oh, but this was fun. Rangiku smirked and took another leisurely drink of sake. This was a good night. She was only hoping to get a little information, maybe a name- but this? Beautiful.

Apparently, she wasn't the only one to figure out how to take advantage of his current state of mind, either. Isane smiled sweetly, and successfully proved that she could be devious and manipulative, too. "Oh, yes, of course. You never said anything, because there's obviously nothing to say. So, Abarai-san- what else isn't there to say?"

When it appeared that Renji had decided he had already fucked up irreparably and might as well at least let out all of the gloating he'd been suppressing, Shuuhei abruptly stood up to excuse himself.

"Okay, now this is just fucked up. This has been amazingly awkward as it is, so I'm gonna turn in now; I really don't need to- er, not hear any more about Kuchiki's love life."

As he left with a final wave and the salutation of "'Night, ladies," Nanao picked up where Isane had left off before Renji sobered up enough to realize that shutting up was in his best interest.

"Well, now that the spoil-sport is gone, we can continue our lovely drink, right? Now, Abarai- Clearly, there isn'tanything to elaborate on, as there's nothing to talk about, so what else aren't you going to tell us?"

Renji did a little drunken grin, and his alcohol-flushed face reddened even further. Rangiku decided that this had been a stroke of brilliance, and thanked Bacchus for his cooperation with the God of Gossip. A great night, indeed...

Byakuya was slightly confused, and most certainly not pleased. All day long, he had been getting the strangest looks- and while he didn't actually care about how a small number of vice-captains thought about him, it was disconcerting.

The worst, of course, had to be Matsumoto's Cheshire smirk; managing to radiate an air of condescending smugness screaming "I know ALL about it- and I'm not afraid to use it against you," even when she was clearly nursing a hangover.

But that didn't mean the others weren't equally irritating. Kotetsu was also giving him an ill-boding smile, giving him the feeling that her opinion of him had just been altered-and not necessarily raised, either. It looked like her new viewpoint was clearly altered in a way that couldn't possibly bode well for him.For some reason that beaming smile, accompanied by a knowing twinkle in her eyes and a very prominent blush, made him fear the future- namely, that he was soon to be regarded as "just one of the girls." He consequently now harbored suspicion that she now regarded him as not only human, (not exactly the image the Kuchiki heir and commanding officer of a full one-thirteenth of Seireitei;(once) regarded as the most powerful of the Gotei-13, wanted to give off. His reputation had been destroyed quite thoroughly enough already, and he didn't need people thinking he had emotions now, too), but worst of all, a human in possession of sensitivity, and the same insecurities and self-depreciation as any emotionally repressed woman. Was he a man of lesser restraint, he would have choked her by now.

Also, less infuriating yet still irritating, was Ise. She had taken to slyly glancing at him with a knowing smile, like she had just been let in on a secret. She was now giving off the silent impression "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me- but don't forget: I know."

Nemu had also given him a smile in greeting. There wasn't anything suspicious in the the way she smiled, though- it was the fact that he didn't recall ever seeing the girl smile at anyone that made him uneasy.

The women had been annoying him throughout the day, but it wasn't until later that he figured out what exactly was amiss. He didn't see Hisagi often, but the strange, almost curious expression on his face that read "You think you know a guy..." made him realize that no, it wasn't just a feeling- he really was being reevaluated in the other man's eyes; and yes- his new opinion was in fact severely damaging to Byakuya's masculine pride.

Taking this, along with the suspicious behavior from the rest of the day, made everything quite obvious when applied to the knowledge that last night all of the vice-captains had been out drinking. Especially when combined with the fact that he hadn't seen Renji since yesterday, meaning that he hadn't stayed sober as he had apparently followed Byakuya's instructions of "If you're going to come home drunk, I suggest you take advantage of the fact that you don't actually live here and sleep it off in your own bed; I don't want any more drunken groping or complaints of hangovers later on."

Byakuya managed to suppress his anger into no more than a slight twitch, and sharply turned to the Ninth Division's vice-captain.

"What did he say?"

Hisagi blinked. "Huh? What did who say?"

"Renji. Last night. What. Did. He. Say?"

More blinking, and an almost sheepish look. "Renji? He... Didn't say anything, actually."

Another suppressed twitch, turned into a quirking of the eyebrow. "Really, now?"

"Yeah. Nothing."


"Nothing. Look, if you don't wanna take my word for it, you can just ask anyone else who was there, you know."

"Hm. I see. Thank you."

Unfortunately, questioning got Byakuya nowhere- while he had managed to elicit reactions betraying nervousness or guilt, that was only from the fact that he was asking at all. All four women questioned had the same reply as Hisagi did- "Renji didn't say anything at all."

He sighed. At least, he would've if he did that sort of thing. In any case, Byakuya gave up. It was clear that Renji was incapable of keeping his mouth shut when drunk, but that didn't really matter as much as the fact that this was exactly the situation he had meant to avoid. The choice to avoid telling anyone about the turn their relationship had taken was because he didn't want to have to deal with of of the fuss that he knew would arise.

The notion of privacy was obviously out of the question now- several people knew, and it wouldn't take long for everyone else to find out about the "elicit affair between Kuchiki and his vice-captain." It would turn into a full-blown scandal, and that was worse than anything that could've come up if they hadn't tried to be clandestine.

Well, it seemed like there was simply no choice- he'd have to nip this in the bud and head off the wagging tongues of Seireitei. Renji didn't come in today, so he'd have to wait until he was back to make a spectacle of himself.

Hn. For some reason the thought of... Ah, displaying his affection towards Renji in a circumstance conspicuous enough to shock the hell out of a large number of people was rather pleasing. The thought of Renji's inevitable stunned reaction brought a smirk. There was also a good amount of satisfaction gained from being the one to ignite the gossip himself.

Because if Byakuya couldn't cut off the grapevine, then by god, he was going to be the one to put his name on it.