"Hey, Ikkaku," Yumichika skidded into his friend's room. "Just heard the news. The lady of your naughtier dreams is back."

---

The three sitting in the Sixth Division main office were entirely silent. To say there was tension in the atmosphere was to say there was a bit of water in the sea.

Renji fidgeted as inconspicuously as he could manage. Kuchiki Byakuya and the other person sipped their tea calmly.

"If you feel you have to be somewhere else, Abarai, feel free to go anytime." Byakuya didn't look at his lieutenant as he put his teacup down.

Hearing his captain's words, the tall redhead scrambled out of his chair. "Bye, all. Really glad seeing you again, Mizuki-san." He escaped.

The girl leaned her chin on her hand. "He's cute."

"He's irritating, brash and hotheaded," corrected Byakuya.

"Also fiercely loyal, determined and spunky. Plus, he managed to work with you for the past six months. You gotta give him credit for that," said the girl. She stretched lazily. "But I'm glad no one's managed to fill my shoes. How many lieutenants did you work through anyway? "

"Many. You were the first lieutenant I worked with, Kai Mizuki. And you were the one who... supported me through...through that time."

Mizuki smiled. "You'd have made it through eventually."

Byakuya's reciprocal smile was wan. "I doubt it. Hisana's leaving would have wrecked me entirely."

She changed the subject hastily. "How's the girl?"

Byakuya raised his brows in supplication. "Obstinate, shy and proud. She's so unlike her sister."

"Sounds like you, though," teased Mizuki. She never called Rukia by name; in some oblique way she was paying respect to Hisana's memory. The two had been very close after Byakuya's marriage, and she had been almost as upset by her slow decline and eventual death.

Byakuya traced a line on the table. His eyes traced the contours of her face. Her deepset violet eyes met his; her full, generous lips curved into a smile. "You've grown thinner these past three years," he said, almost accusingly.

"It's all the traveling between Societies. Takes a toll on the digestive system." Her long fingers folded over her cup. "You look better though, than you did when I left. Abarai-san's a good lieutenant for you."

Byakuya smiled, a little more wholeheartedly. He seldom let his guard down around other shinigami; Mizuki had been one of the privileged few allowed into his inner circle. "He's not you, though."

They finished their tea. Mizuki stood, and went to the window. "The view hasn't changed."

Kuchiki followed her, standing just behind the girl. She was almost as tall as he, and the faint fragrance of her dark hair caught his attention. "People have."

She turned around, and he closed the gap. For a moment they balanced on the edge, her arms resting on his, neither moving. Then he bent, just a little, and kissed her.

It was the same feeling, her warm lips soft and welcoming. Her arms slid up the captain's arms and rested on his shoulders. He slipped his hands around her waist, pulling her closer. They breathed in each other's scents, lips pressing together. Then she opened her mouth slightly and let him explore the moistness with his tongue.

She gasped when he shoved her against the window frame and urged her passions higher. Her fingers clutched at his broad shoulders, the lacquered nails digging into the white coat. His hands tightened and pushed her closer to himself. They drank each other in, the thirst of three years insatiable. But as Kuchiki bent to explore the sensuous curve of her neck Mizuki pushed him away.

"No," she panted when he made to pull her close again. "No. Kuchiki-taichou, we've been through this. Three years ago, we made the decision."

His hair slightly mussed, his lips red and swollen from the prolonged kiss, Kuchiki Byakuya swallowed and regained his composure. "You are right," he managed at last. He pivoted away and went to his desk. "I've read the reports. You sure the other Societies can spare the manpower?"

"The prerequisite is if the Captain-general asks for help. And you know him..." She seemed relieved that they were taking refuge in work.

"He won't ask." Byakuya flipped through the other stacks.

Mizuki settled herself in the chair opposite the large desk. "He won't ask."

"Do you know what division you'll be assigned to?"

"Not yet. He said I can take a week off."

"Will you choose-"

"No." Kai Mizuki cut off the rest of his query. "It would not be wise."

Byakuya bent to the work in hand. "No. It would not."