This is just pure crack, and I am so very, very sorry. It just...kinda...happened. So very, very sorry.
It began, as so much of her worst trouble did, with a library book.
Ise Nanao leaned back in her chair, pulled her glasses off, and sighed. Her eyes ached. She'd been working for hours writing up the description of a demon binding she had finally perfected, and while the spell itself was wonderfully intricate, laborious, and wickedly put together—rather like Nanao herself—the write-up was tedious.
Someone made a noise behind her.
Had it been about two octaves higher, it would have sounded like someone clearing his throat. As it was, it was a kind of subterranean rumble, like a train passing directly underfoot.
"Yes?" She put her glasses back on, turned her head, and found herself at eye-level with what appeared to be a wall wearing a belt.
She looked up. And up. And up.
The wall turned into slabs of muscle, widened out into mountainous shoulders, and finally resolved into a spiky-haired nightmare with an eyepatch. There are people who can be described as "sculpted" but in this case, the sculptor appeared to have used a chainsaw, or perhaps dynamite.
Oh, good god.
It was Captain Zaraki Kenpachi.
She'd known he was somewhere nearby, of course. Any time Zaraki was in a hundred yard radius, everybody knew it. It was like having a thunderstorm roll in. You went psychically blind and deaf and had to rely on such lesser senses like real sight and hearing. (This was actually rather nice at general staff meetings, when the auras of dozens of absurdly powerful shinigami could become overwhelming. It was a pity he attended so few of them.)
Still, she hadn't realized he was in the library. It wasn't the sort of place you expected to find a seven-foot-plus killing machine. Nanao had assumed that he'd been somewhere outside the building, presumably either hurting someone or contemplating where he could find someone to hurt.
"Zaraki-taicho!" She leapt to her feet, bowing smoothly from the neck. "Can I help you?"
He made another low rumbling noise, the growling of a meditative volcano. "Ise, right?"
She nodded. The lack of honorifics didn't particularly bother her. After a century of being "Nanao-chan," she could handle being just Ise.
"I'm looking for a book."
Nanao stifled her first, uncharitable thought—He knows how to read?—and said cautiously, "Any particular book?"
He rubbed the back of his neck, and contrived to look vaguely uncomfortable. "Hmmmm." He held up a slip of paper. "This one. It's in the card catalog, but not on the shelves."
Nanao silently cursed the gods that had caused her to miss the sight of Zaraki using the card catalog. She extended a hand. "May I?"
He gave her a wary look—wary? Zaraki? What in the name of the thousand gods is going on?—and held out the scrap of paper. Nanao took it. In clear, if somewhat blocky handwriting, it read "Everybody Wets The Bed Sometimes, Smith & Goldberg, 62035.75"
Nanao, after more than a century under Captain Shunsui, had one of the best poker-faces in all of Soul Society, but her lips twitched briefly anyway.
"Look, it isn't forme," he said hurriedly.
"I didn't think it was…" she said, which was at least 90 percent true.
"It's Yachiru. She gets a little overexcited when we fight is all…" He stared off at the ceiling, looking pained. "We go through a lot of laundry," he said after a minute.
If this were anyone else, I would be looking for the hidden cameras about now, but I don't think he actually has a sense of humor…
Still, Nanao was not entirely without pity, and Zaraki was—in a somewhat twisted fashion—a single parent of sorts. And I suppose this counts as lending reasonable aid to a fellow Vice-Captain…sort of… She put on her best professional air, inclined her head and said "If it's not on the shelves, it's probably down in the archives."
An interrogative rumble.
"Down in the basement. They're probably closed up now…yes. You could try tomorrow."
"Nah, I'll just knock the door down," he said. "Thanks." He turned away.
"It occurs to me," said Nanao, hurrying after him, "that I've probably got a key." (She really shouldn't have a key to the archives, but she'd had the liberty of having one made years ago, for when the research bug bit in the middle of the night, and the thought of Zaraki rampaging through the stacks like an enraged bull with a library card was not to be borne.)
"Hmmm? Oh." He shrugged. "Sure. Whatever."
He followed her across the lower floor of the library, taking one stride for every three of hers. Despite the smothering power that followed him like a dark cloud, Nanao found that standing next to him wasn't all that bad. It was a little like being in the eye of the hurricane, an almost eerie stillness. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing up, but that was about it.
"These aren't organized very well," she said apologetically, as they descended a narrow staircase into the basement. "It's probably in here somewhere, though…"
He grunted. Nanao glanced back over her shoulder and saw that he was having to hunch over in the low corridor. Bells hit the ceiling with a faint, discordant chiming.
She fitted her key into the door, opened it, and sighed. High rolling shelves were jammed together with only the narrowest of paths between them. Nanao herself could only have gone down some of the walkways sideways and holding her breath.
This could be a problem…
Zaraki managed to fit through the door, and looked around the narrow walks with an expression that on another person might have been dismay.
"Stay there," ordered Nanao. "I'll find it." She slid into the stacks, wiggling between oversize copies of books no one had read for hundreds of years, Time-Life Encyclopedia sets, and alchemy tomes that promised eternal life and cures for baldness. The library of Seireitei was vast and home to untold knowledge. Unfortunately, it was also home to a lot of crap.
Dust rose up in clouds from the bookshelves. Nanao could hear the faint sound of bells as Zaraki shifted his feet.
It occurred to her that she had just barked an order to the Captain of the Eleventh, a man not known for his tolerant and easy-going nature.
Did I really just do that?
Astonishingly, she still seemed to be alive. Perhaps he was trying to figure out how exactly to kill her through the wall of books.
"62035.75?" she called, dropping to her knees.
Great. The last pair of rolling bookcases were jammed together. She could just see the spine of what she wanted, on the bottom shelf of the back case, on the far side of the shelf in front of her.
Zaraki could undoubtedly have moved the shelf, but they would have had to empty half the room to do it. No help for it. She pulled out a half dozen books—Training Hollows for Fun and Profit, No Bad Arrancar, How to Win Friends and Influence People and Then Kill Them—stacked them neatly beside her,and examined the resulting gap on the bottom shelf.
It was just barely wide enough. She flattened out on her belly, wiggled through, and reached. An inch more…two…she fumbled with one foot, found one of the shelf uprights to brace against, and shoved herself through.
There! Nanao pulled it out, read the cover, and on a whim grabbed the volume next to it just in case Zaraki's reading comprehension wasn't as low as she thought.
There was a pleased grunt and the soft rattle of bells.
Nanao gathered the books up, tried to wiggle back… and discovered a problem. She'd been able to push herself through with her feet, but she lacked any kind of leverage to do the same with her arms. There wasn't enough room to get her elbows under her on the shelf.
She felt frantically for a toehold and didn't find one.
The library complex was shielded against the use of flash, to prevent the books from leaving the premises without being checked out. Demon magic would have been wonderful if she had (for example) wished to burn the archives down, or get someone else as trapped as she was, but wasn't much good otherwise.
"Um," said Nanao. "I appear to be stuck."
She wondered vaguely whether Zaraki was going to laugh, leave her there in disgust at the weakness of lesser beings, or do both and knock the wall down to get the book on the way out. Her money was on the latter, but you never knew. (Ironically, any of those options would be better than if Shunsui were here, since he'd take her predicament as a gift from the gods. He'd definitely drag her out once he was done groping her, but Nanao wasn't sure if she wouldn't rather stay stuck in a bookcase for a few days.)
Zaraki snorted once, explosively, and said "Hold on."
She listened to the sounds of books moving aside, mixed with chiming, and then a long wooden groan. Wheels skreeked and scrabbled on the floor. Nanao could turn her head just far enough to see bookcases being backed against the far wall, and then he got part of a path cleared and somehow managed to wedge himself around the edge of the bookcases where they met the wall.
A single dark eye peered down at her. She looked back up. (And up. And up. He was even taller if you happened to be lying on the floor.)
The eye vanished. A second later, he grabbed the back of her obi and hauled backwards, which did get her loose, but also cracked the back of her skull against the bookcase behind her. Nanao saw stars, and a moment later, pages, as myriad contents of the shelves rained down on her head.
Eventually the avalanche subsided. She took a deep breath, let it out, and looked up into the face of Zaraki, who had both eyebrows up in what was probably mild dismay—either because of the avalanche or because she was so obviously an idiot, it was hard to tell.
I could probably venture a guess…
"Your books, Captain," she said, and held them out with as much dignity as she could muster under the circumstances.
He took the books, reached down, grabbed her by the collar, and set her on her feet. She slapped dust off her robes, depressingly aware that she was covered in dirt and cobwebs, her hair had come loose, and there were about a hundred books that needed to be picked up.
"Thank you, Zaraki-taicho."
"Mmm." He glanced down at the books, turned over the extra one, and read the title. "A Parent's Guide to Treating Childhood Incontinence. Oh. Yeah, that might help." He flipped it open and scanned down a page.
Doesn't have to move his lips when he reads. I'll be damned.
"I live to serve," said Nanao dryly.
She started picking up and shelving books. Zaraki chimed his way out of the narrow walk and muscled the bookcases back into alignment. Another meditative rumble, and she heard the door shut behind him.
Well, that was an adventure…
She emerged from the basement twenty minutes later, threading the pins back into her hair, and nearly ran into him again.
"Zaraki-taicho?" Sweet gods, was he waiting for me to get out of there…?
"Wanted to thank you," he said. (Nanao guessed that he didn't thank people very often, because he managed to make it sound like a threat of bodily harm. "First I'll thank you…and then I'll start on the kidneys…") "Also…I'd rather you didn't mention this…"
He leaned over her when he said that. The effect was rather like having a cloud pass over the sun. Nanao felt her backbone trying to compress in a cower, and fought it back with iron will.
"Her secret's safe with me," said Nanao, meeting his eyes squarely. You're not going to bully me, I don't care if you are three times my size… "And perhaps in return, if you could not mention the bit where I got wedged in a bookcase…?"
He grinned. It was a deeply villainous expression. "Deal." He started to turn away, and then paused.
"Ah." His expression was odd. It looked as if he were reading a script off the inside of his eyepatch. "You were helpful. Look, I hate to feel obligated for anything. It drives me crazy. Do you need anyone killed?"
Nanao put an eyebrow up. "Not…really…" Shunsui frequently made her want to scream and bite things—and not in the way he was probably hoping—but the occasional goosing wasn't grounds for setting Zaraki on somebody.
"No enemies?" He sounded disappointed.
"I'm fresh out."I suppose if he gave me an hour I could go try to make some…slap a few people across the face with gloves, that sort of thing…
"Well, then. Can I…uh…" More consultation with the eyepatch. "…buy you dinner or something?"
Sweet gods and demons, did he just ask me out?
It had been a distressingly long time since Nanao had been out to a dinner where her sole function was not to make sure that Matsumoto and Shunsui got home before dawn. Still…Zaraki…
Nanao opened her mouth to make an excuse and heard herself say "Well, not killing me is thanks enough, I'm sure, but I'm off-duty around eight."
"Sure," said Zaraki, "I understand, maybe another…"
There was a brief, awkward silence, and Nanao felt a smile tug at her lips.
I wonder which one of us was more surprised by that…?
"Oh. Hmmm." He shook his head, setting the bells ringing. "All right. You know the Grey Lotus?"
"Yes." She knew it only in passing—decent food, decent alcohol, very high ceilings. "Nine?"
An affirmative rumble. She bowed politely, as befit a Vice-Captain to one of his rank, watched him leave the library, and thought What in god's name did I just agree to…?