Soooooo here is another sporadic update...I hope it is at least enjoyable. I think many of you have probably been waiting for this to happen in the plot :P
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach...but I wish I did.
And I'm not the girl that I intend to be,
I dare you darling, just you wait and see
But this time not for you but just for me,
- Gonna Get Over You, Sara Bareilles
Starting on October 1st, Seireitei was thrust fully into the examination period for seated officers. Many squads had positions to fill, officers to promote, and cuts to make. The two weeks of the month passed in a blur for both Suiren and Renji. If they weren't reviewing exercises in the training yard they were going through the written examination results. If they weren't doing either of those, they were likely attending the slew of meetings that all the taicho and fukutaicho were required to attend for the purpose of going over and getting more opinions on possible recruits. If they weren't there, you could usually find them sleeping, most often on the couch in their joint office.
They had perfect the art of sleeping together on the rather small couch, something Renji thought was no small feat, since he barely fit on it alone.
Once the exams were over and new officers had been selected, Renji was faced with a task that he found to be exceedingly more daunting than picking out the future of his squad: Suiren's birthday.
Rangiku had not-so-subtly informed him of the occasion on the night when the officer exams had ended, when Renji and a large group of friends, Suiren and Rangiku included, had gone out to celebrate. Renji had been nursing a beer, one hand resting casually on Suiren's knee, when Rangiku pounced.
"So, Abarai-kun, what did you get your lovely fukutaicho for her birthday?"
Renji had to fight hard to keep his beer from exploding out of his mouth.
Her birthday? She had never told him it was her birthday! For a few dreadful seconds he was worried that he had missed it entirely.
Suiren, of course, patted his hand in a gentle, comforting manner. "It's not till next week, taicho."
Renji glared at Matsumoto, who only smiled back at him.
He had gone to bed that night with Suiren curled around him, as was the case on more nights that not, and began to go over every sort of gift that one could give your lover turned fukutaicho turned girlfriend. His mind was racing: flowers, clothing, jewelry, shoes, artwork, stationary, flowers…in short, he had no idea what to get her.
He wasn't sure if there was anything she needed clothing wise, and if there was, Renji didn't trust himself to pick something out for her that she would actually wear. He knew her taste fairly well (he saw her everyday) and knew that she leaned more towards the elegant and simple, but he wasn't sure if things just looked that was on her because she was Suiren—he had a feeling that he would find her elegant and appealing if she was dressed in a burlap sack.
Flowers seemed so cliché, and he had developed a habit of bringing her flowers once every few weeks any ways—they just didn't seem that special. Neither did stationary, he had thought with a wince.
What kind of lame boyfriend gifted their girlfriend with stationary?
He eventually decided that he would get her some form of jewelry, maybe a necklace or a simple set of earrings. He'd thought about a bracelet, but figured that it would likely get in the way when she released her shikai.
Renji set out the following day to find an appropriate gift for her. He'd snuck away after the fifth squad's Saturday morning drills and made his way to what would be described as the fashionable part of Seireitei. Many shops and exclusive stands lined the streets, which were filled with nobles and their servants bustling from shop to shop. Renji had been to this section of town twice before: once, with Rukia to find a gift for Byakuya, and second, with Yumichika when he had been dragged kimono shopping.
He took his time, wandering about the stands and poking his head into various shops, where he was greeted with the up-most respect, likely on account of his captain's robe. He found a few very nice jewelry stores, but nothing seemed to catch his eye or scream "Suiren!" to him. As he neared the end of the street and the amount of stores and stands began to thin out, he had started to lose hope.
As he passed the last stand, however, out of the corner of his eyes, he spotted it. He didn't even have to think twice about it—he immediately knew that this is what he would be giving Suiren.
To the eye, it looked like a real tiger lily, nestled in a brown box and surrounded by plush purple silk. It appeared as though you would crush it in your hand, and Renji made sure to be very careful with it when he picked it up to examine, turning it over lightly to discover that it was a hair comb. The ornament was brightly colored and ornate in detail, bright golds and oranges blended into brown, and Renji took note of a small dusting of tiny rubies at the center of the flower.
It did not take him five minutes to make up his mind and make his purchase.
He had gifted it to her the night before her actual birthday while they had been sitting together in the small grassy courtyard between their two apartments.
"Taicho, you didn't have to get me anything," Suiren said with a rather embarrassed smile as he handed her the wooden box.
"Says who?" he asked, grinning at her.
She rolled her eyes at him, but took the box anyways, just as Renji knew she would. She glanced at him, a rather excited smile on her face, then looked down at the box in hand and slowly opened the lid. Renji smiled as she let out a surprised gasp and her hands flew to her mouth.
"Renji!" she said on a light exhale as she reached down and carefully removed the comb. "It's…absolutely beautiful."
"I'm glad you like it," he said, grinning. He watched happily as she turned it over in he hands, admiring the minute details of the ornament. "May I?" he asked after a moment, holding his hand out.
Suiren looked at him with eyebrows raised before comprehending his meaning. She handed him the comb and he moved behind her, sitting on his knees as he pulled a section of her hair back and gently set the comb in place. Suiren twisted around and looked up at him, a look of complete happiness on her face.
"How does it look?" she asked with a smile.
"You look beautiful," Renji grinned, and he leaned down, placing a gentle kiss on the top of her head.
Suiren laughed and then fisted her hands in the front of Renji's kimono, drawing him down towards her.
All in all Renji had thought her birthday had a great start to it.
After that, October moved slowly into November and with it came the chill that warned of the approaching winter. Suiren had taken to wearing a set of white sleeves under her sleeveless kimono, refusing to wear anything that would prevent her from wearing her bracers should she need to release her shikai. Renji had come to learn that his fukutaicho had very little tolerance for the cold, and would laugh at her when she entered their office wearing a thick gray scarf that Rukia and Ichigo had given to her together for her birthday.
As the seasons changed from fall to winter, so did Suiren and Renji's relationship change. They grew more comfortable around one another, and began to learn one another's habits and more about their respective histories.
Still, Suiren never once brought her past relationship with Shuuhei.
Renji would be lying if he said that it didn't bother him that she never talked about it, but he wasn't going to pressure her. From what Shuuhei had told him, it had been a messy breakup, and it had been very hard on Suiren. Renji also was no fool; he could sometimes see her hesitation during their interactions, and he did his best to assure her that she was safe, that he would never hurt her. He was convinced that he made her happy, if her secret smiles and laughter were any indication. And for now Renji was content with that.
November moved into December, and Seireitei was soon blanketed in a light dusting of pure white snow. Suiren grumbled about the cold, but Renji found it to be rather serene, very calming and pretty. He liked the morning chill, it woke him up, and watching his breath form small clouds in the air did never ceased to fascinate him.
By December, Renji and Suiren had fully integrated themselves into the fifth squad. They worked together as a succinct unit, and were now the captain commander's first choice squad to send out and deal with any trouble. Renji and Suiren's fighting styles complimented each other, and they worked phenomenally as a team; Renji was strong a brutal, most often keeping distance with the use of his shikai, while Suiren was light and quick on her feet, a veritable master with her glaive. The entire squad had adjusted to them brilliantly, and were now getting to the point where the officers and other members were able to anticipate orders before they were even given. Renji thought that was rather handy, and it saved him a good deal of yelling.
As December neared its end, Seireitei was full of excitement and talk about the New Years festival. Always a lavish affair, preparations began for the festival in the early weeks of December. Suiren, as a member of the Shinigami Women's Association, was part of one of the many planning committees, though Renji was never quite sure what it is she had helped with. From the way she talked about their meetings, Suiren didn't seem all that sure either. The whole of Seireitei was decorated for the festival, with tiny lights and garlands and breathtaking floral arrangements. Even the squad offices were decorated, as Renji discovered on morning when he walked into his office to find an elaborately ornamented plum tree nestled in the corner.
A week before the festival, Suiren had come up to Renji while he was washing dishes from the dinner that she had prepared for them, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head on his back.
"So, taicho," she said, and Renji could feel her grin. She only called him 'taichio' when they were alone if she was joking around. "Do you think you might want to be my date next Friday? If you're not otherwise engaged, of course," she added with mock seriousness.
Renji smiled. "I think that could be arranged. I'll have to check, but I'm pretty sure I haven't promised my company to anyone else."
"Good," Suiren said, placing a kiss on his back. Renji couldn't help the content smile that found it's way onto his face.
Three days before New Years Eve, Ichigo showed up at the fifth division, looking rather flustered.
"Kurosaki-kun!" Suiren said happily from her desk.
"Yo," Ichigo said, waving his hand in a mock salute at her. His eyes turned to Renji, who was watching him with raised eyebrows. It wasn't like Ichigo to show up during the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, looking so distraught. "You busy?" he asked the fifth division captain.
Renji looked at him rather flatly. "I'm a captain, baka."
"That doesn't mean you're busy," Ichigo retorted. "I've come in here before when you two have been playing tic-tac-toe," he said, pointing at Renji and then Suiren.
"He does have a point, taicho," Suiren said, grinning.
Renji rolled his eyes, hating that they were right. Well, mostly hating that Ichigo was right. He was perfectly okay with Suiren being right.
"No, not really," he told Ichigo. "Why?"
"I'll explain later," Ichigo said with a wave of his hand. "Let's go!"
And with that, he leaped onto Renji's desk and grabbed him by the collar of his kimono and, after shoving the window open, jumped out of the office and disappeared with Renji in tow.
Under normal circumstances, Suiren would have found the entire spectacle strange. But when it came to her captain and Ichigo, nothing really surprised her anymore. With a rather annoyed sigh, she wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck and rose from her desk, moving lightly across the room to shut the open window with a snap.
She returned to her desk and resumed working as she had been before Kurosaki Ichigo had entered the office and stolen her captain.
"What the hell?" Renji yelled as Ichigo flash-stepped across another roof. Renji dug his heels into the roof, knocking a few tiles lose before he managed to wrench himself free of Ichigo's vice-like grip.
Ichigo stopped and turned to him, raising his eyebrows in question.
"Don't make that face at me," Renji nearly growled, "What the hell are you doing?"
"What the hell are we doing," Ichigo corrected, smirking slightly.
Renji leveled him with his best glare and was happy to note that the orange haired human deflated slightly under his gaze. Ichigo mumbled something at him, averting his eyes.
"I didn't quite catch that," Renji drawled.
Ichigo's cheeks burned pink and he glared at Renji. "I need your help," he repeated.
Renji blinked, then broke into a wide smile. "Oh? With what?"
"Rukia invited me to the New Years thing you guys are doing here and I guess Byakuya found out. He sent me this creepy note telling me I better 'not look like the peasant I am' since I'm escorting a noble," Ichigo veritably spat. He seemed both annoyed and embarrassed all at once.
Renji raised an eyebrow. "And you picked me to help you go shopping? Do I look like Yumichika? Maybe we should double back and get Suiren," he said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the fifth division.
"Can't you just take me to the place that you got your robes for your captains ceremony at?" Ichigo asked, doing his best to keep a desperate tone out of his voice. "Rukia kept going on and on about how nice they were and how sharp you looked."
"So now you just want to copy me?" Renji grinned. He knew that he was now in a position of power. Ichigo needed him and his directions. Renji planned to make the most of this rather pleasant situation. "I don't think you could pull it off—I'm taller and my shoulders are broader."
"They are not."
"Are too, and you should play nice if you want me to show you the shop," Renji pointed out, smiling cheerily.
"I should knock your smart ass off this roof is what I should do," Ichigo grumbled.
Renji just continued to smile. "Come on, Peasant," he smirked and then, before Ichigo could grab him again, began flash stepping across the roofs of Seireitei to the kimono shop.
Three days later, Suiren stood in her bedroom, staring up at two drastically different kimonos. She bit her lower lip as she considered the choices before her.
One kimono was a crisp, pale green, the bottom and sleeves clustered with tiny white and pink flowers. A bright white under-robe and pale pink obi hung next to the green kimono. It was light, bright, and airy, and seemed to fit the happy mood she was in. The second kimono was darker, a mix of burgundy, gold, and orange, decorated with tall tiger lilies. Suiren had picked out a golden under-robe and a burnt orange obi with a golden silk cord. She was torn between the two, they were both exquisite, and it wasn't everyday that she got to dress up in something so beautiful.
She sighed, glancing at her bureau. Renji's birthday present glinted in the light of her room.
"Hm…" she said aloud to herself, and she padded over, picking the hair comb up and then returning to the two kimono. She held the comb up to the green ensemble, then the burgundy and gold. There was no question that the comb went with the second option more; some of the colors were near perfect matches.
And, she thought, arms crossed over her chest, it was winter still—the darker kimono was made of a slightly heavier fabric and was more fit for winter in general. With a shrug of her shoulders, Suiren carefully returned the green kimono, white under-robe, and pink obi to her closet.
The festival was due to start in a few hours, and she and Renji had agreed to meet up with Ichigo and Rukia outside the courtyard where the bulk of the festival was being held at seven o'clock. Suiren smiled at the thought; Renji had told her all about his and Ichigo's kimono shopping adventure a few days before. Renji hadn't really explained the situation, but from what Suiren understood, Kuchiki Byakuya had threatened Ichigo and as a result, Ichigo had needed to buy a new kimono.
The situation sounded entirely plausible given the cast of characters, and Suiren couldn't say she was really all the surprised by any of it.
With a final glance at her chosen kimono, Suiren turned and headed into the bathroom to begin her preparations for the night. A hot shower was on her list, and she let out a happy sigh as she stepped under the warm spray. She had worked out with the squad that morning, a tougher regiment than usual while they were training in the new officers. She had to admit that she was very pleased with the new appointments, all seemed capable, driven, and eager to prove themselves.
As she began to wash her hair, a rather laborious process, her thoughts turned to her captain. Though, Suiren thought with a rather sly smile, he was, at this point, certainly much more than just her captain. She still wasn't quite sure what it is she would call him, her boyfriend or her lover, something alone those lines…but it didn't really matter—he was hers, and that was all she really cared about.
Suiren was surprised to find that Renji was oddly sentimental; he was very affectionate and attentive, something she admitted that she would not have predicted from the rather gruff, red haired captain of the fifth. Not that she was complaining—she had no problem with Renji telling her that he slept better when she was nestled in his arms, the fact that he would absentmindedly touch her whenever they were near, or the way his eyes seemed to shine whenever she walked into a room.
It felt wonderful.
It felt calm and comfortable.
At the same time, it thrilled her and made her entire body tingle with emotion, even when all he did was touch her cheek or smile at her.
She turned the faucet off and grabbed a plush towel from the small shelf directly outside of the shower, then quickly dried her body off before flipping her head upside down and wrapping her long hair up in the cloth. She glanced at her naked body as she passed the mirror, her eyes following the delicate lines of her lily tattoos until she slipped a robe on, pursing her lips as she did so.
She and Renji had yet to repeat the happenings of their one night stand. They had come close, increasingly close, in the past few weeks, but something always seemed to interrupt them. Suiren was loath to admit how much she wanted him, and it was getting to be incredibly frustrating. It was hard not to look at her captain and not imagine his strong hands running up and down her body, caressing her and squeezing her. When they kissed it was near impossible for her not to imagine his lips on other more intimate parts of her body.
Certainly they had done their fair share of caressing one another, of teasing each other's necks and ears (Renji had even found a way to kiss her wrist in a manner that left her breathless)—but there seemed to be a barrier between them that kept them from going further. Being interrupted by random hollow or emergency meetings didn't help, but still…Suiren wasn't exactly sure what it was.
While she towel dried her hair and started to brush it out, Suiren began to wonder if maybe she was keeping them from sex, albeit unconsciously. She cared for Renji, truly and deeply, but sex seemed like a big step to her. She knew she had technically already slept with the man, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't remember a single detail about their drunken romp in the sheets (which was really too bad, she was positive it had been enjoyable).
As she stared at her reflection in the mirror atop her dressing table, Suiren came to realize what exactly it was she was afraid of.
It wasn't the physical act of sex, by any means. But rather, what the act, in its entirety, would mean to her.
In her mind, sharing something so intimate with someone else was the final step—it was giving a piece of your self to them. There was simply no helping it, it was inevitable that you ended up giving a bit of yourself, even a very small one, when you joined so completely with another person. She had felt the after-effects of such unions on many occasions, first with Shuuhei, and then the morning after her drunken night with Renji. She had been able to feel him and sense his reiatsu at the drop of a hat, almost as if he were beneath her skin, for days after their encounter.
As she continued her regimen, Suiren went back and forth with herself in her mind, arguing with herself about the issue.
What was she so afraid of?
She knew that to her, and she liked to think that to Renji as well, it wouldn't just be sex, that it would mean something to the both of them.
Why was she holding back?
She knew that she wanted it on so many levels; she wanted to share herself with him, and for Renji to share himself in return.
Because she loved him, she realized as she was applying a dark, smokey shadow to her eyelids. She paused at the thought, staring into the eyes of her reflection.
She rather thought that the revelation should have startled her, or at least surprised her on some level. Instead, she felt…almost relieved, like it was something that she'd known for some time, but just didn't want to admit to herself.
By the time she was adding the finishing touches to her ensemble, adjusting the obi cord so it sat just so and straightening the collar of her under-robe, Suiren had decided on a course of action. She was determined to stop being afraid.
With a final once over in her mirror, Suiren took the tiger lily comb that Renji had given to her and, very carefully, tucked it into her elegantly arranged hair. With that, she wrapped a heavy black shawl around her shoulders and, after sliding a pair of hardy geta on her feet, left her apartments for the New Years Festival, a smile on her pretty face.
"Kurosaki-kun, you clean up well," Suiren said with a smile as she came upon Ichigo standing rather awkwardly next to one of the large, red wooden gates that lead into the courtyard where the festival was being held. Suiren could already hear large amounts of laughter and the steady lull of many voices talking from inside.
Ichigo, despite looking rather awkward, did in fact clean up quite well. He wore a deep blue kimono, plain except for three black and white cranes along the bottom of the garment; they seemed to be taking flight from the hemline. The under-robe and obi he wore were just as simple, plain black. Suiren was tempted to tell him that he looked cute, but she was well aware that it would likely mortify him.
"Suiren!" Ichigo said, and she smiled at him.
Ichigo was never good with formality, but Suiren couldn't really say that she minded. She liked to think that she now knew Ichigo well enough to count him as a good friend (it was inevitable with Renji as her captain and Rukia as her cousin), and she also liked to think that Ichigo felt the same in regards to her.
"You look very nice," he managed with very little awkwardness. Suiren knew that he meant it and thanked him. "I'm early," he told her, glancing around as a group of shinigami passed by them and then through the red gate to the festival.
"I'm always early," Suiren replied with a grin.
"I dunno how you manage that with Renji," Ichigo told her, raising an orange eyebrow at her.
"Me neither, really," she shrugged her shoulders. "Are you excited?" she asked with a smile, gesturing in the direction of the festival.
Ichigo shrugged one shoulder. "I guess? Rukia's going to make me play some dumb carnival game to win her a stuffed animal or something," he told her.
"Then I'll get in trouble if I don't win the right one," he continued, rolling his eyes, "or if it's the wrong color, or I didn't win it fast enough."
Suiren laughed. "Rukia's quite the girl."
"Why are you talking about me?" came Rukia's voice from behind her.
Suiren turned (after taking note of Ichigo's rather frightened face) to find her cousin standing behind her, hands on her hips with her eyes narrowed slightly.
"Only good things, I promise," Suiren said.
Rukia studied her for a moment then smiled. "I doubt that, but oh well." She came and stood beside Suiren, and Suiren noted the rather bashful look that appeared on her face as she drew closer to Ichigo.
"Rukia!" Ichigo managed after a moment, clearing his throat. "You look…amazing."
Rukia's blush deepened, and Suiren couldn't help but agree.
Rukia was wearing a lavender kimono, the image of a sakura tree woven fluidly into the silk. Tiny white blossoms littered the tree, and seemed to fall gracefully from its branches down the length of her robe and along the sleeves. A teal obi was tied at her waist, tied with a pretty, plum colored ribbon. Rukia had put her hair up with a silver comb, her severe bangs framing her violet eyes, and she wore a single ornament in her hair. It was a delicate thing, a single white chopstick from which hung what looked like a small collection of real sakura blossoms on silver string.
"Arigatou, Ichigo," Rukia said quietly, smiling rather shyly.
Ichigi smiled back, which in turn made Suiren smile. A moment passed between them, and quite suddenly, Ichigo's face turned sour.
"Well?" he demanded.
Rukia looked confused. "Well what?"
"Well what about me?"
Suiren's smile instantly disappeared and she felt like slapping herself hard across the face.
Rukia raised an eyebrow. "Do you want me to tell you that you look pretty, Ichigo?" she deadpanned.
Ichigo scoffed. "No, but you could tell me I look nice! After I went through all this trouble to even get this damn thing," he gestured to the kimono he wore, "all to please your stupid brother and—"
"Nii-sama knew you didn't have anything appropriate to wear here!" Rukia countered, always the first to defend her older brother.
"Why do you assume that? I've been to a festival before!"
The pair of them disintegrated into unintelligible banter and Suiren could only sigh and watch them.
Really, they were quite the pair.
"You'd think he would have learned by now," a familiar male voice said from behind Suiren.
Suiren turned around quickly. "Hisagi taicho!" she said, unable to keep the surprise from her voice.
I'm sure many of you are tired of my very few and far between updates of this story, but I promise I have not abandoned it! The past few chapters have just been like pulling teeth to write...which makes it less fun. Hopefully this was worth something of a wait- please review and let me know what you think! And encourage me to write faster :P