A Scandal In Eighth Division

"She's fallen for someone," Shunsui said mournfully. He looked up at the sky through the branches of the willow tree. "I know it."

"How do you know it?" Jyushirou enquired. They were relaxing near his private lake, with a bit of wine to help the process. The current state of the Meiji Era had them both wanting to think about other things for a while. "Has she told you about it?"

"Of course not!" Shunsui refilled their cups. "But I know. I know her well enough to be able to tell. The sparkle in her eyes, the quick breaths, the way she presses her fingers against her chest, the subtle pout of her lips as she imagines his kisses --"

"Or her kisses?" Jyushirou suggested.

Shunsui paused to consider that. "I don't think so," he said judiciously.

"And have you actually seen her meeting with anyone?"

"Not outside her duties," Shunsui replied. He stared up at the sky again. "She has no life outside her duties. It's tragic. It's unthinkable. A woman like my Nanao-chan should --"

"Should certainly be allowed to have an affair if she is having one," Jyushirou cut in.

"But I don't know if he's worthy of her," Shunsui sighed. "Whoever he is."

"There are," Jyushirou said gravely, "possible avenues of investigation."

When Shiba Kaien came out with the next jug of wine, and a pile of reports for Jyushirou to sign, Shunsui took the opportunity to grill him. Of course, his favourite method of interrogation (involving alcohol and all night to get the other person drunk) wasn't available, due to not having an entire night to do it in, but surely Shiba Kaien would be able to enlighten him about any little -- or large -- indiscretions which his Nanao-chan might be indulging in vis-a-vis other vice-captains.

"Shunsui," Jyushirou eventually said, "stop giving poor Kaien the third degree. He's just being a gentleman."

Shunsui resolved to try someone who wasn't a gentleman in any shape or form.

Rangiku went into giggles. Her well-trained reflexes stopped her spilling any of her wine, but her bosom vaulted in all directions. "Kyouraku-taichou," she choked, "what makes you think that Nanao's fallen for someone?"

"Her expressions," Shunsui said, his eyes ready to spot the least trace of betraying secrecy on Rangiku's part, "when she thinks I'm not looking. The way that she occasionally sighs. The little quaver in her voice. The sweet languor in the way that she holds herself. The casual expertise which shows a woman that's finally found true fulfilment. And more."

Rangiku's eyes widened. "Surely --" She cut herself off rapidly. "That is, surely she couldn't have found someone any better than you, Kyouraku-taichou?"

"Very sweet and diplomatic," Shunsui said gravely, "but if you do not tell me the truth, I shall be forced to take measures."

Rangiku batted her eyelashes at him.

He scooped her winecup, the jug, and his own cup out of her reach.

Her shriek made all the porcelain in the bar shiver. "KYOURAKU-TAICHOU, YOU BASTARD!"

Shunsui smiled. "Now where were we?"

"Look in her book," Rangiku pouted, glaring up at him.

"Is that your final answer?"

"It's all you need to know," Rangiku snapped.

This was a matter for stealth. For cold-blooded, deliberate, painstaking, expert stealth. For stealth of such a degree that lesser shinigami could only guess at its existence.

Nanao was out checking on the Divisional stocks of tea. He slid a careful hand over her desk until it touched her book, deactivated several trap kidou that had been placed on it (ha! You think that your Kyouraku-taichou is incompetent, Nanao-chan! Little do you know!) and flipped it open with the end of a pen.

The book fell open with such ease that it was clear it had been opened to that spot on many occasions before.

A magazine was sandwiched in between the pages.

All right. He had to admit that he'd been expecting love letters, at the very least. With a frown he studied the magazine. It was in English. A periodical titled THE STRAND. A bookmark rested at a specific page, which was a story about --

"Kyouraku-taichou!" a voice hissed from the doorway.

He looked up. His beloved Nanao-chan was standing there, and at this precise moment she seemed to be posing for a statue of Avenging Justice Holding A Teatray While Meditating Agonising Punishment.

"Ah, Nanao-chan," he said feebly. "This isn't what it seems to be. Actually, it is what it seems to be, but . . ."

"But," she said in tones of icy heart-chilling frigidity.

"I know there's someone else." He let the pages fall. "Nanao-chan. Just tell me about it, and everything will be better."

Her lower lip trembled.

"Nanao-chan," he said gently. "You know I'm always ready to lend a sympathetic ear, a friendly shoulder . . . I don't want to see you unhappy. Just tell your Captain about it."

The tea-tray slid from her hands, and he was barely able to catch it and slide it onto the desk as he enfolded her in a gentle hug. She was sniffling into the folds of his haori. Something about --

"What was that, Nanao-chan?"

"Oh, I know it's stupid," she mumbled. "I know he'd never look at me. I know --"

Dear gods, she couldn't have got a crush on old man Yama or something, could she?

"-- there's only one woman he's ever been interested in, and anyhow he's not that sort of person, and --"

And if it was any of the other Captains, he was going to take them out behind the Divisional building of choice and give them a salutary lesson about playing with a young maiden's hopes.

"-- and I know he isn't really alive --"

Wait just a minute.

"-- and it's so stupid of me --"

"There's nothing stupid about caring about people who deserve it, Nanao-chan," Shunsui said firmly. He patted her on the back. "Whether they're real or not. This --" He stole a quick glance at the open page. "-- Holmes fellow -- well, I haven't read any of it myself, but . . ."

She blinked up at him. "You haven't?"

"No. Why?"

"Oh, but there's a new long story just started!" she gasped. "And it's about a giant hound which haunts a family as their curse, and murder, and he's sent Watson off to the moors to investigate, and this mysterious woman's just shown up and told him to leave and then pretended she didn't know him because she thought he was the Baskerville heir, and --"

Shunsui walked her round to his chair, and sat her down in it. "Nanao-chan. Have some tea and tell me about it. Who knows? I might like it too."

She blushed.

"Let's start with the only woman he ever loved," Shunsui said cheerfully. "I like to know about my competition."

"Ah, it wasn't exactly that he loved her," Nanao said precisely. "It was just that to him, she was always the woman."

"I know the feeling," Shunsui said, and poured tea for both of them.