Part 1 of 2
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.
AN: This is AU and the ages don't completely agree with their appearance in the anime and manga. Dedicated to Judikickshiney, because she really wanted to see this after I started gushing about it.
"Your tea, Miss Ise."
Nanao looked up from her reading to meet the soft brown eyes of Jyuushirou Ukitake. He held out her tea to her and she accepted it with a small smile.
"Thank you," she said, closing the book she had been studying intently seconds before.
"Studying architecture today?" Jyuushirou asked, looking amused as was customary for him. "That's not your usual topic of choice."
"No, I don't suppose it is," Nanao took a sip of the warm, unsweetened tea and gazed up at the older man. He was attractive for a man of that age, Nanao mused, easily a decade or two older than herself. She wasn't sure what his exact age was. Long, white hair pulled into a high ponytail with some shorter strands hanging down to frame the right side of his face. Clear, russet eyes set in a pale aristocratic face would brighten every time the small bell above the door jingled.
"Customers," Shunsui called from behind the counter, putting new pastries in the showcase.
"Excuse me," Ukitake excused himself to take care of the newest addition to the restaurant.
Nanao's eyes unconsciously followed him as he smiled at the two women who rested against the counter as they gave him their order. His smile was genuine, the girl noted, taking a sip of her tea. Every customer who came in, male or female was treated to that casual, alarmingly attractive smile.
One of the women said something amusing.
"He's good with them, isn't he?"
Nanao tore her eyes off of the now chuckling man and hid a frown. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
"Jyuushirou is such a people person," Shunsui set a small plate with a warm pastry on it in front of Nanao. "He always knows what to say and how to make people smile."
"He is a very good waiter," Nanao agreed.
"I'm almost envious of him," Kyoraku chuckled at Nanao's questioning look and sat down across from her. "Now, I said 'almost'. He gets all of this attention from these women and the idiot doesn't even notice."
"Well, maybe he's just used to it," Nanao said doubtfully, glancing at the two women as they scribbled something on a napkin.
"No," Shunsui rubbed the stubble on his chin with a hand, his dark grey eyes twinkling with mischief. "I've asked him about it several times and he always responds the same way," Shunsui smirked, trying to copy Ukitake's charming smile, but failing miserably. "He always says 'Shun, I tell you the same thing every time you ask. She isn't the one who caught my attention.' Never will tell me who the girl is or what she looks like. Probably afraid I'll steal her away from him, but I'm almost certain she comes into here sometimes."
"Why would you say that?" Nanao couldn't bite back her curiosity.
"Well, he doesn't really have a life when he's not here. I know him, if he's not doing something with me, he's at home..." Shunsui paused to look over at his best friend. Ukitake was handing the women their order and check. The white haired man said something and the two women burst into laughter. He looked a little stunned in response and laughed lightly; not knowing what was so funny.
"Now, look at this," Shunsui stood and moved to Nanao's side, pressing a little too closely to her as he pointed out what was happening. "The blonde one's going to slip him her number when she pays."
Surely enough, the napkin was folded in between the bills they gave him, telling him to keep the change as they walked out the door, coffee and low-fat muffins in tow.
"Jyuushirou will see the napkin in just a second and—" Shunsui trailed off as the tow headed man unfolded the napkin. A blush exploded across his cheeks.
"That must've been a dirty one." Shunsui chuckled, moving away from her. "Interesting, too, since that woman was wearing a wedding ring," he winked.
Nanao was staring down at the table in surprise, unsure of whether or not she should react to this.
"Pastry of the day," Shunsui patted her shoulder and pushed the plate at her. "Raspberry Danish."
"Oh, thank you," Nanao said, picking up her fork from where it was wrapped in the napkin. "Um, Mr. Kyoraku," she said after a moment of hesitancy. "Do you still need some weekend help here?"
"Are you asking for a job, my little Nanao?" Shunsui's eyes glittered.
"Yes," Nanao decided it was best to ignore the nickname.
"Well, I'll have to talk it over with Ukitake…" he grinned, walking back towards the kitchen. "He'll say yes, I bet. Raspberry Danish days are his favorite."
"Jyuu-Jyuu," Shunsui called, startling the man who was taking a pan of cinnamon rolls out of the oven.
"What is it, Shunsui?" Ukitake set the pan on the counter to cool for a few minutes.
"Well, you'll never guess who wants to work here." Shunsui sang as he opened the dishwasher and put a few dishes in sporadically.
"Not that Yoruichi woman again…" Jyuushirou moved to correctly place the dishes in the dishwasher.
"No, no," Shunsui assured him, leaning over to put in a few more dishes. "Nanao Ise."
If Shunsui hadn't been loading the dishwasher at that moment he would have seen his friend's cheeks and nose tinge pink.
"Oh, Miss Ise?" Jyuushirou recovered, setting a measuring cup inside the rack. "What did you tell her?"
"That'd I'd have to ask you first, of course." Shunsui frowned. "You know I'm not the decision maker around here.
"You told her that?" Ukitake looked alarmed, "Now if she doesn't get the job she'll know I'm the one to blame."
"Calm down, Jyuu," Shunsui gave him a look as he shut the dishwasher. "All you have to do is say yes or no."
"Well," Jyuushirou busied himself by washing his hands for a minute before answering. "From what I know of Miss Ise, she's a very intelligent woman."
"Beautiful, too," Shunsui chuckled, watching as the younger man dried his hands and started removing the cooling cinnamon rolls from the glass baking dish. "Don't you think?"
"That's rather irrelevant, Shunsui," he shook his head at the man. "If you think it is wise to hire her, go ahead."
"Ah, thank you, Jyuu-Jyuu." Shunsui started to walk out the kitchen door.
"Oh, and Shunsui?"
"Yes?" He popped his head back inside.
"Please don't call me Jyuu-Jyuu anymore."
Ukitake groaned at his friend's impish smile.
"Guess what, my lovely, lovely Nanao," Shunsui slid into the booth and looked as serious as he could. "We looked over your application and we're sorry to say you'll have to come back tomorrow and do some paperwork."
"Paperwork?" Nanao blinked, settling her empty cup in its saucer. "So Mr. Ukitake said yes?"
"He didn't say no," Shunsui shrugged and then faked a pout. "And please, call us Shunsui and Jyuushirou. That 'Mr.' stuff makes me feel so old."
"Yes, Shunsui," Nanao said picking up her book again.
"We'll see you in here tomorrow morning after your classes are over, right?"
"Yes," Nanao agreed, watching as Shunsui slipped out of the booth to check on the few other customers in the café.
The next morning, Nanao came into find Shunsui trying to flirt with a group of young women as he waited on them. Apparently Ukitake had kitchen duty that morning, since he was behind the counter, finishing an order.
"Ah, Miss Ise," Jyuushirou greeted, putting a plastic lid on a heavy paper cup. "Sit tight and I'll have your tea ready in just a moment."
"Oh, thank you," Nanao sat in her regular both, setting her bag by her feet and laying her reading materials on the table. She cracked open her worn copy of The Laws of Evening and started reading.
"Back to your usual?" Ukitake arrived at the side of the table, cup of tea in one hand and a folder in the other. "I'm certain I see that book in your hands at least once a month."
"It is my favorite."
"I can see that," Ukitake set the tea down for her and laid the folder on the table. He untied the flour dusted apron that was folded over at his waist and sat down across from her. "Let's get started on this before I have to help Shunsui with the lunchtime rush."
"Oh, of course," Nanao set her book down and pulled a pen out of her bag. Ukitake opened the folder to her, handing her an actual application to fill out and a few papers that needed signed, explaining them as he pulled them out.
"Jyuushirou, where'd you put the low-fat half and half?" Shunsui called from the counter.
Ukitake turned quickly, bumping his knee against Nanao's in his haste. She blushed and bent her head over to fill in some of the paper work. "It's behind the soy milk."
"Oh, right, right." Shunsui nodded, leaning over to peer back into the mini fridge.
"Sorry," Ukitake apologized, turning back to her. He blinked, "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine," Nanao assured him, blush deepening slightly.
"Okay, he smiled, making her heartbeat a little too erratic for her usual tastes. "Well, it's Wednesday so we don't really need your help right away, but maybe you can come into tomorrow or the day after for training? I don't want to push you or anything," Ukitake looked a little worried. "I know you have school work and things like that..."
"I only get a few assignments a semester," Nanao said, stopping her writing momentarily. "It won't be a problem. I'll come in tomorrow morning if that's okay."
"It's fine with me, Miss Ise." Ukitake passed a final paper to her and grinned, an appealing sight. "Once you sign this your soul is mine. Please think it over carefully."
Nanao looked down at the paper, scanning over it, the back of her mind telling her to sign it right away and sell her soul to this handsome devil, but be it as it may; sadly she was a stern believer in reading anything she was signing her name to.
"You're pretty much asking me not to hold you accountable for any injury I sustain while in your employment."
"Yes," Ukitake nodded, eyes clouding. "There's nothing wrong with it is there?"
"What was this part with getting facial hair stuck in the blender?"
"You'll have to ask Shunsui about that one," Ukitake chuckled, making Nanao truly wonder what happened. "Are you—?"
"Ukitake!" Shunsui called from the counter, dealing with a small crowd. "Can you help?"
"That's my cue," he stood, tying his apron back on. "If you'd just give one of us the paperwork before you leave, that'd be great."
"Yes, of course," Nanao said, signing her name on the line.
"I'll look forward to seeing you then," Ukitake pushed his hair over his shoulder and headed to the counter.
The next morning proved to be quite busy, despite Thursdays usually being slow. Nanao stood off to the side, watching as the two men skillfully served their customers. It was almost like an art, watching Shunsui call out orders to the younger man who would make the orders as quickly as possible.
"Oi, Nanao!" Shunsui waved when he saw her waiting by the door. "Go wait in the office; I'll be back there in just a minute!" He didn't give her a chance to reply before turning back to the patrons.
Nanao passed behind the counter and found herself in the kitchen. A door off to the right led into the office. She opened it and stepped inside, sitting down on one of the plush chairs in front of the large oak desk that was covered in a few stacks of organized paperwork, bills, and mail. A mirror behind the desk alerted Nanao that her hair was a bit windblown. She shrugged off her jacket and pulled the clip out of her hair, letting the black strands fall freely about her shoulders before pulling it back up into a ponytail. She picked some imaginary lint from her blue sweater to busy herself while she waited.
A few minutes later Shunsui popped his head through the door, his never dying grin still on his face. "Nanao, my love, you can come out now!"
"I'm going to have to request you don't call me that," Nanao pushed her glasses up on her nose.
"Oh," Shunsui looked crestfallen. "What about 'my precious Nanao'?"
"How about just Nanao?" Ukitake suggested, setting his hand on Shunsui's shoulder. "It's nice to see you, Miss Ise."
"Nanao," Shunsui corrected him, playfully plucking the hair band out of his hair. Nanao almost gasped when the rivulets of satiny white hair fell around his face and back.
Up front the bell rang.
"I'll get it," Shunsui flung the hair band back at Jyuushirou and danced back up front. "Ladies, it's nice to see your lovely faces again!"
"That guy," Ukitake chuckled, leaning over to pick up the discarded hair tie. "Watch yourself around him; he's trouble."
"He seems like he's a big flirt," Nanao couldn't help but watch as he scooped his hair back up into a smooth ponytail.
"Oh, no doubt he is," he smiled at her and Nanao felt her heart tremble. "He's always looking for someone to flirt with. Once," Ukitake laughed at the memory he was sharing. "It was practically a blizzard out there and no one came in, so Shunsui tried flirting with me, just for fun naturally. It was awkward then, but now that I look back on it it's a good memory."
"He probably couldn't help it," Nanao pointed out. "From what I've seen, women flirt with you all of the time."
"Oh, you noticed that?" His cheeks reddened a little.
"There's nothing wrong with it."
"So you're saying you'd be comfortable if men hit on you all of the time?"
"Well, not exactly."
"Why don't you just tell them you're married or something?" Nanao tried to change the subject away from her.
"Well, I'm not..."
Both of them turned to look at Shunsui as he entered the office again.
"As cute as your little talk is, can I get some help with the business we run to survive?"
"Oh, be quiet," Ukitake smoothed down his shirt. "We were just having a conversation and no one's really in here anyway."
"Excuses," Shunsui rolled his eyes. "You know even better than I do that conversation is empty." He flung his arm around Nanao's shoulders and pulled her into his chest. "You show how you feel with your body, isn't that right, my cute Nanao?"
"Shunsui, leave the poor girl alone," Jyuushirou sighed, grabbing her wrist and dragging Nanao out of Shunsui's impromptu embrace. "Sorry, he gets a little excited..."
"Its fine," Nanao touched her wrist nonchalantly as she tucked her hair behind her ear. "So where do we start?"
Three weeks later, Nanao was wiping down the counter while Ukitake was organizing some heart-shaped cookies to be the next day's sale items. The café was supposed to close in the next hour and Shunsui was in the office, doing something "important" while Nanao and Jyuushirou were readying the equipment for closing. Thankfully it was Sunday evening and the café was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so they weren't in a hurry to get home to sleep.
"Okay, I'm off!" Shunsui said, pulling on his coat.
"What?" Nanao looked alarmed. "It's an hour early!"
"Oh, yes," Ukitake shrugged, "Shunsui always leaves early on Valentine's day. He has a date most likely."
"Exactly," Shunsui grinned. "I can't go out looking like I just got off work...though some women do like the smell of coffee and powdered sugar...but I need to shower before I woo the lucky woman of my dreams."
"She can't be too lucky," Ukitake chuckled, lowering the blinds over one of the windows. "She's with you on Valentine's day...that says something for her taste in men."
"She likes charming bachelors like me?"
"More like she has poor judgment," Nanao said dryly.
"No need to be so mean, my lovely, sweet Nanao," Shunsui crossed the room, grabbing both of her hands. "You don't need to be so openly jealous. Even without your biting words I know of your love for me."
"You're not going to make it in time if you don't leave now," Jyuushirou warned, pushing the dark haired man to the door.
"You're right, my dear friend. I must leave," he waved his goodbyes and left.
Nanao absently started refilling the sugar containers, her mind wandering. Ukitake finished closing the rest of the blinds and came up behind her, startling her as he placed a hand on her back.
"You seem distracted, Nanao," he said gently, removing his hand as she turned to look at him.
"I'm sorry," Nanao shrugged, screwing the lid of the glass sugar container shut. "I guess I'm just a little surprised. I hadn't realized it was Valentine's Day today. It's not that I had plans or anything, but I'm usually so astute when it comes to these things."
"There's no reason to feel bad about forgetting," Jyuushirou smiled gently. "A lot of people forget."
"But it was so obvious!" Nanao frowned, "We were selling the 'Sweetheart Mocha' and heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink frosting. Some guy even asked me if I had any plans for tonight..."
"You're busy," Ukitake guided her over to a booth and set her down in it. "It's understandable that you'd forget. You have school and work, right now. Things like that make it hard to remember that you can have relationships outside on them."
"That's what it's like for you, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?" he looked a little taken aback by her words.
"Shunsui says you're a workaholic. That you enjoy being here more than anywhere else."
"That's true, I do enjoy being here, but it isn't for the work," Ukitake patted her head fondly, looking upon her like one would a favored pet. "I come to work everyday because I like to surround myself in the people who are in my life. Shunsui, the customers, and you, Nanao. I enjoy all of it." He gave a weak smile. "I guess that's not saying much for me, is it?"
"No, I think it's kind of nice that you like people so much," Nanao shrugged. "You never show too much attention to any single person. You're very talented when it comes to treating everyone the same."
"Somehow, coming from you," Jyuushirou frowned, something that didn't happen often. "That doesn't sound like a compliment."
"I didn't mean it like that," Nanao didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry if I've angered you..."
"No, I'm not angry," he was still frowning as he looked at the clock and stood. "What do you say we close a few minutes early tonight and I'll treat you to dinner?"
Nanao's heart was thundering against her ribcage. She gripped her apron in her hand. "But—"
"No excuses," Ukitake shook his head, walking to the kitchen and disappearing inside.
Nanao followed after him, stopping as she followed him into the office. "Mr. Ukitake, I don't want you to take me to dinner tonight."
"Oh," He looked up from his desk where he was writing something on a sheet of paper, a confused look crossing his face. "I'm sorry; I didn't realize that you were busy..."
"I see," Jyuushirou nodded stiffly, his eyes drooping a little. "Well, never mind then."
"I just don't need you taking me out because you feel sorry for me and want to fulfill your national duty to help those less fortunate than yourself."
"You think that's why I asked you to dinner?"
"Why else would you?"
"Maybe because I enjoy your company and want to be alone with you to get to know you better. Is there a problem with that? It's not pity."
Nanao was silent at this response. She'd never seen him like this before. His eyes were dark and almost looked hurt.
"Mr. Ukitake—Jyuushirou," Nanao swallowed, trying to think of a reply. "It was rude of me to jump to conclusions like that. I'd be honored if you'd reconsider your offer for dinner."
Ukitake was quiet for a minute before he took in a slight breath and nodded, "Finish up front, please. I'll finish cleaning up back here."
"Yes, Sir," Nanao nodded primly, feeling humiliated.
End of Part 1.