baring essentials

Rangiku took the teacup out of Nanao's hands.

The tea had gone cold half an hour ago, and the cup itself was no more than an excuse for Nanao not to let her hands tremble. She protested as a matter of form.

Rangiku sighed and sat down next to Nanao, putting an arm round her shoulders in casual generosity. "It's all right," she said. "It'll be okay."

"But you don't know that," Nanao said. It was the same thought, repeating over and over again in the back of her head. "It could all go so badly wrong. I know you won't say anything to him or to anyone --" Rangiku was reliable in the important things, even if she was careless in everything else, "-- but it might not work, or people might say something, or I might do something stupid, or . . ." She trailed off before she started babbling again.

"Nanao," Rangiku said. "Honey. I hate to break it to you, but nobody's developed the one hundred per cent safe method of falling in love yet."

"It's not love."

"Or having sex."

"We haven't had sex."

"Or kissing."

Nanao didn't say anything.

"Which is more than I've ever managed," Rangiku added admiringly. "Though I have to admit, he's not really my type. For drinking with, sure, but otherwise I prefer someone a bit . . ."

"Sleeker?" Nanao suggested, a little waspishly even to herself.

Rangiku just smiled.

"So . . . what do you think I should do?"

Rangiku leaned back. "Well, there's the classical method. You wait till the two of you are alone together, then you reach up and lock your arms round his neck and give him an impromptu tonsillectomy with your tongue --"

Nanao choked.

"Or," Rangiku went on, "you close the door of his office behind you, then you take hold of your sash and give it a good hard tug so that it comes loose, and your hakama hit your ankles just as your jacket's slipping off your shoulders, and if you really want to make the point, you're not wearing any underwear. That one always works when I need to apologise to Gin about something."

"I couldn't," Nanao whispered, going scarlet. "I'd be far too embarrassed . . ."

"No problem," Rangiku said. "What you do in that case, when you really can't meet his eyes --"

Nanao nodded eagerly.

"-- is you get under his desk before he comes in, then when he's sitting down you don't have to meet his eyes at all while you're showing him how you feel."

Nanao went rigid in horrified fascination. "I couldn't --"

"Or just sneak into his bed one night and wait for him there. Naked. You hold the covers back," Rangiku gestured demonstratively, "and smile at him in an inviting sort of way . . ."

"But I'm not a person who does that sort of thing," Nanao muttered. She wished that she had the teacup in her hands again. Throwing it across the room would have helped so much. "I can't do any of those things . . ."

Rangiku had far too knowing a smile. "Well, Nanao, there is one thing . . ."

"What's that?"

"The fact that you're still sitting here with me listening to all this tells me very clearly that you do want to do something."

Nanao couldn't go any more scarlet than she already was. She didn't answer.

"There you go," Rangiku said. "Knowing that is half the battle."