Nanao sat, finishing the last of the forms necessary for the Shinigami Women's Association to make their annual pilgrimage into the living world for Christmas gifts. As she signed a hurried black scrawl across the bottom, she breathed a deep sigh of relief, knowing that the forms would return in a few months, giving them plenty of time to actually shop. She stood up and turned, fully ready to go to sleep, when she heard an odd sound just outside the window of her office, accompanied by a flash of pink.
A very small flash of pink, she realized, which ruled out her captain. Nanao made her way outside and walked, cautiously to where Yachiru was now sitting, perched on her division wall. She did not even want to know how her fellow vice-captain had climbed up there so quickly. Instead she took a deep breath and began to address her comments to the wall.
"Kusajishi-fuiteicho, what brings you here at this time of night?" Nanao asked, taking care to keep her voice as formally icy as possible, even with the friendly question. She could only imagine what sort of mischief that the president of the Shingami Women's Association meant to cause.
"Nana!" she exclaimed, using the childish nickname which Nanao had asked her repeatedly not to use. "You're up too? I couldn't sleep, so I went to play hide and seek again. But Bya-kun got mad and kicked me out. I got candy, though!"
From the looks of the large sugar-filled bag that Yachiru pulled out of her sleeve, Byakuya had apparently bribed her with enough candy that Nanao had an odd image in her head of Yachiru racing around Soul Society, looking for all the world like Senbanzakura in its release state. However, the comment about not being able to sleep caught Nanao's attention. She remembered having similar problems at Yachiru's age, and Risa and her captain both taking the time to read to her to help her fall asleep. She thought for a moment, unsure of how the idea would work. Yachiru certainly acted nothing like Nanao had at her age, but the childlike quality of the gesture might appeal to her.
"Umm, Kusajishi-fuiteicho? Would you like me to read you a story, then?"
The pink haired girl jumped down from the wall, nodding happily. "Alright, then. But no wussy stories for little kids!"
Nanao smiled as she pulled out the book that she had tucked in her sleeve to ward off her captain's advances. It had been a gift from Risa, a collection of Western children's stories in their original text. While some of the versions had simplified the language enough so that children could understand them, no one would ever dream of calling the stories in the book 'wussy' though, not with the sheer volume of blood and violence which filled each story. Nanao remembered one of her particular favorites from the book which reminded her of a few of the shinigami from the Fourth division and which was likely based in some fact. Still, given the Eleventh division's opinion of the Fourth, that did not seem like the best option. She finally settled on what seemed like a fairly neutral tale, a classic standby for when her captain had needed to read to her instead of Risa.
"Near the woods, there once lived a woodcutter who had two children named Hansel and Gretel."
"Those are stupid names!" Yachiru shouted. Nanao ignored her and kept reading.
"One day, their stepmother sent them into the woods, and they left a trail of breadcrumbs behind them to keep from getting lost-"
"I would have left a trail of jelly beans," Yachiru decided emphatically. "Pink ones!"
"But the birds ate them. Finally, they came to a house in the woods that was made out of sweets."
"Yeah! You mean candy? A house of candy? Bya-kun gives me candy whenever I go to his house. Is that the same?"
Nanao was beginning to see the first insights into why Byakuya might stoop to bribing Yachiru with candy.
'There was an old lady who lived inside the house and she invited the children inside. Soon, though, they learned that the old woman was a witch-"
"Hey! That isn't a very nice thing to call a lady!"
"And she put Hansel into a cage." Somehow Nanao could suddenly see the logic of this decision in ways she had never dreamed when hearing the story as a little girl.
"So his sister Gretel decided to rescue him, and one day, when she was helping the witch, she pushed her into the oven and the witch burned to death."
"Cool! But I would have just beaten her up. Or let Ken-chan fight her cause then he would be happy."
Nanao breathed before continuing. She somehow knew that if she was in the fairy tale that she was reading right now, it would not have been the witch who had been burnt, but Gretel. A very short, very bloodthirsty, pink haired Gretel.
"And she freed her brother and they went back home and they lived happily ever after." Nanao shut the book and set it down.
Yachiru stood up. "Not bad, Nana. It was cool, especially with the lady being burned up even if she was witch like Bya-kun who liked to give people candy. He has really good candy though, so I'll still eat it until he decides to lock me up."
Nanao had a brief glimmer of hope of Byakuya trying to arrest the small shinigami for one of her stunts. It was a futile hope, but Yachiru's words for some reason had brought it to her mind.
"Nana-san? Can you read to me again if I can't sleep?"
Nanao nodded, hoping Yachiru's insomnia was infrequent. Maybe she would get distracted and forget again? Nanao could only hope.
"Bye, Nana," the other vice-captain called as she raced back to her division.
Exhausted, Nanao gathered her book and went back to her quarters to sleep. It took a long time for her to manage this though. For some reason, she kept dreaming of trails of pink jelly beans.