"Nanao-chan," her Captain said thoughtfully, "could you get me a summary of Gotei 13 regulations on uniform? With a list of all possible exceptions?"
Nanao really should have known at that point that disaster was approaching, but it seemed at the time like such a simple, innocent, unimportant request that she simply nodded and went to see about it.
Later, of course, she considered homicide.
"It's quite simple," her Captain explained to Ukitake-taichou later. They were sitting by the bridge over Ukitake-taichou's private lake (lake by courtesy, it was really more of a large pond) in the shade of one of the larger trees, and sipping wine. "Nanao-chan was as brilliant as she always was, and researched the matter for me."
Despite the blazing August sunlight and stifling heat, Nanao felt her heart turn cold inside her. "Ah. Er. What is this, sir?"
"Regulations on uniform," Kyouraku-taichou said with a lazy smile, extracting her research notes from his sleeve. "According to this, under conditions of extreme environmental hazard, shinigami uniform may be adjusted as considered appropriate by a Captain or other ranking officer present, to maintain a suitable level of personal health and physical fitness for activity."
The cold feeling had now reached the pit of Nanao's stomach. "I think that was meant for swamp conditions, or winter blizzards, Kyouraku-taichou," she said without much hope.
"I brought a bikini for my Nanao-chan," he said, pulling it out of the other sleeve.
It was red. It was small.
Nanao sat bolt upright on her heels. "Under no conditions whatsoever," she snapped.
Ukitake smothered what she suspected was a laugh behind a cough. "Ise-kun, why don't you go and have a look at the books which I left in my summer-house while I talk about this with Shunsui."
Grateful to have the excuse to get away from bikini and Captains, Nanao muttered a blushing apology and walked off to the summer-house. It was sited between the lake and the rest of Thirteenth, within earshot of the Captains if they needed her.
Shocking behaviour. And they were supposed to be Captains. Really.
Ten minutes later, just as she was getting properly engrossed in one of the books, she heard nervous coughing and shuffling footsteps outside. She opened the door to see a couple of Thirteenth Division shinigami standing there.
"Ise-fukutaichou," the one in front said officiously, "we have an urgent message for Ukitake-taichou."
Possibly, just possibly, this would be the wrong moment for them to walk in and see her Captain partially disrobed and sunbathing. "Wait here," she said in her most quelling tones. "Ukitake-taichou is discussing Divisional matters with Kyouraku-taichou. I'll see if they have a moment for you."
Before they could respond, she turned and dashed back up the path. What she came upon was a scene that burned into her naked brain and would live in her imagination for years. (Especially when drunk or just before going to sleep.) It involved Kyouraku-taichou and Ukitake-taichou sunbathing. Next to two neat piles of clothing. And the only piece of clothing on either of them was Kyouraku-taichou's hat. And it was on Ukitake-taichou.
She suppressed her gasp of shock (later, she informed Hinamori that it had been pure shock and absolutely no other emotion at all) and quickly turned round. Clearly she couldn't let anyone else walk in on this . . . this . . . shocking exhibition of sunbathing.
"Ukitake-taichou is not available," she informed the two shinigami when she got back to the summerhouse.
"But it's urgent," the one in front snapped, waving a piece of paper with several stamps and seals on it.
Nanao twitched it out of his hand and examined it before he could object. "This," she said coldly, "is an application for leave so that you can have a beach party."
The shinigami wilted.
Nanao sighed. She was fairly sure she knew what Ukitake-taichou would have said. She snatched up an inkbrush and authorised it. "There. Now go away."
The shinigami ran.
The two Third Seats of Thirteenth Division were audible from some distance, giving Nanao time to check on the current state of her Captain and Ukitake-taichou before they arrived.
On the positive side, they were now sunbathing face down, which spared her any thoughts other than those about muscular backs, sculpted thighs, broad shoulders, and so on. On the negative side, they were still both naked.
"I'm afraid you can't go in," she hastily interrupted Kotetsu and Kotsubaki before they could get anywhere near. She lowered her voice dramatically. "Ukitake-taichou is sleeping."
Yes, yes, she knew that they were his Third Seats and thus deserved his confidence, his trust, the freedom to serve him, etcetera, but she wasn't convinced that Ukitake-taichou would really want them to walk in on him sunbathing naked.
Both Kotetsu and Kotsubaki twitched. Kotsubaki leaned forward. "Was he looking ill?"
"He was looking very pale," Nanao said gravely. Yes. Very pale. All over. From his noble brow to the tip of his toes and all points in between. She wondered if he'd sunburn.
"We should let him get some rest," Kotetsu said sombrely. "Poor Ukitake-taichou, he works so hard --"
"-- however much we try to help him --" Kotsubaki put in.
"-- because he's so noble and won't let anything go unattended to --" Kotetsu went on.
"-- and you can tell how this hot weather's having an effect on him --" Kotsubaki added.
Nanao made vague shooing gestures with her hands. "When he wakes up and he and Kyouraku-taichou come down here, I'll tell them you came by."
She felt just a little guilty as the two Third Seats thanked her for her assistance before wandering off again. But it was a very minor pang of guilt, and easily suppressed by years of training.
Matsumoto Rangiku was perceptible from a distance. Nobody else (except possibly Kyouraku-taichou) managed to project waves of alcohol-flavoured reiatsu.
Nanao hastily sneaked up to check on the two Captains again. Possibly they had resumed their clothing. Possibly they were discussing poetry, law and philosophy over a nice non-alcoholic cup of tea. Possibly, while she was at it, mad Hollows had attacked Seireitai and would distract everyone else's attention until the Captains put their clothes on.
Unfortunately, they were still naked. Kyouraku-taichou was lying face down, while Ukitake-taichou was kneeling next to him and massaging his shoulders. She was close enough to see the movement of Ukitake-taichou's hands and to hear the noises that Kyouraku-taichou was making as Ukitake-taichou's thumbs dug in.
"What is it?" Rangiku said as she reached the gate. "You're looking very flushed, Nanao. Is it the heat?"
"It is terribly hot," Nanao agreed, and fanned herself desperately.
"What you need is a nice bowl of shaved ice with syrup," Rangiku suggested. "Or one of those ice creams from the world of the living. Or the ice lollies. Did you hear about the ice lollies?"
Nanao estimated that about half the shinigami in the Divisions (and certainly the male shinigami) had heard about the ice lollies, or rather, had heard about the way that Matsumoto Rangiku ate an ice lolly. Hitsugaya-taichou in particular had been very fervent on the subject, using phrases such as "public indecency" and "traumatised for life".
"And by the lake seems like just the place to cool off," Rangiku said cheerfully.
Nanao sought desperately for an excuse. Even if Rangiku was the least likely shinigami to be shocked by the Captains' current state, that didn't mean she had any right to walk in on them. "Ah -- well -- I'm afraid that's not possible."
"Why not?" Rangiku asked. She leaned forward in a billow of bosom, waggling her eyebrows meaningfully. "Something interesting happening?"
Inspiration came. "Yes! Ukitake-taichou and Kyouraku-taichou are doing reports!"
"Reports," Rangiku said slowly.
Nanao nodded vigorously. "I've taken them all the reports for the last month that need signing, and they've promised that they're actually going to get them all finished and get all the paperwork up to date. Come to think of it, if you have some reports that you want to catch up with yourself, I'm sure Hitsugaya-taichou would be glad to let you bring yours along too and we'll go through them together!"
"Ah, no, no, no," Rangiku said, backing away. "I wouldn't want to disturb them while they're so hard at work. Actually, I've just remembered this appointment I have over the other side of Seireitai . . ."
"Oh." Nanao did her best to look disappointed. "Maybe later?"
"Maybe not," Rangiku said, and ran for it.
Soi Fong-taichou showed up in a whipcrack of hurricane flash steps, trailed by Oomeda-fukutaichou several steps behind and a great deal more heavily.
"I understand that Ukitake-taichou and Kyouraku-taichou are here," she said briefly. "You will let me pass."
Nanao's knees quaked. She stiffened them. She'd checked on the Captains a few minutes ago, and they were still sunbathing. "I am afraid that is impossible, Soi Fong-taichou," she replied.
Soi Fong-taichou stepped forward. Her eyes were like black onyx. She gave the impression of being several feet taller than Nanao. She was as cold as ice in the middle of the August heat. She had probably eaten several Hollows for breakfast and washed them down with a dose of vitriol. "Impossible?"
If Nanao had realised that this would be her last day serving as a living shinigami, she would have had a better breakfast. And read that book she was saving. And thrown something at Kyouraku-taichou's head. "I cannot allow anyone to interrupt my Captain's secret and confidential and highly vital to the safety of Seireitai top-level talks with Ukitake-taichou, sir," she said, commending her soul to whichever deities looked after vice-captains. "Surely you understand."
Soi Fong-taichou stared at Nanao with the warmth and understanding of a black mamba.
Seconds ticked by.
Nanao could feel each separate bead of sweat on her forehead.
Soi Fong-taichou twitched. "Very well," she snapped. "Inform them that I will be seeing them. Later." She didn't actually say, by climbing through their bedroom window in the dead of night accompanied by a hundred ninja and pinning them to the wall naked with steel throwing stars, and then interrogating them to within an inch of their life, but then the Captains of Covert Operations seldom needed to actually say such things.
With a swing of her braids she was gone, Oomeda-fukutaichou wobbling behind her.
Nanao decided to just sit down for a few minutes.
Nanao had checked three more times since then, and every single time the two Captains were still naked. (Apart from the hat. The hat stayed.)
It was on returning from the third check that she felt the rumble of approaching uncontrolled cataclysmic reiatsu, and the colour drained from her cheeks. Not here. Not now.
Zaraki-taichou blurred into view right in front of her, Yachiru an orbiting pink streak of speed around his head.
"Ise," Zaraki-taichou grunted.
"Eeee!" Yachiru squealed.
This time Nanao really did prepare herself to be turned into a smear on the grass. "Sir, I'm afraid you can't go up there."
"Why not?" Zaraki-taichou grunted. "Are you hiding a good fight from me? Huh?"
"Huh?" Yachiru squeaked in Nanao's ear, leaping onto her shoulder. "You can't hide fights from Ken-chan! Show us the fight!"
"She's not hiding anything at all," Kyouraku-taichou said, his voice breaking in just as Nanao was trying to think of an answer that made sense.
She turned to look at him.
Her hand came up automatically to cover Yachiru's eyes.
Zaraki-taichou grunted. "Huh. Something happen to your clothes?"
"We're sunbathing," Kyouraku-taichou said cheerfully. "Seireitai regulations for hazardous environment."
Yachiru tugged at Nanao's hand. "Why don't you want me looking?"
Zaraki-taichou's craggy face wrinkled in thought, the relief map of scars apparently suffering an earthquake. "Huh. Good idea. You, Ise. You look after Yachiru. I'm gonna sunbathe too."
The world was going round in circles and making little tweety noises in Nanao's ears. Or was that Yachiru demanding candy?
Kyouraku-taichou patted Nanao on the shoulder, attempted to slide his hand downwards and got it slapped automatically, then strolled off with Zaraki-taichou in tow. Zaraki-taichou was already shedding his clothing as they walked.
"Can we play chases?" Yachiru asked brightly. "And then we can fight! And we can hunt for candy! And get fish! And --"
Nanao began, very calmly and coherently, to evolve a plan for seizing control of Seireitai, world domination, the enslavement of all Captains, and a few other things while she was at it.
Maybe it would have been better to wear the bikini after all.