For an evening that had begun with a kidnapping, things were going quite well. Shunsui had performed the actual kidnapping: Jyuushirou had merely arranged the picnic location, the food, and the wine.
"I'm so sorry, Ise-kun," Jyuushirou said with his best smile as Shunsui deposited their kidnappee on the ground. She was curled up in his arms with the stiff annoyance of a cat, and had no doubt boxed his ears on the journey. "Truly, the work can wait till tomorrow, and it's far too nice a night to spend it in the office. Won't you do us the favour of taking supper with us?"
Ise Nanao thawed a little, clearly not wanting to snap at him the way that she did at her own captain. "Sir, there are still a lot of backdated reports to complete, and I wouldn't want the Division to be late in turning them in --"
"Nobody could possibly blame you," Shunsui said, sinking to the grass in a billow of robes. "Ah, wine. Wait. This is Rose Mountain Dew. Have you been raiding my private stock, Jyuushirou?"
"Of course," Jyuushirou said promptly. He filled cups for all three of them. "Since Ise-kun has been working late for the last five nights, I thought that she deserved something good."
"My Nanao-chan always deserves the best!" Shunsui declared. "Assuming that she's going to drink it."
Nanao looked between the two men, blushed just a little, twitched her hakama into perfect neatness, and sipped the wine. "Thank you, Kyouraku-taichou, Jyuushirou-taichou," she said, lowering her eyes.
"So tell me," Jyuushirou said companionably, "are you still reading those detective stories? Shunsui never actually notices the titles of your books --"
"Only the impression they leave on my skull," Shunsui muttered.
"-- and the latest that I read in the field was the celebrated cases of Judge Dee. The classics. When you had a locked room mystery with those, you knew it was a locked room."
"Unless it was a hidden passage," Shunsui said, counting on his fingers, "or an adder in the ceiling rafters dripping poison into the tea, or a dagger stuffed into the inkbrush on a spring mechanism, or . . ."
Jyuushirou waved a hand at Shunsui. "Yes, yes. I know you've read them too."
"I blame the author," Shunsui said in tones of deep gloom.
Nanao, flushing slightly, attempted to explain a complicated murder plot that had involved someone shooting someone else with a crossbow through the keyhole of the door ("It must have been a western door," Shunsui said wisely), and was starting on another one that had something to do with a man found strangled in the middle of a fenced-off tennis court, until Shunsui tapped a finger on the side of her cup.
"If my Nanao-chan does not drink a little more, I shall be hurt," he said. He gazed up at her, eyes deep and heavy-lidded, with the unmistakeable heat of a lover.
Jyuushirou watched Nanao's shoulders stiffen in response as she worked very hard to keep her attitude formal and her manner respectful, and to refrain from leaning forward towards Shunsui. He glanced away politely for the moment, and flipped open the box that he'd brought the food in, fetching out and unwrapping the various packages. Riceballs, sliced vegetables, cold chicken, sauce to dip them in, mochi, fruit, and even some of Shunsui's favourite sake bonbons.
"You're out of uniform," Shunsui commented as he reached for a plate and made a strategic advance on the chicken.
Jyuushirou smiled. He'd put on a casual kimono quite deliberately. "We're off duty," he said, annexing the plate of riceballs and a small dish of sauce. "And given that it's this late, we should be off duty."
"My Nanao-chan agrees to sharing a bed with us," Shunsui said, adjusting his hat. But there was something not quite at ease about his posture and voice.
"If she's not happy about it --" Jyuushirou said tentatively.
"No, not that." Shunsui sighed. "She's not at all averse to the idea. But she's the sort of person who'll try to talk herself out of it unless she actually does it."
"She's allowed second thoughts," Jyuushirou said.
"Of course she is," Shunsui said. "So are you."
Jyuushirou chuckled. "No, not at all. But if she would rather not . . ."
Shunsui sank back into his chair. "It's work," he said. "The last couple of days have kept her very busy. She keeps on seeing us as Captains. It makes it difficult for her to see us as anything else. And the longer it goes on, the more likely it is that she'll convince herself that it was a mistake in the first place."
"You could do some of the paperwork for her," Jyuushirou suggested.
Shunsui made a negative gesture, head invisible under his hat. "She really wouldn't thank me for it, however much she complains. The office is my Nanao-chan's territory now, Jyuushirou. She'd drive me out with snapping and snarling, or sit there with her gaze fixed on my back till it wore a hole in my shoulderblades."
Jyuushirou considered. "Well, then. We need to give her an excuse to see us in a less official context."
Shunsui lifted his hat.
"And not by walking naked into her bathroom," he added firmly.
"I would never be so crude," Shunsui said. "Besides, nakedness in itself isn't half as seductive as the possibility of nakedness."
"Maybe it's that we need to work on," Jyuushirou agreed.
"You've stolen half the riceballs," Shunsui said, half an hour later.
The conversation had become casual again, and Nanao had clearly relaxed. She was managing to keep up her side of the discussion and gossip, and even if she hadn't dropped a single formal particle of speech, she had lost some of the stiffness of her posture.
The moon was a jade plate on the dark seas of the night above, and the night breeze teased at the bare flesh of hands and neck without managing to become actually cold.
"I was hungry," Jyuushirou protested mildly. "If you hadn't been so busy monopolising the wine, then the world would have been a different place and you would have eaten more riceballs."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nanao look down at her own winecup. It was empty. Common courtesy dictated that he or Shunsui should have filled it without even needing to ask her. But this wasn't a night when she would want to be drunk -- on wine, at any rate.
"Nevertheless," Shunsui said, eyeing the riceballs on Jyuushirou's plate. "I am deprived of my rightful share. I demand restitution."
"Military demands will get you nowhere," Jyuushirou said. "I stand ready to defend my territory."
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of military demands," Shunsui said.
"Then what were you thinking of?"
"Unconditional surrender." Shunsui slanted a sideways glance at him. "And all I ask is a riceball in return."
"Oh, well . . ." Jyuushirou picked up one of the riceballs, tilted his hand so that his sleeve didn't trail in the food, and leaned across towards Shunsui. "Here you are."
Shunsui leaned forward, catching Jyuushirou's wrist in his own hand. Without breaking his eye contact, he lowered his head and took a small bite of the riceball, his lips brushing Jyuushirou's fingers.
"I thought you said you were hungry," Jyuushirou said, watching the muscles in Shunsui's neck as the other man chewed and swallowed.
"I am," Shunsui murmured, a hot undertone to his voice. He turned his hand so that Jyuushirou's hand shifted and the riceball lay in Jyuushirou's palm, then took another bite, lips and tongue soft against Jyuushirou's skin.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jyuushirou could see Nanao sitting there stiffly, a flush of colour showing high and embarrassed on her cheeks. She was clearly uncertain as to what she should be doing. A polite retreat? A dignified withdrawal? A coughing fit? A nervous shuffle back into the bushes?
But she wasn't looking away.
He let his hand slip from Shunsui's as Shunsui licked up the last couple of grains of rice. The moon seemed so much closer on nights like this, the boundaries of the world so much more fragile, and eternity so much shorter.
Shunsui knew the pulse of these things as well as he knew the currents of the air, or Jyuushirou the rise and fall of the sea. "Nanao," he said, his voice very soft and low, and he picked up one of the bonbons from the plate where they lay. He held it towards her, the candy small in the hollow of his hand. "Are you hungry?"
The moonlight glimmered on Nanao's glasses as she hesitated, making her lenses blank mirrors and her face unreadable for a moment.
Then she put down one hand to support herself, and leaned across towards Shunsui. She put her other hand delicately under his, her wrist pale against her dark sleeve, and bent her head to take the bonbon between her lips. Jyuushirou watched the two of them, Shunsui with his dark eyes fixed on her, Nanao so very precise and tense.
Shunsui turned his hand to stroke the side of her face as she straightened again, trailing his fingers against her cheek and very nearly cupping her chin before releasing her.
There was silence. Jyuushirou could have said something, but it was Nanao's choice to make now, and besides, from the pulse in her throat and the high colour in her cheeks and the quickness of her breath, he thought that he already knew her answer.
She shook her sleeve back from her right wrist with unnecessary neatness, and bent down to the food, choosing a piece of sliced plum from the few that remained. With nervous carefulness she raised her eyes to look at Jyuushirou, and offered him the piece of plum.
Jyuushirou smiled at her, feeling the tide between the three of them running more quickly now, and let a fraction of that enter his gaze as he slid his hand under hers. He didn't look away from her face, but instead raised his hand, and hers with it, till he could bend his head a little and take the slice of plum between his teeth.
Her hand was hot beneath it, her pulse running desperately fast beneath his fingers as he kissed her palm, and he did not release her wrist, and she did not try to pull away.