This is an AU set in modern times and while I try my best to fit the characters in a similar type of situation as they would be in Bleach, that is not always possible. I have tried to keep the characterization similar to their Bleach counterparts, but in different situations characters will act in different ways. I will also try to show round, fully fleshed out characters, but you'll have to give me some time. This is, after all, only the first chapter!
I have done quite a bit of research into hostess/host clubs to write this story, mainly reading a set of interviews from mama-san's and hostesses themselves. I use some japanese terminology that you might not be familiar with and I will explain briefly what they mean.
Mama-san: the proprietress of the club. She can be the owner or just the manager of the girls.
Kurofuku: the scout/guardsman of the club. They tend to wear black suits and stand at the door when it's time for the club opening and they also scout for potential girls.
Shimei: a process where you literally select the girl you'd like to have as your hostess. This process usually involves a higher entrance fee.
Dohan: date before work. This is a paid type dating process, where you tip the girl for her time and company. This may or may not involve a sexual involvement. Usually after a dohan, the hostess will bring you to her club and get you to spend money on being entertained at the club and this is where the club makes money from the dohan.
Shachou: President or CEO.
Fukushachou: Vice President
UNDER THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS
1. The whim of fate
"Mama-san!" the girls exclaimed and giggled. "Mama-san!"
Rangiku Matsumoto, the mama-san of Shidarezakura, looked at her girls and rolled her eyes at them. They had the tendency to shout her name enthusiastically whenever she finally arrived at her club, which depended a lot on how late the previous night had been. Her girls were looking beautiful today as they always did. Matsumoto's eyes were drawn particularly to one young girl who was standing next to Momo with her hands clasped behind her back. She had short, cropped hair that framed her delicate face and the most gorgeous eyes Matsumoto had seen.
"And who is this?" she asked as she walked up to Momo and the new girl.
"This is Rukia," Momo said softly.
She was a very pretty girl with demureness that appealed to quite a few gentlemen that frequented the club. Matsumoto was always careful though, selecting the men that would become Momo's regulars because of her fragile nature. Being a hostess was a tough business, one that Matsumoto wasn't sure that fit with Momo's personality, but in spite of this Momo was one of the top girls at the club.
"She is a classmate of mine," Momo continued. "She's been having a hard time since her sister passed away from a long illness. She has a lot of hospital bills to pay off. I was hoping you would permit her to work here at least part of the time."
"If you have an opening," Rukia murmured, lowering her eyes, "I will work hard and do my best."
Matsumoto stared hard at the girl. She was petite, even shorter than Momo and Momo wasn't exactly tall. Rukia had expressive eyes and although she wasn't as delicately pretty as Momo was, she seemed to have a certain steely quality Matsumoto detected that Momo lacked. She would be a nice contrast for Momo, a different kind of appeal for the patrons that weren't right for Momo. Now if she would be a good hostess, Matsumoto had no idea, but she was all for giving the girl a try even if she didn't have the sad story to go along with her.
Matsumoto knew how hard the world was, having been a hostess for years before retiring when she finally had enough saved to open up her own club as a mama-san. Her experience had taught her that there was value in everything and that a good and generous heart were something to be proud of, even if they wouldn't necessarily make you rich. Besides, even if it was a little bit of charity, Matsumoto was good at judging girls and in the one, short stence she had heard from Rukia, she was confident enough to say that Rukia would try her best and that was all anyone could ask of anyone.
"Why not?" Matsumoto said, shrugging her shoulders carelessly. "Welcome to Shidarezakura, Rukia."
Atop a gleaming silver skyscraper, signifying the ongoing power and prestige of the Seireitei group, Kuchiki Byakuya was sitting in his office waiting with seeming patience for his subordinate, Abarai Renji to arrive and give him the final report of the day. He was unsurprised when Renji rushed into his office without knocking politely at the door as he headed straight for the chair in front of his desk. Renji plopped himself down like he had just run a marathon and was desperate for the end. Byakuya stared at Renji as he shuffled through a mess of crumpled papers into some kind of order only he could possibly understand.
"Shachou," Renji said, his only real show of deference despite the fact his title as fukushachou was mere courtesy when he acted more as a secretary than anything else, "I've gathered the information you requested."
"Let me see," Byakuya said, holding out his hand and taking the messy papers. He flipped through quickly, satisfied that although Renji was disorganized and brash, he worked hard and he was trustworthy. There were so many other capable men he could have in Renji's position, but Renji had been with him from the beginning and Byakuya was used having him around. "Thank you," he said, setting the stack of papers down. "You're dismissed for the day."
Renji, however, didn't stand up from the chair, instead he cleared his throat and Byakuya looked up from a proposal from the Onmitsukido group of a possible mutual project undertaking. "What is it?" he asked sharply.
"I was wondering, well," Renji said, scratching the back of his head, looking like an immature adolescent rather than a highly ranked corporate officer, "we were wondering, if you'd like to go to a hostess club with us."
Byakuya stared at Renji without betraying a hint of emotion. "Excuse me?"
"Kyoraku-sama asked me to invite you with us. Ukitake-sama, Hitsugaya-san, Kira-san, and Hisagi-san will all be going tonight," Renji said tightly. "Please consider joining us. I know you don't like most of the places we go to, but this club is really exclusive and great. It's very refined and elegant. I think you would like it, Shachou!"
Renji was red in the face by this point and Byakuya kept his amusement to himself. Renji was so earnest, so blunt, and so excitable when he did everything that it was hard sometimes for Byakuya to keep a straight face, but he had been taught by his grandfather, Ginrei, to always uphold the Kuchiki tradition of having honor, respect, and dignity.
"I will consider it," Byakuya said. "Now leave me, I have much work to finish."
"Of course!" Renji exclaimed. "I will let you get started. We'll be leaving from the front at ten, if you're going! I hope to see you then!"
Byakuya watched Renji run out his office like he had bees chasing him from their hive and Byakuya shook his head as he looked down at the proposal from the Onmitsukido group. It was a fairly generous offer of partnership, although he was certain that if he talked personally to Yoruichi himself, he might be able to get an even better deal with this mutual project. He would contact her tomorrow, but he needed to figure out what to offer to get what he wanted from her.
When he finished, Byakuya looked up at the clock and it said 9:55. It was not as late as he expected to be and early enough that he could go down the elevator and meet the rest of them for this sojourn to an exclusive hostess club. Byakuya had been to such places before, but that had been when he was younger, more prone to foolishness, and incline to temptation. He hadn't been in a few years and he didn't really want to go to the hostess club for the sake of the girls. He was more interested in spending time with his fellow peers after Ginrei had told him when he had stepped down from the title of President of the Seireitei group recently that it was easy enough to receive respect from your coworkers, but another thing entirely to gain their loyalty and devotion. And to do that, you had to become acquainted with them.
Byakuya stood up from his leather chair and adjusted his tie, deciding suddenly that he would join them downstairs for their nighttime entertainment at the hostess club. At worse, the girls would be mundane and not pretty, but at the very least, he would get to know his peers at the Seireitei group all the better and that was something. Byakuya left his office and walked into the elevator and pushed the button for the ground floor. As he sped down to the bottom of the building, Byakuya didn't want to just be a President standing alone at the top with no one to rely on but himself. He wanted to be the President of group with people who he could depend on in times of need.
When the elevator doors opened, Byakuya stepped outside to find the others gathered just inside the front doors talking eagerly amongst themselves and he wondered how to approach these men he worked with and knew from afar but had never really engaged in conversation with them when he was saved by Renji. His secretary and now Vice President came up to him with a huge, welcoming grin.
"You came, Shachou!" he said while gesturing for Byakuya to come over. "I'm glad you could make it!"
"You look so pretty!" Momo exclaimed as she peered over Rukia's shoulder in the dressing room where the girls all did their hair and makeup before the beginning of the 'workday.' "I really like your hair pulled back like that. It frames your face and highlights your eyes."
Rukia stared at her reflection in the mirror. Matsumoto had been telling her to try a more mature look as she did look quite young compared to the other girls, even if she was barely younger than them. She had pulled back her hair into a bun, using what seemed like a thousand hair pins to keep her hair up from slipping down. Her hair was probably too short for this, but the effect was nice as long as it stayed up. Her stubborn bangs were framing her face and in its usual spot in the middle of her forehead.
"I hope Aizen-sama comes today!" Momo exclaimed, her eyes shining with excitement and anticipation. "He hasn't come in a week. It's been so long…"
There was something that bothered Rukia about Aizen Sosuke that she couldn't name. It was more than the fact he gave off an air of intensity to him that made him seem almost dangerous. There was just something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Granted Aizen was positively mild compared to Ichimaru Gin, who for some reason had taken a liking to her and would sometimes request her when he wasn't paying court to Matsumoto as a longtime customer and friend of hers. Hopefully if Aizen came he would come alone, althought it wasn't likely. When he did appear, he was usually flanked by Ichimaru and Tosen.
Maybe Abarai would come today, Rukia thought. He didn't have a lot of money compared to the other regulars, but he was friendly and kind. He had been her first patron when she'd started a few weeks ago and she would occasionally go on dohans with him because she enjoyed his company not because he could give her a big tip or an extravagant present. Abarai wasn't what Aizen was to Momo, but Rukia did consider him a friend.
"Girls, girls!" Matsumoto said, clapping her hands together over her head to get their attention. "I've just received word that a party of high ranking officials at the Seireitei group will be arriving shortly and I have decided that we shall dress thematically in kimonos tonight. Please hurry up and change into your kimonos and try and help each other so we can be ready in time to give them a special greeting!"
Rukia looked back and saw that Matsumoto had already put on her crimson red kimono decorated with somei yoshino. All the kimonos that the girls wore had been specially ordered to the theme of sakuras because the name of the club was Shidarezakura. Rukia stood up from her chair and went over to get her kimono from the wardrobe she shared with Momo. Her kimono was a pretty pink color with ukon on it. The pale yellow blossoms were a nice contrast and she liked the way it looked on her as she carefully wrapped it around her body.
"I'll help you," Momo said, coming up behind Rukia to tie her obi.
Rukia glanced over her shoulder and smiled at her close friend. "Thank you," she said. "I'll help you when you're done."
Momo smiled back and began the intricate process of tying the obi. When she was done, Rukia turned around so she could see what the obi looked like in the mirror. Momo always did a beautiful job. It was too bad they only wore their kimonos on special occasions. Rukia wouldn't mind wearing the kimono on a more regular basis. It was certainly better than wearing the short skirts and dresses that were their normal work attire. She always felt so naked, so bare in them.
Rukia sighed and turned around to help Momo into her kimono and to assist her in tying her obi. Momo's kimono was a pale ivory with yamazakura on them. The pale pink blossoms against the ivory color of her kimono really brought on Momo's delicate features and emphasized her innocence.
"Don't you two look beautiful," Matsumoto said, coming up behind them to stand in the mirror with them. Matsumoto lowered her face as she was several inches taller than them. "Do your best tonight, Ruka and Hina!"
"Here we are!" Renji exclaimed when their limosine pulled up in front of the all black marbled exterior of Shidarezakura. "The girls here are elegant and gorgeous. I'm sure you all will be quite satisfied with your entertainment. However, this isn't that sort of place. The girls here are very refined and don't take invitations to stay overnight, but they will go on dohans if you're lucky!"
Renji climbed out of the limosine first and grinned at the kurofuku standing outside in his black suit and white collared button down shirt. "Kurosaki Ichigo! It seems like I haven't seen you in a long while! How have you been?" Renji asked, slapping the man on the back.
"I've been good," Ichigo responded and Byakuya noticed that his eyes flicked over the entire party as they exited the limosine. "Is this your entire party?"
Renji nodded. "They're all with me. I've already arranged this with Mama-san."
"Yes," Ichigo said. "Mama-san told me to expect you. There are a few things I must go over with them before they can be admitted into the club. If you will please come this way with me."
"I've already explained it to them," Renji protested.
"Still, I must do my job." Ichigo motioned for them to follow into the club where there was a front sitting area. "Please sit if you wish and I will explain some rules that the hostesses of Shidarezakura must adhere to and consequently so must their patrons."
Byakuya remained standing as he stared at the young man, wondering at what exactly he would say. It wasn't like he hadn't been to a high class hostess club before. What Renji had informed them of was typical of a club that was of good quality and this Kurosaki fellow was hardly going to tell him something he hadn't heard before.
"First, the hostesses are not allowed to solicit their patrons so please understand when they decline your invitation for a late night at a hotel or other accomodations," Ichigo said. "Second, the hostesses are not allowed to arrange dohans themselves; they must be arranged through Mama-san. Third, patrons may select their hostess through jonai shimei; however, the hostess is allowed to decline a patron without consequence before and during the association.
"These are the rules that must be adhered to or your membership, which you have been nominated by Abarai-san, will be revoked and you will not be allowed back into Shidarezakura. I hope we have your understanding," Ichigo said, bowing lowly and formally at them.
"You have our understanding," Byakuya said firmly as he was the highest ranked person within the party. "Is there anything else that you wish to inform us of?"
"As you can see on the walls," Ichigo said, gesturing at picture frames, "there are photos of most of the hostesses in their sakura kimonos. You may select your hostess now or later on when you meet them personally before being escorted to your private room."
"Will we see all the available hostesses today?" Shunsui asked curiously, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he examined the pictures.
"All the ones working today you will see," Ichigo confirmed as Byakuya stared at one photograph after another not especially impressed at the girls he saw on the wall even though he'd admit they were pretty. "There are some that are not working today, of course, but the ones who are have already specially dressed up in their kimonos to greet you. This is a tradition of Shidarezakura for the hostesses to dress in their kimonos to greet a special party such as yourself. I hope you will enjoy the honor."
"Oh we will," Shunsui said, grinning wryly as he looked at one picture in particular of a girl with glasses and penetrating blue eyes. "I believe I like this one. What's her name?"
"That is Naoko," Ichigo said. "You're in good luck. She's available today."
"I would like to request her then," Shunsui said smoothly.
"Of course," Ichigo said. "Now if you will follow me, I will show you to the main room where the hostesses are waiting to greet you."
Byakuya watched as Renji quickly followed Ichigo, walking next to him closely, obviously wanting to converse with the other man. Byakuya continued looking, wondering why Renji would lower himself to interacting with someone of such a lower station in life, but then Renji was a rash fellow and frequently engaged in idiocy. Byakuya reluctantly trailed behind them and couldn't help but overhear their conversation.
"Is Ruka-chan here?" Renji asked. "It's been a while since I've seen her because I've been busy with work."
"She's here," Ichigo said tightly.
Byakuya could tell from his shoulders he was tense and part of him couldn't help but wonder why. Was he the girl's boyfriend? And if he was, why would he allow her to work in such a place? Even if it was a club that catered to an exclusive clientele?
"That's great," Renji said excitedly and entirely missing Ichigo's rigid stance. "I can't wait to see her!"
Rukia smoothed out the wrinkles from her kimono nervously. Matsumoto was about to guide them to the main room where the party from the Seireitei group was waiting for them when Isane, the girl who usually worked behind the counter as the bartender, came running into the dressing room. "Mama-san!" she said in a rush. "Mama-san! Aizen-sama and Ichimaru-sama are here with a group from Hueco Mundo Corporation!"
Matsumoto narrowed her eyes slightly and she tilted her head. "Excuse me?"
"They didn't have a prior arrangement, but they are here and Kurosaki-san is asking what he should do about the group as they are currently waiting in the front area. The Seireitei group is already in the main room awaiting the girls…"
Isane sounded stressed and Matsumoto had a furrow of wrinkles on her normally smooth forehead. Rukia had tensed up when she heard that Ichimaru was here and she was praying that he wouldn't request her tonight, that he would be satisfied with just Matsumoto's presence. Even though she was dreading the idea of meeting with Ichimaru, she was glad that Aizen was here if only for Momo's sake. When Isane had mentioned Aizen's name, her friend's face had lit up in a bright smile.
"I will go and see what they want," Matsumoto stated tightly. "But the rest of you, go to the main room and see to the comfort of our guests." Momo lowered her head in disappointment and Rukia was about to reach over and give her friend a gentle pat when Matsumoto turned to Momo. "You come with me to greet Aizen-sama and his party."
Momo immediately perked up and Rukia hid a smile behind her hand as she watched her friend eagerly follow Matsumoto to the front of the club. Momo was so easy to read when it came to Aizen Sosuke, although she was in general fairly transparent, but that was part of her charm – her sheer honesty and her sweet purity. Momo couldn't deceive anyone.
"Let's go," Nanao declared, becoming the default leader now that Matsumoto had left. "Let's greet the Seireitei group."
Byakuya was not overly impressed with Shidarezakura even if the ambiance and the décor of the club was suitable to his taste. He did not like to be kept waiting, especially when it had been stated by the kurofuku that the hostesses would be ready to greet them in the main room, however no one was there and Kurosaki had suddenly run off when he'd gotten a call and left them alone with no one to provide any service. He sat there on a plush leather chair tapping his finger on the arm impatiently. He rarely gave an indication of his displeasure, but he was so dissatisfied with the experience. For such a high class club to keep their patrons waiting was a disgrace!
"I hope you haven't been waiting too long for us," Nanao said as she walked into the room garbed in a purple kimono with the large white blooms of shogetsu. "Something unexpected came up and I do apologize for the delay and on the behalf of Mama-san, I Naoko, welcome you, our guests, to Shidarezakura!"
Byakuya looked up and noticed that this young woman was the one who had drawn Shunsui's interest in the front area and as he glanced over to the other man, he could see the gleam of interest in his eyes as he took in the sight of her. Byakuya knew if he said he was interested in the young woman that Shunsui would defer to him as current President of the Seiretei, even though the Board of Directors with Yamamoto Genryusai as the head senior director really was the power behind the group.
"And these are the hostesses," Nanao continued. "This is the bubbly Himeko, the lovely Risa, the adorable Ma-chan, the vivacious Nell…"
Byakuya had stopped paying attention to the girls she was naming after the first few as none of them had captured his interest. They were very pretty as Renji had said, but even in their kimonos they weren't his type, which was why he was completely surprised when a girl shorter than the rest appeared last in the line with her hair pulled back into a slightly messy bun wearing a pale pink kimono with yellow sakuras. When she turned in his direction, Byakuya stopped breathing as he saw a familiar bang falling over the girl's forehead.
Vaguely he could hear Nanao introduce the girl as "Ruka-chan," but the only word on his lips was Hisana.
A/N: I do try to represent hostess club to the best of my knowledge of them from what I gleaned through research, but a lot of it is literary/creative license and I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. Hostess clubs are expensive and there are exclusive clubs in Ginza where you only gain entrance through invitation via another member. There is also an entrance fee and drink prices are extremely expensive. A bottle of Dom Perignon can you tens of thousands of dollars depending on the club you're in. Also I have specifically given the girls/hostesses nicknames as most girls who are hostesses have a pseudonym in which they are known at work. I tried to make it a shortened Japanese version of their name, but sometimes it doesn't work. I have provided a list of characters before if you're confused!
I had a fun time writing this and this is certainly the longest chapter I've ever written in the Bleach fandom, although not the longest chapter ever. I have written longer, but it tends to take me a while. The style, tone, and feel for this story is quite a bit different from my prior fanfics in this fandom and I hope you'll still enjoy it despite the differences. I hope to maintain the same quality in the writing style, characterization, and plot.
Thanks for reading and if you enjoy this, please do me a favor and review. Your support will help me write this story!
Released on June 15, 2010.
The members of Shidarezakura:
Mama-san - Rangiku Matsumoto
Kurofuku - Kurosaki Ichigo
Bartender - Kotetsu Isane
Naoko - Ise Nanao
Hina - Hinamori Momo
Ruka - Rukia
Nell - Neliel Tu Odelschwanck
Ma-chan - Kuna Mashiro
Himeko - Inoue Orihime
Risa - Lisa Yadomaru