Hey, why'd you bring Kyouraku-taichou's zanpakutou along anyway?
There's nothing wrong with it; we're in the same squad, after all.
And the other one?
Sunset; orange sun and crimson skies bled across the clouds and the fine line between heaven and earth, dyeing the garden just outside Shunsui's quarters. Paper doors stood open to the dusk air, suffusing the captain's pink haori and its flowers with wine-red as he sat leaning against one, hat pulled low over his eyes. In the shadows of the room, just a little before the back wall, the tachi of his zanpakutou knelt with her shamisen, the remaining daylight casting a warm glow and color on her pale complexion.
Music drifted from Katen in her half-light – ghostly, yet beautiful – the bent notes of her instrument stark against the darkening sky.
With the daylight, so the traditional melody from within his room faded; Shunsui looked up from his comfortable daze to find the moon and her stars already in their places in the overhead night sky. Though he could barely make out her figure – a deeper blackness than the surrounding shadows – he turned his gaze to his zanpakutou, hidden as she was.
"Katen," he murmured playfully, "why'd you stop?"
He could imagine her roll her eyes, and that was retort enough. Then, in a lilting tone that suited her garb, "It's getting late, danna, why don't you come inside?"
"Why don't you come here and join me for some sake?"
The sound of shifting fabric – heavy fabric – and Katen stepped into the moon's silvery light. Shunsui couldn't help but watch in awe – this is my zanpakutou? – as she gradually emerged from the shadows, and whatever the moonlight touched of her kimono, her skin, her face, her hair, was enveloped in an ethereal radiance. She continued her graceful walk to one of the cupboards, gliding across tatami, vanishing once more into darkness. She melted into being again, a little later, this time carrying a tray of sake and her unmistakably large sake dish – and Shunsui was struck dumb for the second time that night.
"See something you like, danna?" she teased, again with the lilt in her voice.
Shunsui smiled indulgently, getting up to close the paper doors, leaving only a gap between the two wooden frames. Katen knelt near the middle of the room now, and set the sake down at her side. Her wielder – danna, she liked to call him – master, it sometimes felt like – walked over and sat opposite her, a leg bent against his chest and the other tucked inward. He discarded his hat to one side, then pulled the sake tray across the floor to his other side, leaving the dish by his zanpakutou.
"Sake first, talk later," he countered, and raised a bottle.
She lifted the sake dish accordingly, and both their gazes followed the transparent liquid, shimmering in the sliver of unhindered moonlight. Shunsui withdrew the bottle and the sake settled against the red inner surface of his zanpakutou's cup, like a moon in its own right. Katen's purple hair, bound up in curls on both sides of her hair under her headdress, shifted as she tilted her head down to touch her lips to the rim. Her eyes – eye, considering one was covered by an eyepatch – lowered as well, though Shunsui couldn't tell whether it was in (affected) modesty, coyness, or simple habit. In any case, he took the opportunity to observe her, shadow-lit and distracted – or tolerant – enough to let him.
Her neck was obscured, but he could see the edges of the ribbon that bound her skin, the same color as the dish she held, resting against milky skin; and of course, being a guy, Shunsui couldn't really help resting his eyes on her… assets-
Katen abruptly stopped drinking in favour of glaring at her wielder. But her eyes held mischief, than malice, and she passed the sake over without comment. He accepted and drank, but kept his eyes on her, taking in the detail of her kimono. Oiran, he thought to himself, and then the word faded from being as he savored the cold burn down his throat. Black, burgundy, purple – somber, deadly colors – reiatsu woven into silk, with pink to accentuate and white to contrast. And the gold, the skull that took up the front of her kimono, as well as the centre of the cape that he couldn't see, that was splayed across the floor behind her.
A raised eyebrow over her turquoise eye; Shunsui smiled apologetically and returned the sake dish.
In the faded light that managed to pass through the paper doors, Katen couldn't help returning her wielder's flattering attentions. It fell on him rather well, as reluctant as she was to admit it – he was handsome, after all. Brown hair that used to be straight, now curled with length, framed his face; the haori he'd had since forever seemed faded into plum in the shadows, just like his slightly tanned skin seemed darker than usual. His captain's coat was white over his shinigami uniform, and that was black and loose against his bare chest. Handsome.
Sometimes, despite how boring he tended to be, Katen really was proud of having Shunsui as her shinigami.
Of course, she'd observed and thought all of that without his noticing – it was a skill that appeared to come with her appearance. Oiran.
They were both vaguely drunk, tipsy at the very least. Shunsui's voice had a singsong quality to it, when he asked to refill the cup, although Katen knew he could vanish it at will; she, herself, was keeping as unaffected as possible – but she knew the alcohol was taking its effect, considering the direction her thoughts had taken.
"Something wrong, Katen?"
There. He could remove any traces of intoxication at will. The kimono-clad zanpakutou felt suddenly vulnerable, knowing that with her usual guard dissolved by the sake, she would answer truthfully. And what a trivial matter it was, that troubled her; it would be ridiculous to voice it…
Katen received the sake dish from Shunsui, but hesitated to put it to her lips. "Why an oiran, Shunsui?"
"Does it trouble you so much? They were no less talented," he returned, surprisingly gentle.
A cloud passed over the moon, and whatever faint light had lit the room faded to darkness. The forms of both the occupants of the room were no more, obscure within the shadows, but neither paid the loss any heed. If anything, it was release. Katen drank deeply of the sake to soothe her fraying nerves, then set it carefully down.
"No less talented, but tainted with dishonor," she murmured, almost abashed, trying to keep her voice from trembling with uncertainty.
Shunsui chuckled, not unkindly, "You sound like a Kuchiki, Katen."
The zanpakutou was glad to have the cover of darkness to hide her blush.
"I detest looking at my reflection, and seeing a lowly prostitute," she retorted, a hint of bitterness in her voice. "What on earth prompted you to have your zanpakutou formed in such a way?"
The reply was a quiet but firm reprimand. "You know very well that nothing prompted it; neither you nor I are responsible for your appearance."
Katen winced. It was hard to be admonished by a man usually so carefree and easygoing – so… lenient? Perhaps she had struck a nerve, that he would react so unusually sober. All the same, it had been foolish – stupid – of her to accuse him of such a thing, when, as he said, she knew no one was accountable for her form. For a split second, the desire for someone, something, to blame had overridden her logic. Should she cover it up by claiming it was a jest? Had he already read her? … Why was she so worked up…? Oiran. Geisha.
She had been a maiko once. It was a geisha term, "maiko", and Katen supposed most people would scorn an oiran using the word. Within her mind, though, there was no one to call her on it, so she used it, and it made her feel… well, she had never felt worthless, but it made her feel more worthful; if there was even such a word.
When Shunsui had just started out as a shinigami: that was when even the proud Katen had been an inexperienced apprentice. And Kyoukotsu had been a stumbling sort of ninja, honestly shy instead of purposely silent. As their wielder learnt to handle his reiatsu and himself in general, so Katen Kyoukotsu had grown; the one growing prouder and stronger, the other growing swifter and colder.
Eventually, their wielder had wanted his bankai, and that had been a game Katen would never forget. Mizuage. He'd fought with Kyoukotsu and beaten her, like most shinigami would with their swords. Then, he'd followed the haunting sound of Katen's shamisen into the recesses of his inner world – an endless feudal Japanese mansion, somewhat similar to the barracks – and found her.
"Kyouraku Shunsui, how much are you willing to pay for this maiko's mizuage?"
The shinigami stopped short at the doors, still breathing hard from his rather frantic search for the tachi of his zanpakutou. He really was quite deep in his soul, in an inner room where the sun didn't reach, and the only light was from candle-lamps. Their light flickered, unsteady, against paper doors, casting his and her shadows in ripples across walls and wooden floor. Even the zanpakutou's form seemed to waver; now her face, now her hands, now her shamisen, were hidden in darkness – and then her eyes, that stunning blue-green.
"Ah… Katen…" The shinigami stepped into the room, taking a deep breath to steady his voice, "I'd give you my life."
The cloud passed; light, however weak and pale, was restored, revealing Shunsui's gently smiling face. Katen, head down in her thoughts, looked up and started at his kind expression. He drank from the sake dish between them, still with that content expression on his face, before speaking.
"That particular memory, hm?"
Katen colored slightly, but her pensive mood won over her indignance. "Were you lying, back then?"
It was another stupid question. The answer was obvious. How could he have lied to her, in his own world? How could she ask that, when they'd fought together for so long? It seemed that the moon was working her dark – but not black – magic, pulling her every doubt, every wish, into the open… It didn't help that their current surroundings resembled Shunsui's inner world so much, either; nor was it any good that Katen could feel her reiatsu diminishing. Slowly, but surely…
Shunsui passed her the sake, silently bidding her drink.
"You think in such a way, and your memories flow as they do; to me, you are geisha. Although, I still don't see why it matters so much to you."
His eyes rested on the ribbon around his zanpakutou's neck, stark red against skin nearly white. He felt particularly drawn in by the ribbon; he wanted to untie it from around her neck, but he knew she wouldn't let him, even if they were wielder and sword, even if they were the same soul, the same being. All the same…
Lifting her eyes from the sake, the zanpakutou raised an eyebrow.
"After all, Katen, you're still my Katen, and I'd still give my life to you, mizuage or not."
The purple-haired lady, dressed in robes of black and burgundy, with a headdress of gold and bone, hid a smile behind the rim of her sake dish. Her foolish danna, so sincere, so easygoing, so ready to spout promises she doubted he knew the meaning of… But somehow, his words warmed her cold sword's heart.
She's drinking with him in the barracks.
Oh, is that alright? Leaving the two of them alone like that?
She's his zanpakutou. What're you talking about?
"Well, danna, the children will be home soon; perhaps we should retire?"
"Children?" Shunsui was well and truly drunk now. "Oh, Kyoukotsu and Nanao-chan? Don't mind them…"
He extended his hand anyway, and Katen helped him up. She proceeded to unpack the futons from their shelves behind sliding doors, and laid two out side by side on the tatami. Surprised at being so docile herself, she took Shunsui's haori and coat and set them by his hat, near the doors, in a fluid motion of kneeling and getting up again.
"Oh, and – Katen-chan?"
She normally did not tolerate the suffix, but it would slide for tonight. "Yes, danna?"
When she straightened fully, she found herself in her wielder's arms, strong yet gentle in their grip. He really can vanish it at will.
"I hope you don't mind," – his hand snaked up her front – "if I take this…"
Katen's mind was sent back to that night, those gentle touches, that coming-of-age that probably no other zanpakutou knew; she felt his hand rest on her neck. He pulled the ribbon oh-so-gently, its reiatsu-silk sliding along her skin into his hand. She followed its movement, followed her wielder – her danna – her master – to the futons.
Contrary to popular belief, it was dawn when Shunsui woke. (He usually went back to sleep after, but -) The futon beside him was empty.
Instead, there was a sword across his chest that felt strangely warm against his skin, and one by his side on the tatami. He felt around for the ribbon, that red, red, ribbon – that's too bad… I wanted a keepsake, after all…
And then he noticed it. His Katen, of his Katen Kyoukotsu – though it didn't mean he loved the wakizashi any less – his Katen…
She was still sealed.
All the same, a red ribbon hung from her hilt, and Shunsui couldn't help but smile.
 Karyuukai = World of flowers and willows; a mysterious "alternate" reality that geisha are said to inhabit.
 Danna = Patron of a geisha.
 Oiran = Courtesan of historical Japan, the predecessor of geisha.
 Maiko = Apprentice geisha.
 Mizuage = A rite of passage for maiko to become full-fledged geisha, in which her virginity is sold to the highest bidder.