Disclaimer: Bleach isn't mine.

But here's one of my crack couples by choice.

Nanao can recall one too many times she's seen him drunk.

Night, the loneliest time, is when he makes the most of it. His subordinates are either on patrol or fast asleep, leaving him free and alone with his vices. Death could be a lonely life too. She always assumes it's his captain's words on his mind when they're together like this; him with a saucer of sake, she with a cup of tea she prescribes for her own alone-time. Nights in Seireitei are long and starless, as unromantic a moonlit fantasy can get.

Between soft sips and humdrum recollections, he sometimes slips a question in, like how Yadomaru-san was today or how the paperwork was coming along. Because if it's anything that he needs little reconfirmation of, it's her inability to tilt off-center and cast his small part of her world in a perpetual shadow.

She replies with the usual answers, holding the back the urge to shoot him her own. About his scars, the smell of grass on his clothes from the times he sleeps out on the fields, away from the barracks and does he know where he's going now that Rangiku-san's heart is forever at peace with the only one she's ever allowed it to be with.

Sometimes, when it hurts too much to be cast in the spotlight, Nanao wishes for that bank of clouds to scurry on further and seal her off from the moon. He watches her with stony grey eyes that match the circles under them and she can feel it in the breath he inhales to keep moving on. She's far too old to believe in the fairytales she and Lisa-san used to read on such nights.

A blossom wilts, falls off the sleeping cherry tree along the last few green avenues of Soul Society's aging winter. Seems like the bud will bloom late in spring, she assumes wistfully, swallowing yet another mouthful of warm bitter tea. She could relate to that.

They walk for a while, talk even less. It's well past midnight when they stop by her place and he waves her goodnight without so much as a glance as he walks away. Neither does she return the favor, knowing that she will always be there and he too will be. In case, either of decides to crack first and let loose. One truth at a time.

Kyoraku-taichou always told her she had the prettiest eyes (and the smallest waist, the finest of noses, so forth). The mirror is a likely liar, telling her she reveals more than she hides through those stern glasses. She isn't a fright to behold but not someone to be beheld in another's arms. Too uptight, too frigid, too unreachable for proper companionship.

Nanao sighs, takes them off, and allows her hair to fall to her shoulders.

Lonesome nights and soothing cups of tea made for a fine pair of habits she'd picked up.

Add a man to the mix and that would only confirm the hidden vice she'd always known.

'Shuuhei' is his name when they're alone. And together.

Come morning, he knows very well that he'll be 'Hisagi-kun' the moment their eyes meet and hands brush over sheets of paper in his office, sanctity violated by the rush of work in his division.

He's never had a problem with her being her, reliable intelligent Nanao in possession of a loyal heart and soul. But distance is distance, a few feet apart or a million miles away from her in thoughts she always bears alone. Since the war, he's been a shadow fleshing into proper flesh and bone to be acknowledged in place of his late captain.

It's not the same as being contended with but he represses it, numbing it one glass at a time.

Maybe he numbs her too, by just being around her with his bowl of cheap alcohol fumes tainting the lightness of tea in the night air. Guilt builds up, subsides for a while when he sees her in stride with her captain when they're about to walk past him before it springs up again as soon as she looks away from him.

His hand already twitches for the bottle.

She's a hard habit to break, Rangiku-san is. But yet she blooms, the light in her eyes warm and content with loving whom she let go while he can only gaze on in wonder.

One foot stepping ahead, the other stuck in the dirt. No wonder he'll never be as good a captain.

Maybe Nanao deserves better anyway.

It's night before he realizes it, the Sun is the Moon, and Nanao is by his side with her usual cup. She listens carefully to the sighs he has to air and replies the same way when he prods her with questions.

"Will we ever get anywhere?"

That one gets out without him noticing. Until then, it's too late and Nanao is stopping, staring at him with a look he can't quite comprehend from behind the steeled glass.

"… I'm sorry."

"No. I am."

That hits him hard.

She turns to face the trees instead of him. The tea is untouched, probably cold by now.

"Am I helping this, Shuuhei?"

The sound of her voice breaking over his name collapses his will, makes him drop the saucer, shattering it. There's nothing but porcelain crunching beneath his feet until all he can feel is the girl in his arms and her back arched away from his chest when he holds her. Tries to.

He feels like saying something nice and clichéd. Something that'll allow him to lie for a bit and protect her from himself. But he can't help thinking how loud her heart's going to break when it does or if it already has. Has it?

Has he?

He knows that sound. Shuuhei can recognize it from behind any wall between them. A heartbeat silently yearning for revival.

It's pulsing through his skin too.

"Soon, Nanao. Soon."

She falls back into him as midnight strikes.