Chapter 18: Party Buddies Part 2 - Two to Tango

"Rise and shine Taichou!"

Hitsugaya's eyes shot open. He had been enjoying a comfortable afternoon nap on the couch in the tenth squad office when someone had banged open the door. He closed his eyes and groaned before thumping the large cushion he'd been using as a cover, over his head.

"Taichou!" came the sing song voice again. Hitsugaya ignored it pretending to have fallen asleep again till…

"Oh Taichou if you want something to cover you, you should use something bigger like this"

"umgph" someone had pulled him up and was pressing him tightly between what felt like two giant watermelons with human skin.

"Mathsumotho" Hitsugaya gave a muffled yell before yanking his head out from the crevasse of suffocating death that was his lieutenant's bosom.

He could hear her chuckle amused as he choked and spluttered for much needed air.

"What do you want Matsumoto" he finally wheezed. He turned to look at her and was very surprised indeed.

Matsumoto wasn't wearing her usual uniform. Rather she had swapped it for a long sleeveless scarlet Crape Cheongsam with a Mandarin collar (that couldn't exactly hide her ample bosom) and plumb blossom pattern. Her long and luscious strawberry blond hair was stylishly messy and she was carrying a red folding fan that matched her dress and purse. A hanger dangled from her other hand on which a black garment bag covered another outfit.

"What's the occasion?" Hitsugaya's raised his eyebrows at the hanger trying not to imagine what was underneath it.

"Don't you remember?" she pouted before setting her purse and fan down on the coffee table. "It's Kyoraku's birthday party today; you know the one for the lieutenants and captains?"

"Oh right" Hitsugaya sat up and rubbed his eyes. He'd been having such nice dreams in his nap that he'd nearly forgotten. Nice dreams about a certain blond haired, cat eared young woman who was in his fantasy had been rubbing the sides of his temples in a very soothing manner and singing something in his ear. He sighed in disappointment as he looked at the windows. It was already dark.

A tug on the back of his head. He looked around. Matsumoto was attempting to style his snowy hair which was now more ruffled than ever after sleeping on it.

I'm now an adult and you still like to treat me like a child.

He mused in his head whilst Matsumoto rambled onwards, her fingers deftly settling the hair back to its normal state.

"Kyoraku insisted on all of us wearing human clothes. Men wear tuxedoes and girls wear evening dresses. Since you weren't awake yet I chose your suit for you. Don't worry," she added as Hitsugaya opened his mouth to chastise her. God forbid she chose something embarrassing.

"I know you don't usually like dressing all fancy but today's a special occasion. And besides you'll want to look especially handsome if you want to sweep Kokoro-chan off her feet tonight if you catch my drift."

"I don't know what you're talking about" Hitsugaya stood up to escape the clutches of his buxom self proclaimed matchmaker lieutenant. He snatched up the hanger.

"Wait for me outside, I'll change in here" he told her as coldly as he could with his face all heated up. He turned his back to her as he stripped off his captain's haori.

Matsumoto smirked and using his shoulders as leverage whispered into his red ear.

"I helped Kokoro dress up tonight" she trilled softly "and I can tell you she's not wearing any bra beneath her dress"

Despite his attempt to feign indifference Hitsugaya's stance stiffened uncomfortably.

"Matsumoto" he growled but she skipped off like a delighted child.

"Just food for thought Taicho!" she winked as she shut the office door. Hitsugaya rolled his eyes as he began stripping of his shirt.

Tonight was going to be a tough night for his self control, if his lieutenant hadn't made a crack in it at any rate.

"Welcome Kuchiki Taicho" An astute first division member addressed the aristocrat who was wearing a crisp black tailcoat with a white bowtie, shirt and grey waistcoat underneath.

Byakuya nodded at the man and turned around from his spot at the first division's genkan. Kokoro was walking towards him. She was mostly covered by a large dark blue shawl that she had wrapped to cover most of her body, though he could see a peek of a long slit along the right side of her long satin black dress. Her hair had been tied in a French twist at the back of her head and she was wearing simple black stilettos on her feet. Even with the cat ears atop her head, no one in their right mind would question Kokoro's status or upbringing.

Byakuya held out a white gloved hand to her as she approached the edge of the genkan. She graciously accepted it and stepped up giving a small smile at the first squad member who flushed scarlet and spluttered with his eyes averted.

"The party is being held in the grand hall if you will just follow me sir… miss" he mumbled the last part.

Byakuya picked up his lieutenants arm, linking it in his in a gentlemanly fashion as they followed the first division member down several corridors before he stopped in front of a large door. He opened it took a step inside and to the side before announcing loudly

"Captain Kuchiki and Lieutenant Shirō of the sixth division"

The room was large and adorned lavishly with red, blue, black and white ornaments. Many of the squad captains and lieutenants were already there talking and mingling with each other. They all stopped and stared at the pair of aristocrats as they stepped into the room.

"Excuse me miss may I?" the first division member gestured towards Kokoro's shawl.

Kokoro gulped quietly before nodding. Slowly she pulled off the shawl. The sticky silence began again only this time Kokoro knew exactly what was strange this time.

She was wearing a long satin black dress. Whilst its halter neckline was not plunging it was completely backless and there was a long slit along her right leg that began rather high up on her thigh.

There were many wolf whistles throughout the male population of the party.

Feeling highly embarrassed Kokoro looked expectantly at her captain for help. He was staring at her too, though he had the skill and tact to keep his jaw shut when surprised.

I knew I should have run it by him beforehand

Kokoro thought as she turned back to the room at large and gave a slightly embarrassed smile.

"That's aristocracy for you! Always making a grand entrance!"

It was Renji. The ice suddenly broke as everyone laughed. They all separated back into their groups of laughing talking people.

"Thank god!" Kokoro sighed in relief her eyes roving around the room trying to decide which group to join. From what she could see and hear Kyoraku was arguing with Yamamoto about the style of clothing the birthday boy had decided upon. It was then she noticed that all the men, including Kenpanchi, were dressed in black tailcoats similar to her captains.

She felt a tingle up her spine. Someone, most likely behind her, was staring at her.

Maybe I look too ridiculous in this dress after all

She thought in dread as she looked at the other women in the room. All were wearing lovely evening wear that seemed extremely modest and charming, with the exception of Matsumoto.

But then again with a voluptuous figure like that she can afford to show off a bit. In comparison I'm a straight little twig. What have I got to show?

Kokoro sighed; the sensation of being watched was now beginning to irritate her. She turned around.

It was Hitsugaya. He was wearing too was wearing a black tailcoat and a small smirk. He struck an impressive figure as his tall form leaned languidly against a wall beside at an empty table, hands tucked inside his pant pockets. He straightened up as Kokoro approached.

"Nice dress" he said before Kokoro could even open her mouth.

"Thank you" She smiled shyly, blushing a bright red. "You look very…dashing yourself" inside her head she groaned at the stupid choice of words.

"Dashing?" Hitsugaya raised an eyebrow smirking.

"I know it's old fashioned" Kokoro laughed nervously before "oh" her fingers began fumbling with the slightly crooked white bowtie around his neck.

"And this is why I hate formal clothes" Hitsugaya sighed in exasperation.

"Yeah, well at least it's only for one night" She looked up and smiled at him. He looked down and felt his face heat up slightly.

From his height and angle he could see not only her bare back but also a little bit down the front of her dress. The curves of her young body were cheekily winking at him from beneath their sanctuary that was black satin.

"Thanks" he focused his attention on her face afraid that he might lose all sense of control if he looked down again.

"No problem" she smiled again.

Hitsugaya gulped.

Just what was wrong with him? He'd seen Matsumoto wear clothing that was double times as revealing as what Kokoro was wearing now for years and had felt nothing at all. But just a peak of bare skin on this girl in front of him was driving him insane.

Unbeknownst to either of them a slightly tipsy Matsumoto was beckoned to by Kyoraku who whispered something in her ear. She smiled beckoning Nanao to her who looked stern but then upon hearing out a quick whisper in her ear sighed and helped her tipsy friend hijack the large DJ stand set on a small stage which was standing on the far side of the room. A song began playing soft and slow.

Kokoro turned her head to the DJ willing herself not to burst into loud uncontrollable laughter. She shook her head giving a small chuckle before turning back to fixing his tie.

Hitsugaya paused, taking his time to examine her. Despite the simplicity of the task she had a look of intense concentration on her face. It was rather cute in a childish way.

"You tied up your hair" he stated drinking in her full appearance.

"There all done! What?" she suddenly looked up at him with sudden dread. Her hands were resting on his lapels.

"Uh…does it look alright? I know I don't usually dress like this. Actually I don't know whether I should have. Everyone else is wearing much simpler clothing and I-"

"Would you like to dance?" He cut across her rambling quietly. Hitsugaya was never one to take to a dance floor during a party but he wanted, no he needed an excuse to be physically close to her … before anyone could intervene.

Kokoro gulped. His eyes had that intense hungry look in them again, one that always sent a shiver of thrill down her spine. She gave a small nod. Her mouth had forgotten what it was supposed to be used for.

As Hitsugaya led Kokoro, he could see the head captain keeping a surreptitious eye on them from his seat. Ever since the day Hitsugaya visited Kokoro in her quarters the older generation had taken it upon themselves to interfere with many of Hitsugaya's attempts to get closer to the girl. They usually did a good job at keeping the two youths at respectable distances but they hadn't counted an event like this where social norms were more relaxed than when they were all on duty. They knew that under the circumstances Hitsugaya was at full liberty to press his advantage, and he certainly wasn't wasting the opportunity.

The old man's eyes hardened as Hitsugaya and Kokoro began dancing nice and slow. As the music continued he could see the young man's hand sink lower down her back very cautiously as if testing the waters. When they came within reach Yamamoto stuck out his cane with careful expertise and prodded the boy's hand.

Hitsugaya took advantage of the fact that Kokoro was checking her feet to glare at the old man. Yamamoto glared back with interest.

No pulling any stunts here on my turf boy!

The old face seemed to say.

Hitsugaya rolled his eyes and his hand slid up again to a more respectable position. Tactfully he steered Kokoro to another part of the dance floor.

"Shunsui" Yamamoto grabbed his old pupil by the tail of his coat as he passed by with a very drunk Matsumoto who was swaying like a ship at sea.

"Ah Yama-Ji you should dance too it will be fun I swear"

"I'm too old for such frivolous activities. You on the other hand are not!" the old man shook his head and then beckoned. Kyoraku leaned in and listened.

"Uh-huh…Mmm…Yeah I could do that? Sorry Rangiku-chan." He said graciously helping Matsumoto into a seat where she slurred "If whatever you're planning hic! doesn't work then you owe me another hic! Drink after this hic!"

Kyoraku rushed quickly up to Hisagi (who was manning the DJ with Nanao) and quickly muttered something. They both looked rather perplexed but were soon fiddling with CDs bickering quietly as they examined many track lists before finally deciding on a bright red CD.

Meanwhile on the dance floor Kokoro and Hitsugaya had not said a word. They didn't have to; they obviously seemed to just enjoy each other's company if their smiling faces were anything to go by.

It seems a bit unfair

Kyoraku said as he made his way over to them.

But his face will be priceless

He tapped Hitsugaya on the shoulder. The young man turned in surprise and slight annoyance.

"May I cut in?" he said chuckling.

"Oh!" Kokoro looked between the two men nervously. "Uh…?" she glanced at Hitsugaya who was looking mutinous.

"It's your party" he clipped angrily. He scowled as he stalked off the floor in a huff, hands in pockets.

Kyoraku smiled widely, as more rhythmic music replaced slow mellow tunes they had been enjoying till now. He looked down at his nieces face. Kokoro looked slightly worried as she watched Hitsugaya leave the room. After a few moments she saw Hinamori exit as well. Kokoro felt a twinge of irritation as she saw the pink clad girl rush out looking worried and a little hopeful.

Hinamori had been incredibly clingy to Hitsugaya ever since that meeting a few weeks ago. She was always popping into his office to see her childhood friend, constantly eating lunch with him or taking him to visit their granny (who was overjoyed to see her Shiro-chan all grown up). This wouldn't have bothered Kokoro if the girls' visits weren't so conveniently timed to interrupt or stop her from talking to Hitsugaya.

"He'll be fine"

Kokoro snapped her attention back to her uncle. She paused, her cat ears twitching as she tried to figure out the style of the music.

"A tango?" she asked, an eyebrow rose.

"Correct" Kyoraku nodded impressed

"I see I've taught you well…at least musically. By the way thank you for the present"

"I figured you'd like it" Kokoro smirked knowingly.

"Yes it's very … instructive. Now shall we?" He suddenly pulled her in close.

People around them turned immediately stopping their activities.

"And this gentlemen is how you dance with a lady"

In the beginning it was a little bit awkward with Kyoraku leading completely. He was very careful not to handle Kokoro in any inappropriate way even though he knew she already trusted him. She knew that he would always see her as a child and that comforted her a lot. It helped her feel like the rapid transformation to adulthood wasn't as greater deal as many of the others seemed to think.

When she was younger Kokoro had only learned basic Latin ballroom dance techniques whereas her uncle was an expert with years of experience. Also she'd never danced a tango seeing as her dance tutor had refused to teach her, saying that the dance was too mature for her to learn at the time.

However what Kokoro lacked in experience she made up with improvisation and creativity.

Kyoraku had just spun her round the third time now and pulled her in, but Kokoro had had enough of being lead around. She grabbed the tie around his neck and sharply stepped back. It took two to tango after all.

The dance was accelerating towards its climax and Kyoraku grinned at Kokoro with a mischievous sparkle in his brown eyes.

Oh no what's he going to do now

She thought nervously as they circled each other carefully. Then with a flourish he spun Kokoro around with the speed of a bullet and swept her off her feet. Kokoro could see her head approach the ground. It was going to hit.

It stopped suddenly as a hand secured itself safely on her lower back holding her torso nearly perpendicular to the floor, her right leg raised in an angle upwards.

There was a loud applause as Kyoraku and Kokoro straightened up and both bowed, first to the crowd at large and then to each other.

"That was amazing!" Matsumoto was running up to Kokoro a delighted smile on her red face. She jump hugged Kokoro who grinned nervously as many other people crowded around them.

Meanwhile Hitsugaya was in the men's bathroom splashing his face. He scowled as he looked into the mirror.

Why? Why didn't anyone allow him one moment of peace?

The head Captain… The other captains and lieutenants… Hinamori…

She was standing just outside the bathroom door. He didn't need to sense her reiatsu, her anxiety radiated from her in waves. Anxiety and a selfish eagerness.

He sighed.

True he may be new to these sorts of emotions and feelings but he was still the same genius that he'd always been. Did she think that he wouldn't notice?

He could see how much Hinamori detested Kokoro, looked down on her and judged her. He saw the maliciousness disguised under the kind smiles whenever she had interrupted those small moments between them. He heard through all the subtext of her words but that wasn't the worst of it.

He remembered that morning Kokoro had come in to deliver some documents for him to sign. Hinamori was sitting on the couch trying to convince Matsumoto to get up and work. Kokoro had walked over to the desk and had asked very shyly whether he was going to the party or not. He'd stiffened as hope dawned in him. Was this what he thought it was?

He had paused trying to figure out how to say yes without sounding like a complete dribbling idiot when Hinamori answered for him.

"Yes he is. In fact we're going together"

Kokoro gave a very awkward smile. It wasn't like the cute shy embarrassment that Hitsugaya had become accustomed to seeing. It was the sink-backwards-into-a-wall-and-vanish sort of humiliation that came with rejection. She backed out of the room and closed the door. He had run to the door to explain but she'd already turned a corner out of sight.

Had it not been for the fact that Matsumoto had chosen that moment to finally wake up, Hitsugaya might have literally thrown Hinamori out of his sight.

He dried his face.

No. He would have to set things straight once and for all.

"Momo" he said exiting the room. She turned and smiled at him.

"Yes Shiro-chan!"

"Momo we need to talk."

Shunsui Kyoraku's birthday party was still raging on inside the great hall of the first division. In an attempt to get away from the parties drunken population (which had been growing at an exponential rate) Kokoro was now sitting at a table with Unohana, Isane, Ukitake, Yamamoto, Nanao, Renji, Rukia and of course her captain Byakuya. All had been responsible drinkers that night and were now just simply watching the drunken displays with both amusement and irritation except for Isane and Kokoro.

Isane was now questioning Kokoro on how noble life worked for a female aristocrat. She seemed quite enthralled when Kokoro revealed that both western and eastern dance basics were now taught to aristocrats from a young age.

"I never knew that it was a requirement of nobility!" she said in wonderment.

"All round perfection is the ultimate requirement of nobility" Kokoro sighed tiredly. "Especially if you're female"

"How so?" Renji asked. Kokoro spared her predecessor a look of what can only be described as exasperated yet amused.

"Because the perfect woman is the ultimate tool for moving up on the social ladder that's why" she stated it baldly, coldly.

Renji looked at the glass of Champaign that his replacement had in her hand. Most of it was gone. Renji wondered whether or not the alcohol was finally starting to affect her. It was only her first drink of the evening but none of the people at the table knew just what Kokoro's tolerance level was exactly. The tattoos on his eyebrows crinkled in concern as Kokoro drained her glass and poured herself a second.

At that same moment they saw Hinamori stride fast towards their table.

"Ah Hinamori-chan you're just in time for-" but Nanao never got to finish her sentence.


Kokoro closed her eyes as the slap struck the side of her face.

"You!" she growled in Kokoro's face.

She looked back at Hinamori in shock. The girl was hyperventilating heavily through tears and sobs.

"You ruined everything!"

"Hinamori what-" Kokoro said shakily.

"Don't act all innocent you little tart!" Hinamori shrieked "You and you're little sob stories. Just because you suffered a little bit and say it was like hell doesn't mean you have to lord it over others and use it to get what you want you little cat freak!"

Something in the already tense atmosphere snapped.

A deep rumbling sound reverberated in the silence.

Hinamori looked up at Kokoro but this time her anger faltered.

Kokoro was looking down on her. Her eyes were cold, her pupils now catlike slits. A sense of angry almost volcanic power radiated from Kokoro as she glared down at the distressed girl below. Finally she spoke.

"You talk big, but you know nothing of hell, kid!"

And with that Kokoro walked out of the room. People backed away from her as she stalked for her eyes were still glaring like a furious beast. They stared after her as Clack! the door shut.

Party time was definatly over.

Dun Dun Dun! Time for the talk. haha just kidding about the dundundun thing! but on a serious note next chapter you will finally get to see Kokoro and her Zanpakuto in action against... well i'll let you see.

Until then keep on R&R peeps!

P.S. sorry to the HitsuHina fans for making Hinamori all mean! i'm kinda a fan of the pairing too but you know what they say... conflict helps character development!