Thank you to:
The Dark Heroine (Wow, thanks so much!)
Sweetheart1995 (Heh, thanks. You're a fast reader.)
skipbeataddict (I appreciate that a lot. It's something I feel like I struggle with, so thanks!)
anonMooer (Sorry for making you wait an eternity, and thanks!)
KhAeL (He is, isn't he?)
safa56bmc (I know, right? What a meanie.)
ShaDow Empire (Basically, he doesn't want to get married, and neither does Noa. Neither of really think the other is their type at the moment, and Aizen is in this for her inheritance, and she is in this as a experiment, a challenge to herself. I don't want to give it all away here, but if anyone wants a better explanation, just say so! I'm sorry if it's super unclear.)
And to everyone who follows/favs/alerts as well.
I'm super sorry this has taken me almost eight months to update this. I've just been super busy with starting college, and I will admit I've been lacking motivation. Sometimes I get really frustrated with myself, and I feel like I'm not writing well enough, if that makes sense. I'm truly sorry, because there's tons of you who like this story, and it's not fair that I take so long! I will try to go faster, but no promises.
Warnings: Slight OOC'ness, AU plot, language, mentions of mature situations.
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
A/N: Also, since it's been so long, is anyone still interested in the story? I understand if you've completely given up on me, but it'd be nice to know. I'm also trying out this thing where I reply to EVERY review, so please don't hesitate to say anything!
Later that evening, Aizen received a phone call and excused himself from Noa's presence. She took the time away from him to walk around the shopping area near the hotel.
It was nothing like the huge malls and outlet stores back in the city. Everything in the stalls here looked hand-crafted and homemade, with the locals sitting in folding chairs underneath wide umbrellas, chatting as the few tourists browsed their wares. Noa wasn't much of a shopper, so she took her time and wandered through the maze of wooden carts and brightly painted store-fronts.
'Maybe I should buy Aizen something,' she mused, while inspecting a local's selection of natural lotions and bath salts. 'What do I get for the man who has everything, though?'
Noa had a terrible sense of gifting. She hardly ever bought something for someone without doing extensive research, and that proved so exhausting she rarely did it in the first place. Whenever the holidays or birthday's came around, she either gave money or nothing at all.
'Well, I doubt he'd want lotion,' Noa smiled. To avoid feeling guilty she purchased a small jar of rose-scented bath salts, and wandered away from the center of the marketplace.
"Have something in mind, child?" A hoarse voice croaked from the left. Noa paused and peered down at a tanned old woman in a wide straw hat, sitting in front of a booth covered in tiny statues and figurines.
"Oh, no, um..." Noa stuttered, pretending to look at the woman's wares. She hadn't realized she was lingering in front of the stall. 'Great, now I have to buy something...'
"Looking for something in particular?" The woman rasped, leaning forward to gesture to the wide variety of goods. "I have all kinds of talismans and totems, perfect for protection, wealth, and fertility." On the last word, she lifted a pair of statues, one endowed with a large phallus, the other, with enormous breasts. "These too are especially effective, and quite popular."
Noa blushed. The last thing she needed was a fertility charm. "Um, no, not really. Well, I was thinking about getting something for my...friend, but I have no idea what." No matter how intimate they were together, Noa still hesitated on calling Aizen her 'boyfriend' or 'lover'. Neither sat very well in her mouth. She wasn't particularly sure how he categorized it either.
"How about a charm to bring great wealth?" The woman held up a tree-shaped figurine covered in local coins.
"No, he definitely does not need that," Noa shook her head. She said no to the protection charm, and the fertility talisman as well.
The woman sat back in her chair, determined to sell Noa something."Well, I do have this," she murmured, rummaging underneath the table. She pulled out a dusty talisman made of coral, styled in an intricate knot pattern. "It was made by a member of the local indigenous tribe. Coral is sacred to them, and the knotted pattern is supposed to bring longevity and clear-mindedness. It was a symbol for their leaders, to ensure a long reign and wise decisions." She held it out, offering it to her potential customer.
Noa took it, turning it over and studying it. It was pretty, in an odd, unique way. Wiping away the dust revealed a rich red color, and the pattern was smooth and flowing. 'The symbolism is interesting too. Platonic enough for my tastes, and hopefully his as well.'
"I'll take it," she smiled.
It was getting dark, and the shops were beginning to close, so Noa decided to head back. Her purchases were nestled within a tote bag, and she wondered if Aizen would like his gift. She didn't have much experience with presents- she was used to receiving them, not giving them.
'I sound like a spoiled brat,' she mused. She supposed that growing up as an only child with affluent parents might have made her seemed entitled and snobby to some people, but she hoped that wasn't the case. Admittedly she was pampered, but her father had always informed her of the importance of hard work, and doing things on your own. Noa remembered him saying that respect was something you should earn, not inherit, and she took that to heart. Her mother was a bit more extravagant, but Noa knew Etsuko's heart was in the right place.
The hotel they were staying at was gorgeous in the evening light. The lanterns gave off a soft glow, and the sandstone walls looked warm and inviting. 'If all vacations are like this, then maybe I should go on more.'
"Miss Ueshima?" A voice called as she entered the main lobby. One of the receptionists smiled at her when she walked over. "Sosuke Aizen left a note. He would like you to meet him in the hotel restaurant for dinner." Noa smiled softly, and thanked the woman.
The restaurant was attached to the bottom floor of the hotel, and was partially open to the ocean-side view. The huge ceiling arched over the scattered tables, casting long shadows in the rafters. The tables were lit with small candles, and were set with some of the most beautiful china Noa had ever seen. There were quite a few guests in the restaurant for dinner, but Noa spotted Aizen near the edge of the room, at a private table set for two.
"Good evening," he greeted her, setting down a wine glass he had been drinking from. Noa sat herself in the chair opposite him, and thanked a waiter who had been waiting to fill her own glass. "Did you go far?"
"Not really," Noa shrugged. "Just down the street. I lost track of time quickly, and before I knew it, the sun was going down." Aizen nodded, and Noa got the feeling he was distracted by something.
"I'm sorry you couldn't come," she continued, trying to keep the conversation going. "The shops were quite lively, and had a lot of local wares. It was interesting, very different from the city."
"You like it here?" Aizen asked her, and Noa smiled.
"Yes, actually. The scenery is beautiful, and the people are so nice." Noa picked up her glass, and turned it in her hand. The light from the setting sun made the ruby liquid inside glow. "I don't think I'd want to live here, though, not permanently at least," she continued., taking a sip from her glass. "It's nice here, but it's not the same as the city."
Raising one elegant brow, Aizen smirked. "Really? Forgive me, but I always assumed you were more of a secluded person." Noa shrugged, and smiled.
"I am, but that's why I prefer the city. I don't stand out in a huge crowd, and I can live my life alongside the thousands of others going on around me," she said. "If I lived here, the things I did would be visible to anyone who noticed. It's not as private."
"I agree," Aizen replied, before they were interrupted by the returning waiter. He took their orders, and then left the table in a hushed silence.
Noa looked out over the sand to the water, and admired the colors of the sun on the water. "It is nice being here now, though," she said softly.
Aizen paused, and then slowly placed his glass on the table. "I got you something," he said suddenly, reaching inside his jacket and taking out a small box. Noa suddenly remembered her gift as well.
"Oh! So did I," she said, grabbing her bag, and pulling out the small figurine wrapped in brown paper. "Uh, you go first, though..." she said, suddenly shy.
With a small smile, Aizen slid the box across the table. "I had it specially made, a commission from a famous local artist." Noa took the box, and pulled off the top. Inside, nestled in soft wool, was a silver necklace. The chain was thin and dainty, and hanging off the center was a beautifully polished pendant in the oh so familiar pinwheel shape of an oleander blossom. It was a simple piece of jewelry, but so beautiful that it took Noa's breath away.
"It's gorgeous," she breathed, carefully picking it up. It caught the light from the candles on the tables, making the silver look like polished bronze. "Thank you."
Aizen rose, and moved behind her. He took the chain from her hands, and gently fastened it around her neck. Noa closed her eyes as his long fingers brushed against her throat and the back of her neck, the slight weight of the pendant nestled just above her breasts.
"My gift was made by a local artist as well," she said after Aizen had returned to his seat. "It's definitely not as nice as yours," she said, heart sinking slightly. 'I can't believe I got him a figurine, I feel so stupid...' She handed the wrapped package to him, and prepared to slide herself underneath the table.
He seemed to take forever to unwrap it, and when it was finally out of the paper he turned over in his hand in interest. "What is it?" He asked, seemingly amused. "A paperweight?"
"No," Noa said. "It's a talisman. It's supposed to give you a long life and help you make good decisions." Aizen looked at her with a glimmer of humor in his eyes.
"How interesting," he said, placing it next to his plate. "Thank you."
Noa sighed. "I'm really bad at gift-giving, okay?"
Frowning, Aizen glanced at the gift. "I'm being serious. I...appreciate the sentiment. I don't receive gifts that often."
"Really?" Noa asked. "I thought all the higher-ups received gifts all the time. A gesture of goodwill maybe, or an incentive." She remembered her father bringing home gifts from his associates to his family- candy for Noa, flowers or jewelry for her mother. She didn't understand why people she had never met or barely knew were sending her things, until her father explained it was a part of being in business.
Aizen tipped his glass towards her. "Well, you're not wrong. But eventually there's a point where frivolities just don't make an impression anymore. I am far more appreciative of actual work of substance than I am of trinkets and word of mouth."
"I can understand that," Noa decided. "I've heard that bribery doesn't get very far in the corporation."
"It doesn't," Aizen nodded. "Not even in the Gotei Division, soft as many of the heads may be. Besides, I can be very..." he paused, taking a sip from his glass, "...persuasive. I don't like to stoop to bribery."
Their food arrived as he finished his sentence, and the two of them ate in silence. Noa was far hungrier than she had realized- she hadn't eaten since around noon. They finished rather quickly, and Noa followed Aizen as he stood and left the restaurant.
"I didn't want to bring it up during dinner," Aizen said quietly as they rode the elevator back up to their room, "But I'm afraid our forced vacation is ending tomorrow. We're leaving on the mid-morning flight back to the city tomorrow."
Slightly disappointed, Noa frowned. "Why? Has something happened?" 'I thought we were staying for a week.'
"Yes, actually," Aizen muttered. "There's been an...incident. Gin called me this morning, and I'm afraid it's something I have to deal with immediately.
"I see," Noa said softly. She was curious as to what it could be, and also curious about why he wasn't telling her. He had been surprisingly honest with her so far, or as so far as she could tell. There was always the suspicion he wasn't always one hundred percent truthful, a slight tinge to his words that made it seem like he was testing her, but she decided not to push it. Besides, she didn't really mind returning to the city. The vacation had been nice, but there was something fake about it she didn't like. It did feel forced, like Aizen had mentioned.
"It's not anything serious, is it?" Noa asked carefully. She doubted he would tell her much, which was understandable, but she still wanted to know.
Shaking his head, Aizen unbuttoned his shirt. In the dim light the muscles of his back were defined in shadows, and as he moved they rippled smoothly underneath the supple skin. It was one thing Noa admired about his body. His shoulders and back were broad, and he moved with a grace that suggested he knew how to use his body, in more ways than one.
"Not serious, no." Aizen through his shirt over a chair, and sat on the bed to remove his shoes and pants. "Not in the sense that it threatens anything. It's more of an...annoyance, one that needs to be taken care of sooner rather than later, I'm afraid."
Earlier that day, as Noa left to go to the market, Aizen received a phone call from Tousen. He was slightly surprised when he saw the man's name on the caller id, as he was under the impression that he would not be contacted by anyone from the company while away. It also raised an alarm- if it was Gin calling, he would not be as concerned, but since it was Tousen, who was more no-nonsense than Gin, it made him pick it up immediately.
"There's been an...incident," Tousen said as soon as Aizen answered. "Nothing serious, but I think you'd like to know."
"What is it?" Aizen demanded.
"Ichimaru was supposed to take care of your meetings this morning," Tousen replied. "He called me shortly after he arrived to tell me someone was in your office."
Aizen frowned. "What do you mean someone was in my office? Was Loly there? Menoly?"
"They arrived shortly after Ichimaru did," Tousen continued. "I talked to them, and both of them said that no one had made any appointments that early, and that the person in there was not supposed to be there. In fact, we have no idea how she even got in-"
"Wait, 'she'?" Aizen interrupted. "Who is it, Tousen?"
There was a pause. "It's Vittoria. She was sitting in your chair. Apparently she thought you were going to be the first one in your office, and proceeded to swear at Ichimaru as soon as he entered. She refuses to leave the premises until you arrive."
Sighing heavily, Aizen pinched the bridge of his nose. "I see..."
"There's more, sir. We tried to get her to leave, but she says she has business with you. Specifically...she's claiming the two of you are still...associated with each other." The way Tousen said that last sentence made Aizen very suspicious.
He hadn't had any contact with Vittoria in over two years, not after he had broken off their short-lived fling after he caught her trying to manipulate company payroll rosters. She was a powerful woman, the offspring of two very powerful families, and knew exactly who and what to play to get what she wanted. Aizen didn't have any idea of what she could be after now, but whatever it was, it wasn't a chat over a cup of tea. She definitely had some sort of ulterior motive.
"I understand. Book the next flight out of here, and I will be back tomorrow evening," Aizen ordered. "In the meantime, occupy our guest so that she does not leave the top offices. Keep the rest of the staff away as much as possible."
"Loly is going to throw a fit," Tousen said mildly.
"Loly can handle it," Aizen said briskly. "Thank you for calling me."
He ended the call, and let out another sigh. He hadn't anticipated an outside distraction like this. 'Foolish of me.'
Part of his was hesitant to leave the idle seaside town. Part of him enjoyed the quiet hush of the town, and the time he was spending with Noa. He knew she was hesitant about everything, which was natural, but he would be lying if he said he didn't enjoy the nights spent with her under the sheets. He could still feel her body cradled in his, her hair ghosting silently over his face and chest. Times like these would be few and far-between once they returned to the city, especially with the added distraction Vittoria brought.
But another part of his was ready to get back into action. He knew where he truly belonged, and it was at the head of the greatest company this side of the globe. He had complete control in that position, and while the vacation was admittedly nice, he did not like having little control from where he was. Hearing about problems like these second-hand irked him in a way he did not like. He wanted to go in, clean up the messes that were piling up, until everything was working right again.
Beside, after last night he realized he was becoming far too attached to Noa. She was becoming more than a tool to a greater means, more than an asset, more than sex. He needed to distance himself from her for a while, change things so that she came to him instead of he to her. It would be easier that way.