the boys are back in town

Words had been said on both sides that couldn't be taken back without both sides spectacularly abandoning their positions and their pride.

No, Shinji had not forgiven the Gotei 13 for – for what, Lisa wondered, in private? For being deceived? It was the child's complaint to a parent: You should have known better, you should have saved me, you shouldn't have let this happen. All of those things under the surface, bubbling away for a hundred years, and spat out as Don't think we're here for you. We're here for Kurosaki Ichigo.

And Yamamoto had played the other side of the drama, just as expected. Not a word of we're sorry that you were hurt, and it hurts us to realise just how badly or you could at least have told us you were still alive or even we never wanted to lose you. Just a clipped Very well, and we shall be glad to hear from you whenever you may wish to resume contact ...

(There's a story there. Lisa knows it. She's always had a nose for secret things. Someone inside the Vizards has been talking to someone outside the Vizards. Information has been passed. And it wasn't her, either. But she knows she'll be the first one to be suspected if people do start wondering, given who she is and who her Captain was, and so she keeps her mouth shut.)

And since Shinji spoke for the Vizards, and Yamamoto spoke for the Gotei 13, that was that.



The private letter (tied to a twig of flowering cherry: some things never went out of fashion, at least with some people) was on her bedside table a couple of days later, giving a suggested time and place. She wasn't surprised.

She wasn't surprised by the look in certain other Vizards' eyes, either. Love and Rose both had a certain spring to their step and a tendency to exchange smirks and then look guilty, while Hacchi was reading a few too many old books that she didn't recognise as having been in his collection before, and even Kensei, of all people, was getting back late from 'shopping trips' and trying to act casual about it.

Given all that, it was easy to slip away. She announced loudly that she was going manga-trawling, invited requests, dodged bad jokes, and slipped out to the restaurant whose name had been on the note.

It was a nice place. Foreign – French, even – and clearly served the high-finance business crowd, with what she suspected was a side order of organised crime. Fortunately she'd decided to dress up just a bit rather than go with her usual schoolgirl look, so she didn't get the reception that she might have got. Instead she was led to a nice little private room, where Kyouraku was getting to his feet from where he'd been sitting with a glass in his hand, and –

"Nanao-chan!" she squealed, and got the girl in a good thorough hug before she had the time to run. She'd grown up nicely, even if she didn't have any dress sense – plain business suit and plainer blouse, not a hint of style, she'd have to take her shopping later – and there was a presence around her which made it absolutely plain that she was a vice-captain and nobody messed with her.

Nobody except her Big Sister Lisa, of course.

"Yadomaru-fukutaichou!" Nanao squeaked, and remembered to hug her back after a second or two. "I didn't know – Kyouraku-taichou didn't tell me –"

"My two favourite ladies," Kyouraku said, and folded his arms round the pair of them. "It's been too long."

Lisa let herself snuggle for about half a minute, before removing her ex-Captain's hand with the tips of her fingers. "Thought we had an understanding, sir. You didn't put your hand there and I didn't break your fingers."

"Ah, sweet Lisa-chan, as divine as always," Kyouraku sighed. "My beautiful Nanao-chan says very similar things. You are blossoms from the same branch. May I order you some sherry?"

"Sherry?" Lisa queried. She noticed that Nanao had been nursing something clear, with the air of someone who didn't want to drink it.

"This is a French restaurant, Lisa-chan. We must be appropriate in our beverages. But if you would prefer a Martini –"

"I'm surprised you didn't go for sushi," Lisa said. She chose one of the chairs and settled herself in it. "A Martini will do nicely. Shaken, not stirred."

Nanao didn't get the joke, but Kyouraku smirked and nodded. "I've ordered the house special, otherwise – I'm assuming that you can stay for the meal?"

Lisa nodded. "Nobody's asking questions at the moment. I think nobody really wants answers. So – I'm assuming things are all right at your end?"

"As well as can be expected." Kyouraku paused for a moment, then shrugged. "Momo-chan – you wouldn't know her, Lisa-chan – she's still under medical care, but otherwise people are up and walking. Yama-jii's still got rheumatism. How's little Hiyori-chan?"

"Recovering," Lisa said. She understood Kyouraku's own impulse to briefness, now. It wasn't something she really wanted to talk about. Certainly Hiyori was getting better, but it was going to be a long time before she walked again, let alone ran. "Everyone's getting around. If anything, people have too much time on their hands."

Kyouraku nodded. He didn't seem too surprised. He took a seat himself, and waved for Nanao to sit down in the remaining chair. "In that case – just a moment, please –" He reached over to pick up the phone by his chair, and dictated a few quick instructions involving a Martini for Lisa, and some more sherry for himself, and "a gin and lime for my Nanao-chan, because I don't think she likes her ouzo." He ignored Nanao's glare.

Lisa was delighted to see the understanding between the two of them, but at the same time, it made her feel a little . . . well, not lonely, because she certainly wasn't lonely, but a little displaced. She no longer fitted in exactly the same way. And Nanao wasn't even glaring at Kyouraku in the same way that she would have done. The dynamics were different.

A brief rustling of waiters later, she had a drink in her hand, and they had been assured that the soup was on the way. She tasted the Martini, nodded in approval, and leaned back in the chair. "Nice to have a bit of luxury for a change."

"A captain's salary can afford the odd night out," Kyouraku said.

Nanao's face was a picture, and Lisa had to laugh. "Let me guess. He has nothing but nights out, and you'd bite his head off if we were in private, but you're not sure if you want to be that rude to him in front of me, Nanao-chan? It's all right. I know exactly how that one feels. One can be as rude as one likes to Kyouraku-taichou, but not in public. He's very sympathetic. Aren't you –" She was suddenly aware that she wasn't sure what she wanted to call him, and left it hanging.

"My vice-captains always have the utmost freedom to speak their minds to me," Kyouraku said smoothly. "In return, they always have the utmost sensibility about when they do so. I've always had very good vice-captains."

Lisa chose to divert the conversation for a moment. "Has Ukitake-taichou picked anyone yet? I heard something about Shiba Kaien, while we were away . . ."

"Yes and no," Kyouraku said judiciously. "He has picked someone. He knows it, the entire Division knows it – she's the only one who doesn't know it, and he's just waiting for her to get a bit more experience. Probably any year now." He sipped his sherry. "She and Nanao can get together to disapprove of us."

"Kuchiki Rukia is a very capable young woman," Nanao said primly. "I look forward to working with her." Then she glanced at Lisa, a quick nervous flick of her eyes, and blushed again.

Lisa took a deep breath. "Look. Let's get this sorted out before we get to the starters, let alone the cheeseboard. I'm not coming back as vice-captain."

True, she'd considered it. True, she'd spent a hundred years vaguely thinking about it. True, she missed it. But here and now, looking at Kyouraku and Nanao, she knew that she couldn't just step into the position again and turn the clock back to where it had been. Some things just didn't work that way.

"You –" Nanao looked down at her glass, then took a gulp for courage. Kyouraku was keeping his mouth shut. "But you should," she said, forcing the words out. "You are the vice-captain of Eighth. I can't – can't take your place –"

"Forget it, Nanao-chan," Lisa said as kindly as she could, trying to ignore the fact that yes, it did hurt to actually finally say the words and get it out and settled. "I was the vice-captain of Eighth, and I was pretty damn good at it. But you're vice-captain now. You haven't taken my place, Nanao-chan. From what I've seen, you've made a new one for yourself." She let her eyes stray to Kyouraku. "I've never seen him half so organised."

"She runs me ragged," Kyouraku said mournfully, raising his sherry in a toast. "Here's to vice-captains whom I don't want to lose."

Nanao looked at him, at Lisa again, then looked down and drank some more of her gin and lime.

"Here's to captains I didn't want to lose," Lisa said, taking a swig of her Martini. "And here's to lunches I wouldn't want to miss."

"I'll drink to that," Kyouraku said, and did.