Kiss and Control

BY : Orionshadow
Category: Bleach > Het - Male/Female
Dragon prints: 8539
Disclaimer: Tite Kubo owns Bleach and the characters depicted therein. The characters in this story are not mine. Payment is not received for this work.

What if I'm not dead?

Tite Kubo owns Bleach and the characters depicted therein. The characters in this story are not mine, except for the original characters. I make no money from the publication of this work.

"Ran, where have you been? It's been weeks since you visited me and Shunsui becomes maudlin when he drinks alone?" Kataro replied as she hugged the Lieutenant in return. "Cooking for you will be easy and I have some of your favourite sake, or would you prefer beer with your food? You always say beer helps the digestion."

"Bee... I mean tea, please. I need to concentrate," the slump to the woman's shoulders indicated that she really desired to drink the beer but chose the safe option.

"Why don't we both have a beer?" Byakuya heard himself say and then bit his lip, immediately noticed and then endeavoured to make certain his face presented its usual serene expression. Why did he make that suggestion? Was it the hint of sadness in the woman's demeanour that prompted him to sacrifice his principles? Would he even be able to drink the beer?

Lieutenant Matsumoto's face brightened for a brief moment but then she cast down her eyes and said meekly, "If you think it is a good idea, Captain, I would enjoy a beer, especially one of such a fine quality as Kataro serves."

Kataro was already placing glasses full of amber liquid on the bar and Matsumoto seated herself but hesitated before lifting the beverage to her lips. Deciding she was hesitant as he was still standing he sat beside her, raised his glass and sipped tentatively at the cold liquid within. After his first taste, he quickly took another and closed his eyes briefly. It was surprisingly fresh and tasted good. Very good.

"Do you wish to tell me what dishes you would prefer, or will you permit me to select food which best suits the season and the beverages?" Kataro asked with some deference and a fond nod at the Lieutenant.

"You choose...," the Lieutenant stopped and turned to Byakuya. "I mean if you approve, Captain. Senpai seems to know the food that each person desires."

The idea appealed to him in some ways but also seemed wrong. Surely he knew the food he would enjoy the most but as he was thinking this a small dish full of plump edamame was placed before him.

"Just a palate cleanser. Normal in a bar," Kataro said.

Without thinking he picked one up and ate it thinking it was a pedestrian choice to accompany beer. However, for some reason both the beer and endamame tasted so well together he found he had eaten all the beans and drained his glass of beer without realising what he was doing. Another beer was placed before him along with a plate of Renkon chips. Not really considering the matter he picked up a chip and ate it with relish while sipping his second beer.

"Simple snacks," Kataro assured him. "I'm not choosing your food, simply supplying the small customary appetisers that accompany beer."

He noticed Matsumoto was slowly sipping her beer with her eyes closed, Her face had a dreamy expression he could not recall seeing before. Her fingers , not holding the beer, explored the bar until it encountered her plate of chips and she quickly conveyed one to her mouth and crunched it with evident enjoyment.

He came to a decision. If the Lieutenant relaxed she might relax some of her rules, or at least look at the candidates with a little more latitude. He'd only seen her relaxed in his presence once before, the night she'd kissed him.

For a moment, solely due to the beer, he was certain, he lost himself in the memory of that kiss, that slight temptation to lose control and return the kiss.

He put the glass down with some force. From where had that acknowledgment arisen? Kissing the lascivious lieutenant hadn't crossed his mind. It has been a very brief physical response which he hadn't acted upon. Heat rose into his cheeks as these thoughts sped through his head.

"You choose what we eat, Kataro. We have work to do and we will move over to the table so we can commence. Please serve sake with the food. Sake from Takayama, preferably," he decided, trying to assert some authority.

Lieutenant Matsumoto opened her eyes and briefly he thought he saw some measure of dismay but it was quickly concealed as she rose to her feet and moved to the table. After seating herself, she picked up a folder and opened it. He followed her and also picked up a folder. "Do you have any other suggestions to make this process any faster?" The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. It was the fault of the beer, he was certain.

"I think we should finalise what we started last night and remove the candidates who you do not find physically appealing," she murmured, her eyes lowered as she once more sorted through the images he had not rejected previously.

A hand placed a cup of sake and a small plate of karage with mayonnaise in front of them both quickly followed by a plate of mixed pickled vegetables. He picked up a napkin from the table and placed it in his lap. As the lieutenant seemed intent on sorting through the images in front of her he quickly ate a piece of the hot chicken and then had a sip of the sake. He felt a measure of heat through his body from the alcohol and the spiciness of the coating of the chicken. Until now he had despised karage as a food consumed mainly by children and people who did not know any better, but now he saw the appeal. The chicken was soft and juicy, and the delicate batter provided a crunchy contrast to the chicken. He licked his lips.

Noticing the lieutenant was trying to hand him the photos he placed his chopsticks on the rest as he took the photos from her, noting they had been reduced in number. "There are fewer here than last night," was his comment, "Why?"

The lieutenant had just placed a piece of chicken in her mouth and her eyes bulged slightly as she quickly chewed and swallowed. "I haven't removed any person. Those are the candidates you selected last night as possible wives," she said.

He looked at the 10 images left. He didn't recall selecting these potential brides, but on looking closer he noticed they all did appeal to him on some level. They were not all the same type, but each of them seemed to have a small, controlled smile. Wondering about the smile he conveyed a particularly nice piece of pickled turnip to his mouth which provided a satisfactory crunch.

"10 potential brides. Considerably less than when we started," was his observation. "How do you suggest we proceed?"

This time the lieutenant had finished eating something and without the startled expression she replied, "That depends. Which is most important? Her family, education, interests, talents or something else?"

He sipped his sake as he thought about her question as it went to the heart of the matter. It should be family, shouldn't it? Why was he even questioning this? Yet if her interest differed greatly from his it would limit the potential for conversation. Family was paramount and if the family was of the right status then the education should be appropriate. Yet interests did not necessarily arise from education or upbringing. A servant in the household who had influence over a child might encourage a child in their care to develop inappropriate past times. Surely when choosing candidates the nakodo would make certain the interests listed matched the actual interests of the candidate? That was an essential part of their role!

But, if he decided to choose a few candidates he could request more information. He could even use one of the Kuchiki family retainers to check the family and obtain information from neighbours and maybe even members of the household. Choosing the candidates he might be interested in did not create an obligation that he would marry the candidate. He should have remembered this! Realising he was still holding the sake in his mouth from his earlier sip he swallowed it carefully, relief pooling in his stomach. The sake slid down his throat, comforting him.

He noticed Matsumoto was looking at him with one eyebrow raised. He realised he had not answered her question. "A noble family would provide a good education for their children, so it needs to be family and interests," he said with more decisiveness than he felt.

She nodded, casting her eyes down onto the folder she held, seemed to consider it and then raised her eyes to his once again. He liked it when she looked directly into his eyes, but rejected the thought quickly, sipping more sake to break the eye contact. "It will be hard to judge if your interests match as I do not know your interests," she remarked calmly with a slight flicker of humour in her eyes. "I assume your interests range wider than those of a nobleman or a Captain of the Seireitei." She paused and as a small smile passed over her face she added, "You may have a passionate interest in stamp collecting, and from what I have read, none of the candidates share."

He coughed slightly as the sake seemed to catch in his throat. Stamp collecting? Why would anyone think he had an interest in such a mundane subject?

She continued, "Your column in the Seireitei Communication demonstrates your passion for etiquette, from observation I am aware you uphold the rank and dignity of both nobles and the Seireitei and I am aware you have many skills in combat, kido, Shunpo etc. Aside from these interests and your need to control the actions and thoughts of both Rukia and Renji, I know little." She seemed to hesitate for a second before pressing her lips together tightly.

Her list shocked him, especially the comment about Rukia and Renji. He raised his eyes and looked at her, noticing a slight flush to her cheeks. The cup of sake was in her hand being raised to her lips as she stared back at him, a slight touch of defiance in her gaze. "Don't deny it, Captain. It would be a lie and we need to be truthful through this process." Replacing her cup on the table he watched while she ate some more karage and pickles and automatically he followed her movements, thinking about her words.

He could argue with her, demand she treat him with the respect he deserved but knew that it would not help. Her temper would manifest and due to its influence she would leave and no longer assist. The experiment would end and he would lose the opportunity to spend more time with her and create a rapport between them.

Damn it, he wanted her to like him!

Quickly closing his eyes to hopefully provide no indication he was having such thoughts he took a deep breath. It was the sake! It must be the sake that had caused that thought. Also, why was he swearing, even in his thoughts. Was that the sake also?

He opened his eyes, determined not to drink anymore sake. The lieutenant appeared not to notice his brief reverie as she was slowly conveying what appeared to be a lush piece of salmon sashimi to her mouth. It must have been brought to the table in the few seconds he was distracted by his unruly thought.

Food, that was the answer. If he ate more it would counteract the effect of the sake. With haste he picked up his chopsticks and popped a piece of sashimi into his mouth, determined to devour it quickly and a number of other pieces but the flavour made him pause. It was excellent! He savoured the piece and then ate another and another until his platter of sashimi was depleted. However, without thinking about it he had sipped at the accompanying sake which enhanced the flavour of the fish.

"So, Captain, I'll ask again. I know the sashimi is divine and distracting but we still need to establish your interests in order to match them with the potential bride. I believe we can include food as one of the interests," the woman smiled at him as she spoke.

Refusing to allow his emotions to dictate his reaction he quickly said, "Calligraphy, reading classics, many forms of martial combat, cherry blossoms, night time walks, gardens. The normal interests of a noble and a soldier."

As he spoke Matsumoto took notes. He hadn't noticed the pen and ink previously but he watched her write. Her calligraphy was readable but not remarkable. But she took the notes efficiently enough. She quickly picked up the files and looked through them as he idly picked at some crab, prawn, eel and fatty tuna sushi. His appetite was waning but the food was consistently good and made him appear busy even when he wasn't sure what he should do next.

"Music? Dancing? Gardening? Painting? Eating at cafes? Ikebana? Origami? Bonsai? Taiko Drums? Pottery? Pachinko?"

Each words she asked almost made him raise an eyebrow. Pachinko? Was she seriously suggesting he would enter one of those dens of noise, smoke and mediocrity? What noble woman would be interested in Taiko Drums? He noticed she had also missed out on Kyu do, as women traditionally became skilled at archery. Suppressing a sigh he replied, "I have some interest in music and painting but the rest do not appeal to me."

She nodded, made further notes quickly and then removed more than half the folders, placing them with the other folders from the previous day. The move astonished him. Only three folders remained. Only three.

An exhalation of breath drew his attention to her face. For some reason she was smiling. Why was she smiling at him with a look of relief on her face?

"Ask your Nakodo to arrange a meeting with these three candidates. From everything we have discussed these are the most suitable. The best families, good education, similar interests and you selected them as you find them appealing." She picked up her cup of sake, drained it, ate a few quick bites of sushi and rose to her feet.

Automatically he rose also but wondered what she was planning to do. She shocked him by bowing to the correct depth and then said, "I believe I have completed my commission and you have three potential brides who meet your criteria. It is not necessary to invite me to the ceremony or celebration and I hope you find every happiness with your future wife."

She turned, embraced the bar keeper and left, quietly, with little to indicate a reluctance in leaving or the influence of the alcohol upon her. Due to his surprise he didn't attempt to prevent her from leaving and stood there, slightly shocked that the anticipated hours spent in her company had vanished.

He'd her rumours of her incompetence, but they seemed to be greatly exaggerated. What should he do now? What could he do? They'd barely spoken tonight, or at any other time aside from the sparse conversations about choosing a bride. He wanted her to like him, to know more about her, to find out about her relationship with Ichimaru.

"Ranjiku can be decisive and direct," Kataro said from behind, startling him with her words and the reminder of her presence. "She doesn't like everyone to know her too well so hides her abilities so people won't expect too much of her."

Why was she telling him this? Why was she talking to him? He hadn't indicated he wanted to talk to her.

"You must be pleased to have this sorted out already. I'll clear up and go. Good luck with your marriage," she too turned to go.

"Stop," he found himself saying against all his instincts. "Will you talk to me for a few minutes?" he paused for a second and then reluctantly added, only because of the influence of the sake, "Senpai?"

The woman looked at him as if assessing his purpose. Raising an eyebrow she scanned his face and finally nodded. "A few minutes only. I'd like to get back to my bar as soon as possible."

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Entering the room, pleased to be away from the cold wind that had accompanied her on her walk, she took pleasure in the warmth from the braziers in the room. If she had been anywhere else with anyone else she would have shut her eyes and enjoyed the moment, but not in this place with this companion. Companion seemed an odd word to describe the Captain as he was anything but companionable, but then she noticed who had opened the door.

Kataro? Kataro was here? Had the Captain arranged this? If so, why? It seemed out of character. While these thoughts raced through her mind she quickly hugged Kataro, greeting her, words spilling out of her mouth from joy mixed with astonishment. Maybe tonight wouldn't be as torturous as she had feared.

"Ran, where have you been? It's been weeks since you visited me and Shunsui becomes maudlin when he drinks alone?" Ran felt a slight stab of guilt but then remembered that Shunsui was mostly to blame for his current problems. He'd ask for advice, refuse to take it and then drink to cover his dismay at the situation. "Cooking for you will be easy and I have some of your favourite sake, or would you prefer beer with your food? You always say beer helps the digestion," Kataro continued.

She would love a beer. the thought of the tang, bubbles and cool liquid slipping down her throat instead of the perpetual tea she'd been offered here tempted her greatly and she almost asked for one but quickly corrected herself, feeling her shoulders slump. The Captain would not be impressed if she commenced drinking before any work had been started.

"Why don't we both have a beer?" Had she misheard? A quick glance at Captain Kuchiki didn't reveal anything except the normal bland/superior expression his face normally wore. Why did he make that suggestion? Was he feeling unwell? Or was the thought of marriage unnerving him?

How should she react? If she appeared enthusiastic he might withdraw the offer and she would be stuck with tea, decision making and trying to control her tongue. It wasn't easy but she quickly shifted her expression into one he might find suitable and one she usually abhorred. "If you think it is a good idea, Captain, I would enjoy a beer, especially one of such a fine quality as Kataro serves."

The beer was there and without waiting for an invitation, or the invitation to be withdrawn, Ran sat, reaching out for her glass but then stopping. The Captain had made it clear he did not approve of her consumption of alcohol, which made this even more surprising, but if she seemed too eager, he might look at her disapprovingly again. For some reason she hated it when he wore the expression, but quickly reminded herself she had received disapproving looks most of her life. While she didn't like it, it was impossible to stop people from forming their own opinions, no matter how incorrect they were.

The Captain sat down, beside her but fortunately not too close. He drank and without hesitation she also raised her glass. She was not disappointed. It was exactly what she wanted and fulfilled all her expectations. Beer was the nectar of the gods, or one of them. Sake was pretty close too, but for now she was content with her beer, the company of Kataro and the warmth of the room.

"Do you wish to tell me what dishes you would prefer, or will you permit me to select food which best suits the season and the beverages?" Kataro asked the Captain but nodded at Ran also. Without thinking about it Ran began to respond, "You choose...," then stopped, realising she nearly made a major error of judgement. Turning to Byakuya. "I mean if you approve, Captain. Senpai seems to know the food that each person desires." She put effort into trying to make her voice sound deferential and hoped he would ignore her mistake. The man was unpredictable

Kataro knew her preferences and while Ran hoped the bar keeper would be permitted to choose, she did not hold much hope. From her observations, the man was obsessed with control in his work and personal life.

It was hard to keep quiet and await his decision but she gave a slight and hopefully imperceptible nod to Kantaro, who nodded very slightly in reply. She understood. If she served one or two things maybe, just maybe, the Captain might eat, drink and start acting like a person who had blood instead of black ice running through his veins.

Within seconds plates of warmed and seasoned edamame were placed in front of them. "Just a palate cleanser. Normal in a bar," Kataro said and directed a small smile at Ran.

Before it could be taken away, Ran wolfed down some edamame. She loved this with beer at the end of a hard day. If she was stuck helping this man whose his bride she may as well take whatever enjoyment she could! A plate of Rekon chips were placed in front of her and another beer. Sipping her beer she closed her eyes as she ate some chips. This was bliss. She could almost imagine she was in Kataor's bar, except it was far too quiet.

After her moment of bliss she looked through the corner of her eye and noticed that the Captain had finished his beer and eaten all his edamame and had commenced on the chips. Maybe this could work! If his pride and arrogance was slightly diluted by the beer and food he might be more open to the plan she didn't know she'd been working on. She had a solution, one that would work, if he was prepared to listen instead of being unappreciative of sensible suggestions. At least she thought they were sensible.

Not realising she had continued looking at him and noticed his expression had softened and there was almost a look of longing on his face. She felt the beginning of a memory of an reaction she didn't want to identify and pushed away the possibility of the thought or emotion. That was not possible. The man was a hopeless noble whose belief in honour and duty went beyond anything reasonable. A kiss while sleeping meant less than nothing and all her thoughts had been of Gin; not another person.

But for a moment...

She gulped some beer, hoping no one would notice her moment of indiscreet thinking.

The noise of a glass being placed on the table with too much force drew her attention to the Captain again. Was he about to lose his temper? Or would he become the cold, unbending noble she could not understand?

Feeling trapped, she closed her eyes again.

"You choose what we eat, Kataro. We have work to do and we will move over to the table so we can commence. Please serve sake with the food. Sake from Takayama, preferably," the Captain said, with cold authority.

Startled, Ran opened her eyes and sadly realised that her brief pleasure and relaxation were over. Now she would have to work on the files and recommend poor unsuspecting women to be considered as wives. Reluctantly she sat at the table and with a internal sigh, picked up a folder and opened it.

"Do you have any other suggestions to make this process any faster?"

She hid her surprise and joy at the question. Instead of gradually and subtly unfolding her ideas, this was the opportunity to boldly explain the shortcut which would end these evening meetings. Instead of additional work, her treasured freedom would be returned to her.

She paused. The food was good, the sake comforting. Another hour and then she could finalise this and take her leave. Then no one could complain she had not taken her duties seriously and she would be well fed and ready for sleep.

 

A.N.

So delayed by so many things. Sorry KK and a very belated birthday wish.

 

 

 

 



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