Chocolate of Love
The life of a gourmet hunter could, at times, be one of regular strife. Coco had learned a long time ago that his hunting was vastly more successful when he took the opportunities to relax where he could find them. There was therapy in slow, simple things - reading a book, telling a fortune for strangers who would never hear how well their day would go, preparing a good meal that didn’t necessarily determine the fate of his life. And sometimes it was nice just to sit in a comfortable chair with affable company and do nothing.
That company had rarely changed since the days of his childhood. The Heavenly Kings had always been his closest companions. Sunny especially, of late, had been a constant fixture in his life, but then, there was a certain unifying factor in their lives these days that inevitably brought them together. They felt the same way about the same woman.
“Can we help you, Shiroitora?” Coco asked.
She had been standing on the porch for the past several minutes in stony silence, glaring at Sunny, who was simply smiling at her pleasantly. Coco detected a hint of mischief in the expression, which probably meant that he was courting a horrible death right about now.
Their friend shot him a bladed look and then huffed loudly, storming back into the house at a gale force. The door banged so hard it rattled the entire porch.
“What have you done this time?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Sunny insisted.
“Would you be offended if I told you that I didn’t believe you?”
He held out the box of chocolates in his hand, offering them to the other man. Sunny shook his head, his hair catching the sun and glowing with an opalescent sheen.
“I’m waiting,” he said, patting his stomach, and leaving Coco wondering what exactly it was that he was waiting for, “where did you get those, by the way?”
“They were a gift from Shiroitora, actually. She left them on the table with a note that had my name on it.”
“You don’t find her delivery method a little on the impersonal side. Did you forget what day it was?”
“No, I know its Valentine’s Day. But I understand that she has ... problems. She’s always been able to speak her mind, but she struggles when it comes to speaking from her heart. But I sympathise. You know it hasn’t always been easy for me either.”
Sunny nodded. They both knew that the course of Coco’s life had been irrevocably changed by the poisons running through his body. They had made interacting with others difficult, dangerous, potentially even lethal. Shi-Chan herself had almost been the victim of those poisons.
He had always been fearful that the incident would drive a wedge between them, make him unable to be honest about how he felt about her. The fact that she had given him a gift at all on Valentine’s Day, regardless of how she had gone about it, was enough for him. It showed the depth of feeling she had, no matter how difficult it was for her to show it. He’d have done the same in her position.
“She might have bought them as a social obligation, Coco. Don’t forget that Valentine’s Day is as much about manners as it is about affection.”
“I know how she feels. I don’t need to press the issue. It would just embarrass her.”
“How would you know unless she told you herself, in her own words? I intend to find out for certain.”
Sunny laughed. “And you’re far too gentile for your own good, old friend. You’ll never convince Shi-Chan to come out of her shell and acknowledge her feelings if you wear those kid gloves all the time. She’s a hunter. She’s used to dealing with challenges and harsh realities, and you know it. I fail to see how simply being honest could cause trouble. Honesty to oneself and one’s companions is the only way to achieve harmonious relationships.”
He spoke those words with the surety of a true believer. Sunny had always been in pursuit of harmony in every walk of life. It had informed his full course menu more than any other consideration, it had determined his choice of travelling companions, and the woman he had eventually fallen in love with.
“This never-ending search for harmony is going to lead to you having a very interesting day.”
A sly smile appeared on Sunny’s lips. “One can always hope.”
The sound of Shiroitora crashing through the house came closer, and then she burst through the door. Her face was red and she was breathing heavily, though probably not from exertion. She shot Coco a glare.
“Didn’t you say you were going to look around the cape for ingredients today?” she asked.
He couldn’t remember saying anything of the sort, but he did catch the unsubtle subtext in what she was saying. She didn’t want an audience for what was about to come next. She was clutching something that looked like a box of chocolates behind her back in a white-knuckle death grip.
He opened his mouth to agree and say his goodbyes, only Sunny beat him to it. “I’m sure you can do that later, Coco.”
He hesitated, torn between the two of them. He had no desire to make this any more difficult for Shi than it already was, but Sunny seemed to think that this would help her. They had both been his friends for the longest time.
He decided, against his better judgement, to stay where he was, despite the daggers he was receiving in abundance from Shi.
She turned to Sunny, defeated, and produced the box of chocolates, bowing her head. “Take ‘em.”
“I certainly hope those aren’t giri-choco, Shi-Chan. I won’t accept courtesy chocolate, only chocolate that has the beauty of love.”
Shi had gone very red. She was practically glowing. Coco couldn’t tell if it was embarrassment or rage. He assumed it was both. Lots and lots of both. But especially rage. That horrible death that Sunny had been courting looked as though it was about to come calling.
“I won’t take that box unless it has some kind of meaning, Shi-Chan,” he reiterated.
“It does, alright! It’s a Valentine’s gift!” She threw it at him and he caught it before it could hit him in the face. “Why couldn’t you just take it off the table like Coco did?!”
She turned to stalk back into the house. Without turning his head, Sunny snaked a lock of his shimmering hair around her wrist and pulled her back to their seat, dragging her backwards into his lap where he curled an arm around her. She fought him for a few moments, half-heartedly, then settled for simply folding her arms and scowling while he held her.
Coco touched her back gently and felt her relax, ever so slightly. “Thank you, Shiroitora.”
“And Happy Valentine’s Day,” Sunny added.
Shi scowled at him, but she did at least seem a little more comfortable.
“And next month I promise sanbai gaeshi for White Day,” he insisted.
Shi tore the ribbon from Sunny’s box of chocolates and began helping herself to the contents. “At least,” she said, through a mouthful of praline.
Ranmaru the Jerk
The knock at the door felt like someone taking a jackhammer to his skull. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been unconscious, but it felt way too early to be waking up again.
He’d collapsed across his bed. One sandaled foot was still hanging over the edge of the spread and his hand was resting on the top of his bedside cabinet. At least he’d managed to drag a pillow under his face before he’d passed out. He rubbed the crust off his eyes with his palm and sat up as the knocking came again.
“Just a sec,” he grunted, tacking on a curse as he knocked his zanpakuto over in its sheath. Apparently he’d decided that propping it against the bed was the way to go when he’d got in last night.
He’d pushed himself particularly hard last night. For a change, it hadn’t just been blade training the whole evening. He’d been so into it he hadn’t noticed everyone else clearing out one after another until it was just him. By the time he’d been ready to give it up, it had been dark. Long dark. Fatigue had set in and he’d been practically a zombie walking home.
He wasn’t necessarily in the mood for visitors. Obviously, it depended on who the visitor was.
He opened the door and Pandora rushed in like a cool, head-clearing breeze, smelling like spring.
“Good morning,” she trilled, tapping him on the nose as she brushed past. He wished he’d been in a good enough mood to appreciate her cheer. Or appreciate her at all. A lot of the time it felt like she had a lot to offer that he simply didn’t have the right attitude to enjoy.
Of course, he knew what the advice would have been, from anyone he might have asked. Not that he ever would. Don’t feel like you deserve her? Better make it so you do.
She marched straight to the windows and threw the drapes open. Achingly bright daylight rushed in to fill up the dark spaces of his room. He didn’t like it so much. The light made it easy to see all the stains on the floor and how broken most of his possessions were. In fact, the only things it flattered were his zanpakuto and her.
“I really don’t understand how you live like this,” she said, picking up debris from the floor and tossing it onto the bed. He knew what she was planning. There’d be no sleeping until he fixed up his room.
“Pandora, don’t you have your own room to clean up? Why do you have to keep cleaning mine?”
“I’d happily leave it if there was someone else who’d do it,” she informed him, dumping an armful of dirty clothes into his arms meaningfully, “know anyone?”
He sighed as she stooped to grab more loose clothes and toss them onto the pile he was holding.
“Besides. We’re a couple, aren’t we? Shouldn’t we spend a day together every once in a while? There are some perks to having a girlfriend, you know?”
All of a sudden, he found himself wishing the bed was free. But he supposed there was no harm in building up to that. The main reason he let his room wind up that way was simply because he didn’t spend so much time there. He slept and he ate there, sometimes, but mostly he was training or on mission. Although, he’d probably have spent a lot more time there if he’d had her company more often.
She started sorting a selection of random trinkets gathered from beside the bed into the cabinet. Her hand closed around the handle to the middle drawer and his eyes widened. He suddenly remembered why he didn’t want her looking in there.
“What’s the real reason you’re here?” he asked. He blurted the question out before he could really think about how it sounded, but once it was past his lips he had to live with it. “You didn’t just come around here to clean, did you? Why are you poking around my room?”
He wondered if maybe she’d figured out what he was hiding, but how? It wasn’t like he’d told anyone else - who would he tell? - and the chances of her guessing had to be in the millions. There had to be some other reason, and it made him suspicious.
She sighed. “Did you really forget what day it is?”
The oblivious expression on his face probably told her better than if he’d actually answered. The problem was, he didn’t even know what the date was, so naturally it was difficult to recall what the occasion might be. She stood, tapping her foot, arms folded over her chest, while the cogs turned slowly behind his eyes.
“It’s White Day,” she said eventually, “I thought you said you want to be serious about being a couple, Ranmaru. How could you forget?”
He stammered, casting around for something he might be able to present to her as a gift. White chocolate and marshmallows were pretty common fare for White Day. Only he didn’t have any of that just sitting around his room. Or did he.
He knocked a couple of training manuals from the top of his trunk and grabbed the box of chocolates he remembered had been sitting there the past few weeks. He held it up in front of his chest like a heart-shaped shield.
“Here. See? Didn’t forget.”
She cocked her head, looking unimpressed, and held out a hand. He passed her the box. She pulled off the lid and wrappers fluttered out. There were only a couple of them left, the ones he didn’t like. The ones she didn’t like either, come to think of it.
“This is the same box I got for you last month!” she yelled, tossing the box at his head angrily. He batted it away, and then had to retreat backwards across the room as more missiles came flying in his direction.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, okay?” he said, dodging projectiles as she rapidly began to clear off all the things she’d put on his bed.
To be honest, he was glad she was throwing things. Her aim was bad, and chances were if she’d punched him she might have killed him. Or at least smashed him through the roof.
His opinion changed when she started throwing things from the nightstand, and when her hand dipped into the half-open drawer she’d been about to rummage through earlier, he practically leapt at her to stop her from throwing what was in it.
She didn’t throw it. The moment she pulled it out of the drawer, she seemed to realise that it wasn’t something to be thrown around.
She opened her hand and dangled the pendant by its chain, gazing at it with wide eyes. It was white gold, which probably meant it was appropriate for today. The design was almost a ying-yang, a circle divided through the middle by a snaking line, only one half was red and the other blue. They came apart and formed two different chains.
“I found it in a pawn shop a few days back. Wanted to give it to you. The clasp’s broken though. I wanted to fix it first.”
He took a hesitant step forward and, when she didn’t attack, came close enough to reach out and touch her hand.
“Back when I was playing at being a ladies’ man, I used to give all the girls cheap gifts around this time of year. They never meant anything, but I did it anyway. I wouldn’t do something like that to you. Buy you something cheap just because, I mean. When I saw this, I knew I could make something good out of it. Truth is, I forgot all about White Day. I bought it just because I wanted you to have it.”
In a way, the pendant had reminded him of her. She’d taken something broken down and rough around the edges and she’d turned it into something worthwhile. The least he could do was fix up a piece of old jewellery for her.
“You can have it today if you want, but it’s not ready yet.”
She held her hand out towards him and let him take the pendant from her. He clutched it tightly. The section of the chain she’d been holding was still warm from her fingers.
“Just give it to me when you’re ready,” she said, looking solemn, halfway between touched and apologetic, “I’m sorry for spoiling the surprise.”
She looked up and favoured him with a soft smile. He felt himself melt. Although, he was a little surprised when she grabbed him in a headlock and started grinding her knuckles into his scalp.
“You were going to let me go away thinking that you were a jerk, you jerk!”
“Ow! Ow! Pandora, stop! I’m sorry, okay?!”
“No! Not okay! I’m not letting you off that easy! The least you can do is come out and spend the day with me in the sunshine instead of hiding in your room like some kind of vampire!”
He swore as she dragged him out of his room, and he realised that he was going out on a date with his girlfriend, and he didn’t get a say in the matter.