Word count: 2667
Summary: Shunsui gets Jyuushiro to judge the Shinigami Women's Association's Curry Contest.
Prompt: springkink -- food as foreplay - In the realm of the senses.
A/N: Thanks for calmingeffects for the concepts for several of the curries. The omake of Jyuushiro and the tree may be found here, here, and here. Thank you, incandescens. I've also made a very oblique reference to the manga Addicted to Curry, but I think it works for the just-Bleach folks too, though probably in an entirely different way. Self-beta'ed so it's all my own fault.
Disclaimer: I do not own nor make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional.
Jyuushiro felt mildly ridiculous as Shunsui settled the cloth over his eyes. "This is so you'll be able to taste things better, Jyuushiro."
"But I like pretty much everything with respect to food, Shunsui," Jyuushiro said patiently. "I would not be a good judge of the Shingami Women's Association curry contest. I have a very hard time deciding between tastes as to which is better. And to be fair, there really should be more than one judge, no?"
Shunsui laughed, "Well, they actually all asked for you to be the judge. Soi Fong made a very formal and rather stiff apology for something she'd done the other day, or so she said. Something about kunai? But she refused to say, exactly, what it was she was doing. She wanted you to judge this contest, partially as an apology from the whole Association. Yachiru chimed in as well, and you know how once she gets an idea in her head, it's just... well..."
Jyuushiro blinked behind the blindfold and then blushed. That whole... tree incident was still fresh enough in his mind. He didn't really want to explain to Shunsui so he subsided. "All right. I'll act as the judge for them if they wish it."
Without his eyes, Jyuushiro could now hear Shunsui moving across the room, the chink of china and wood and bamboo utensils. Gradually his other senses moved in as well, the spicy scent of the various curries made his stomach growl and Jyuushiro sighed in resignation. At least he'd get to eat something. Shunsui's familiar and comfortable reiatsu filled the room, effectively masking the outside world to Jyuushiro's spirit power senses. Gradually Jyuushiro sank into the feeling of the silk against the skin of his eyelids, the feeling of the floor beneath his knees, and the shiver and caress of a breeze from the door.
"Is the door open, Shunsui?" Jyuushiro asked, a little confused.
"Oh. Yes, it is. Just give me a minute. I'm trying to get everything in here. There are five different curries and there seem to be... uhm... nuances to the service." Shunsui said a little doubtfully. Then there was the decisive sound of the door sliding closed.
Jyuushiro swore he heard the faintest of giggles. He raised one eyebrow, turned his face in the direction of the sound and cocked his head. Nothing. He frowned again. "Shunsui?"
"Yes, Jyuushiro. I'm just... hm... plating things is just silly if you can't see what it looks like. You're just supposed to taste it... hm.... okay."
The faintest whuff of air, and Jyuushiro's nostrils widened to take in... was that Matsumoto's perfume? Or?
Suddenly the scent of a curry overwhelmed everything else. A very... uhm... pungent curry.
A spoon edge presented itself to his lips. "Hot!" Jyuushiro yelped and pulled back as the temperature of the metal was far too hot.
"Oh. Hm. Ouch."
Jyuushiro sighed. And then the spoon was stuck back into his mouth. It wasn't too hot anymore, but... the flavors... he wrinkled his nose.
"What does it taste like Jyuushiro?"
Jyuushiro wanted to spit it out when the spoon was taken from his mouth. But after what he'd just said about liking nearly anything... he sighed and took the bite and chewed it. "There's... uhm... still dry bonito shavings, a chunk of barely cooked broccoli, and... oh... kami..." Jyuushiro hoped the agony wasn't showing quite as much on his face as it seemed to be coming out in his voice. "That's sweet adzuki beans isn't it? What in the world is that doing in a curry??"
There was what sounded like the faintest of muffled shrieks, but very close up and Jyuushiro whipped his head around in a vain attempt to identify what was doing that. He reached up for the blindfold and Shunsui's warm, strong hands intercepted his. "No, Jyuushiro. Not yet. Please."
It almost sounded like pleading.
Jyuushiro frowned again. "Shunsui. Is there something you're not telling me?"
He heard a laugh, and the light-hearted tone that followed made him more uneasy than if Shunsui had fallen to his knees and confessed, "Of course not. Why would I do something like that?"
The sound of blowing. "Here. I'm cooling this one off for you a bit. You might like this one better."
Tentatively, Jyuushiro opened his mouth for the new spoonful.
The citrus and chili heat of it burned his sinuses before the explosive bite even hit his tongue. He just didn't have quite enough sense to not take the bite. And when the tender, melting bite of curried fish was in his mouth, the heat bit and flared through his whole head, sinuses and throat all burning as it finally went down. He could feel his eyes running with tears, involuntarily, and then his breathing seized.
Not a tuberculosis fit. His breathing just stopped for a moment from the sheer heat.
Some part of his brain was tearing the sensations down, probably some type of Thai-based curry with the citrus, a bit of sweet, good spicing to balance, and then those insane peppers...
Shunsui thumped him on the back a few times. Jyuushiro frantically shook his head, and then gulped just a little air as his muscles finally were his to command again. He whooped in pain and swept his hands in front of him, frantically looking for a glass of water. There were sounds of an argument, but he was too overwhelmed to be able to understand who was speaking about what. There. Was. No. Water. Finally he could take enough of a breath to say, "Water!!"
A glass of water was pressed into his hands. He gulped most of it down, and wheezed for breath for a while as he sweated. The endorphin rush came after that, and he shivered just a bit, lightheaded with the spread of warmth through his body.
"Gah," he finally said.
"Sorry, Jyuushiro, I have to ask what you thought of it," Shunsui actually did sound rather apologetic.
Jyuushiro wheezed quietly for a few breaths and then coughed a few times as he tried to speak. He used his wheezing half-whisper and hoped Shunsui would lean close enough to hear him. "It was actually quite delicious. Very tender, succulent fish, perfectly cooked vegetables, the broth had the perfect mouth feel, and there was an excellent balance of sweet and sour, salt and other spices, but the... uhm... heat was rather... painful."
He felt Shunsui's hand lay a butterfly's wing of a touch along his hair. "Thank you, old friend," Shunsui whispered, and Jyuushiro wondered, a bit, why Shunsui was whispering when his lungs probably worked just fine. Even after a five alarm curry.
Jyuushiro took a shot of an inhaler that Unohana had given him, and his breathing cleared a bit. Then he just sat there, breathing for a while. When he was finally able to speak in a normal voice again, he said, "This time, Shunsui, fill my water cup before I try the next one?"
"Oh! You're willing to try a few more, still?" Shunsui said, and sounded so grateful that Jyuushiro didn't have the heart to say no.
"Sure, Shunsui, they can't all be that hot, right?"
Another spoon gently touched his lips. He opened his mouth and heard the faintest of sighs as the spoon slid gently into his mouth. Was that Shunsui? He took the bite.
Hmmm... now this wasn't bad at all.
"Jyuushiro, please tell us... uhm... me what you think?" Shunsui's voice was quiet.
"It's a textbook Japanese chicken curry. Rich, but not distractingly so, the gravy is pleasing. Not at all spicy. The chicken is in exactly the size pieces it should be, and the vegetables are... diced?" Jyuushiro wrinkled his forehead in thought. "It's nice, just... rather bland. I like it well enough, though."
Suddenly Jyuushiro was rather horrified at the thought that, maybe, that plain curry was Ise-kun's. He wasn't sure he could face her after damning one of her efforts with such faint praise. But... he sighed, he was here to judge and judge he would. Surely this wasn't as hard a decision as the ones he had to make out on the battlefield? Out there you just dealt with things as they were, not as you might have them be.
Jyuushiro took a drink of water, and then nodded, "Okay, I think I'm ready for the next one, Shunsui."
"This ones a little... hm... lumpy," Shunsui said doubtfully.
"Well, give me a couple of pieces at a time, then, of some of whatever is in it?" Jyuushiro asked.
"All right. Here's the first bit."
Jyuushiro obediently opened his mouth and in slid a cube and something lumpy. It turned out to be cauliflower and... something mealy and sweet... sweet potato? "There's nearly no gravy, but the spices were cooked right onto the surface of the vegetables, and they're lovely, deep, and sweet and just spicy enough to make me warm. The deep husky sweetness of the yam and the lighter creamy sweetness of the cauliflower were beautiful together. May I have a little more, please, Shunsui?"
Shunsui chuckled and more appeared against Jyuushiro's lips. He eagerly took it. It was another cube, but one of the sides was... his ran his tongue over the side and frowned. That couldn't be right. Baka? Why in the world would someone carve "baka" on the side of an orange-colored vegetable?
"Uhm... Shunsui?" Jyuushiro hesitated.
"Are you going to be able to tell me who made which curry after all this?"
This time there really was whispering. Now Jyuushiro wondered who the heck was watching him, and he blushed and wished he could see them. But it seemed very important to them and to Shunsui that he not be able to identify who was watching.
So it didn't surprise him too much when Shunsui said, "Sorry, Jyuushiro. Can't do it."
"Ah well. Okay. One last curry?"
"Yeah. This is it," Shunsui sounded nearly as relieved as Jyuushiro felt.
The spoon came to his mouth and he opened to let it in.
Oh kami of sea and sky...
The sauce that napped the mouthful was of an astonishing depth and richness, richness of taste as well as texture. There were bittersweet undertones of... could it be chocolate or coffee? There was the satisfying mouth feel of real ghee, the sweet breadth of deeply caramelized onions, and all in the complex orchestra of a dozen carefully balanced spices. Fully sweet fennel and buttery cardamom, bitter green fresh cilantro, hints of citrus, the sharpness of chilies, the warmth of ginger, and both the sharp heat of smashed garlic and the roasted nuttiness of gently treated garlic. The beautiful complexity of the sauce touched off every sensation there was in his mouth.
That was when the heat rolled up, introduced itself politely, and hit him. It was intense, but not a killing heat like the previous one. It was a heat that he could just barely stand, a heat that made him break out into a fine sweat. One that would have left him panting if he didn't have a mouthful still to eat.
And that was when Jyuushiro bit into the salty, yielding, sweet, moist interior of the perfectly cooked oyster.
Jyuushiro couldn't help it. He moaned when he swallowed and then panted gently in the aftermath of that heat, in the gentle wash of endorphin bliss that followed. He didn't even reach for his glass of water, it was too perfect. He had to let it all just linger.
Shunsui sounded very concerned, "Uh... Jyuushiro? Are you all right?"
"No," Jyuushiro said quietly. "I am not all right. I have to know who made this last curry. If I declare her the winner of the contest, I'm going to get to know, right? There's some kind of award or something, right?"
"Well, yes. I guess you'll have to know the winner," Shunsui said. "So are you picking..."
"Yes. This is the one." Jyuushiro reached up and pulled off his blindfold.
"Hey! No," Shunsui said, and Jyuushiro saw the entire Shinigami Women's Association in the room with them.
With a glance Jyuushiro saw the adzuki beans and other stuff floating in sauce on a big flowered plate that Matsumoto took to every potluck. He saw the killer fish curry in a delicate Chinese porcelain blue and white dish probably owned by Soi Fong. The very plain curry was in a pristine laboratory liter beaker. The baka yam curry was on Kuchiki china. He met Rukia's eyes and she had the grace to blush. The curry he'd just eaten, though, was a deep, dark mass on a severely plain every-day white plate.
Jyuushiro looked around the room. "Who is the winner?"
Nanao stepped down, neat and perfectly composed. "I am, sir," she said.
Jyuushiro considered dropping to one knee, considered writing poetry, considered offering her marriage, considered a few dozen things that he suddenly realized Shunsui had probably already done and had gotten nothing but slapped for doing. He took a deep breath. Tactics, Jyuushiro, look to your tactics.
Very formally, Jyuushiro asked, "Ise-fukutaichou, would you, perhaps, consider teaching me how to make that dish?"
The very faintest of blushes came to those pale cheeks under those black-rimmed glasses as Nanao shook her head.
"I thought not. Well, in that case may I ask for the rest of this particular incarnation, and perhaps gift you with... say... any scroll or book in my collection you might desire, when I wish for further servings of this dish?"
Shunsui made a very startled sound. Jyuushiro's private collection of everything from cruciform writing on bamboo poles and scholarly scrolls to modern files and books was something he'd jealously guarded for their entire lives. But Jyuushiro ignored his old friend for the moment. Instead he saw the blaze that lit in Nanao's eye and he knew he had her. Then it occurred to him, belatedly, that it might be said that she had him.
Nanao nodded, very slowly. "Well, sir, I wouldn't want to deprive you permanently of any element of your collection, but I would gladly make this dish for you when I wished to borrow or read something from it. Also, you may have the rest of this..." She paused, frowning just a little, "Uhm... incarnation of the dish as our collective apology for... the... uhm..."
Jyuushiro waved his hand, cutting her off. "Yes. Thank you. I find all of that perfectly acceptable."
"Jyuushiro?" There was just the faintest hint of a warning behind Shunsui's question.
"I will... explain later, Shunsui. We need to get this to my kitchen now. Was there some rice?" Jyuushiro peered about. "Ah... here. I'll take this too, then. Here, Shunsui, please bring the rice." He gathered up the plain plate very carefully and bowed to the Association. "Thank you, ladies."
Just as they were about to flash step out of there, Jyuushiro heard Yachiru complain, "But he didn't describe how that one tasted!"
And it was Nanao who said, "That was probably for the best, Yachiru-chan." Just as they flashed out.
When they got to his captain's apartment, he slid one dark mouthful between Shunsui's mobile lips and that was all the explaining Jyuushiro had to do. After two mouthfuls, Shunsui confessed that the Association had actually told Shunsui to make Jyuushiro the judge or else he would have had to have been the one to make the decisions. It was after the third bite that neither of them cared anymore, they were just grateful for all that they had together, in the privacy of Jyuushiro's rooms.