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Title: The Trials of Nanao Ise
Genre: Romance/Drama
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Spoilers: Through manga chapter 423
Status: Ongoing
Rating:R
Summary: Nanao will face the consequences of her decisions during and after the Arrancar War. Can she overcome these trials, or will they divide her from Captain Kyōraku forever? Canon compliant through manga chapter 423.
Contains: Mentions of domestic physical abuse.

Back to Chapter 27.
Chapter 1.

The party was louder than expected, and Nanao was glad they’d gotten a private room.  There was food and drink piled high on the long table, and members of the SWA sat around it, most of them engrossed in conversation.  Kiyone waved a chicken leg for emphasis as she spoke to her sister Isane, the grease on the chicken precariously close to dripping on Soi Fon’s leg.  Soi Fon didn’t notice the jeopardy of her situation, as she was listening reverently to Yoruichi Shihōin.
 
Rukia and Hinamori weren’t here, but otherwise it was a full house.  Even Yachiru chattered away at Captain Unohana, drinking tea and eating cookies.  Nanao smiled to herself.  If this was the last time she would be with the SWA, she was glad her association with the group would end on this high note.  The SWA had been an important part of her life for many years and she would be sad when there were no more meetings for her to plan, no more members to wrangle into line, and no more fundraisers to organize.  Her smile slipped a little on her face.
 
“Nanao-san, I believe I should inform you that the fruit drink that was presented as non-alcoholic is actually full of alcohol.”  Nemu’s soft voice startled Nanao, and she turned her head to face the woman sitting next to her.  She was dressed as a schoolgirl from Karakura town, which confused Nanao slightly; but then, many members had used somewhat liberal interpretations of Living World dress.  Nanao suspected Rangiku had advised Nemu on selecting appropriate attire.
 
“I’m certain it’s spiked also, Nemu-san, but thank you for telling me.”  Nanao took a sip of the fruit drink in question.
 
“Is it alright for our members to be unaware their drinks are full of alcohol?”  Nemu tipped her head.
 
“I’m sure that our members can tell that the drinks are spiked, but even if they don’t realize right away, it’s fine.  I’ve made arrangements for escorts to help any members who overindulge home afterwards.  Besides, it’s a party.”  She smiled a little at Nemu.
 
“A party?”  Nemu studied the contents of her drink.  “This is the appropriate behavior for a party?”
 
“At a party, you may behave in a manner outside of your usual one, if you so desire.”
 
“That’s interesting, Nanao-san.  The normal behavior for a party is abnormal behavior?”
 
“Hmm.  I don’t know that I would say that.  But we’re among friends, and we’re celebrating our survival of a great battle.  At a time like this, it’s acceptable to relax professional standards.”  Nanao picked up a cake shaped like a maple leaf.
 
“I see.  I will try to fully embody and experience this ‘party’ behavior.”  Nemu raised her drink and gulped it down.
 
Nanao’s eyes were drawn to bruises on Nemu’s arm, revealed when she raised her drink and her long sleeves slipped back.  The bruises were clear impressions of fingers; someone had grabbed her arm and squeezed it very hard.  “Nemu-san.”
 
Nemu followed Nanao’s eyes.  She drew her sleeve down over her wrist.  “It’s unimportant, Nanao-san.  I make so many mistakes, and I could ruin Mayuri-sama’s critical research with my clumsiness.  It’s only natural for him to be angry with me.”
 
“Nemu-san, you don’t have to accept treatment like this, not even from your father.  If you ever want to leave the Twelfth, you have friends who can help you.  My captain and Captain Ukitake would both help you, and they could easily protect you from your father.  You are an important member of the Gotei 13, and you shouldn’t be abused by anyone.”  Nanao tentatively laid her hand over Nemu’s.
 
“I have friends?”  Nemu’s eyes were wide.
 
“Friends.  Nemu-san, when you do activities with the SWA members, when you attend meetings, do you ever feel warm and comfortable in our company?”
 
Nemu nodded.  “I have felt something like that, sometimes.  I thought perhaps it was a body temperature failure or a chest malfunction, although such problems are unlikely, given my superior construction.”
 
Nanao smiled.  “That’s a feeling you get when you’re with people you want to be around, and who want to be around you.  That’s a feeling of happiness, and it’s a sign of friendship.  We’re your friends, Nemu-san, all of us.”  She waved a hand at the room.
 
“But I cannot leave the Twelfth Division.  Mayuri-sama needs me, and even though he can be a monster, he’s my father.”  Nemu looked down at her lap.
 
Nanao was silent for a long moment.  “I understand, Nemu-san, but if you ever decide you want to leave the Twelfth, please come to me, or if I can’t be found, please go to my captain.  We’ll help you with the necessary arrangements.  Or go to any of the people in this room, or Captain Ukitake, if you can’t find Captain Kyōraku.  More people care about you than you seem to think, Nemu-san.”
 
Nemu smiled, a very slight upturn of her lips.  “You are very kind, Nanao-san.”
 
Nanao shook her head.  “That’s not it.  I’m your friend.”
 
“Thank you, Nanao-san,” Nemu said, and Nanao thought she might have seen the sheen of tears in her eyes, but Nemu looked down for a moment and when she brought her eyes back up to Nanao’s, her face was as serene as a doll’s.
 
“Look at you two, being so serious!  This is a party, isn’t it?”  Rangiku plopped herself down between them, a cup of fruit drink in her hand.
 
Nanao smiled.  “I was just telling Nemu-san that we’re her friends.”
 
Rangiku poked Nemu in the shoulder.  “Of course we’re your friends!  Didn’t you know that already?  Anyway, the games are going to start soon, so you’d better get ready.”
 
Nanao jumped.  “Games?  What games?  I didn’t plan any games.”
 
Rangiku grinned.  “I thought you might overlook it, so I took the liberty of preparing some party games for everyone to play.  It’s going to be so much fun.”  She stood and moved to the center of the room, raising her arms for attention.
 
Nemu leaned towards Nanao.  “Strangely, when Rangiku-san said that, my stomach became unsettled,” she whispered.
 
“Mine too,” Nanao said.
 
***********************************************************
 
The Women’s Association party ran later than Shunsui had expected.  The volume levels from the private room were odd—it would be very quiet for minutes, and then suddenly burst into a loud explosion of shouting and laughing.
 
“What do you think they’re doing in there?” Ukitake looked at the door to the room curiously.
 
“Who knows?  If I had to guess, I’d say they might be playing games.  It can’t be anything too bad—Nanao-chan and Retsu-san wouldn’t let something like that happen.”  Shunsui picked up a pork bun and took a bite.
 
“It’s so late.  I’d be surprised if any of them make it to work on time tomorrow.”
 
Shunsui shrugged.  “It’s good to be late to work now and then.  It means you have an interesting life.”
 
“By that measure your life must be exceedingly interesting.” 
 
“Right now, it definitely is.”  The door to the private room opened.  The members of the SWA trickled out, most of them swaying like trees in a strong breeze.  “And getting more interesting by the minute.”
 
“Indeed.  Ah!”  Ukitake exclaimed as he was accosted suddenly by Kiyone.
 
“Captain!  Captain Ukitake!  This is my captain!”  She pulled on his sleeve and gestured widely.
 
“Yes, that’s Captain Ukitake,” Unohana said, smiling indulgently.
 
Shunsui stepped over to Nanao, whose cheeks were a delightful pink.  “Lovely, lovely Nanao-chan.  It looks like you had a good time at the party.”
 
“If you are implying that I am drunk, it seems you may be correct.  It is entirely her fault,” she snapped, jerking her head at Rangiku.
 
“It wouldn’t have happened if you would have just spilled some details, Nanao-san!  This is the price you pay for being so bad at the game!”  Rangiku laughed and stumbled a bit.  Nemu steadied her and Rangiku threw an arm around her.
 
Nanao sniffed and walked towards the exit with the careful stiffness of a drunk.  Shunsui followed after her, darting a glance back at Ukitake.
 
“Don’t worry, Kyōraku, we’ll make sure everyone gets home safely.”  Ukitake scratched the back of his head, smiling.  Kiyone had passed out on his feet.
 
Unohana nodded at Shunsui, and he left the restaurant in time to wrap an arm around Nanao’s waist and save her from a fall. 
 
“There was a rock,” she said.
 
“Of course, Nanao-chan.  Did you have a good time at the party?”
 
“Yes, until the last game started.”  She sighed. 
 
“What kind of games did you play, Nanao-chan?”  He shifted his hand until he could rest it on her bare back.  She was elegant and pale in the moonlight, and he thought—not for the first time—that this was the light Nanao belonged in.
 
“There were no scheduled games.  Rangiku-san prepared games without consulting me.  They were very silly anyway, and they seemed designed entirely to create an excuse for lots of drinking.”
 
“And my Nanao-chan was bad at the games?  How unusual.”  It was a surprise; Nanao excelled at any intellectual tasks, including most games, when she could be drawn into play. 
 
“I was quite good at the guessing games and word games.  There was only one that presented a problem.  But really, I’m not even sure you can call something where you answer questions or take a drink a game at all; I think Rangiku-san started that one only because most of the other members were no longer capable of the coordinated thought necessary for the linguistic challenges.”  She pressed her glasses up.  Her words were a little slurred at the edges and her movements a bit exaggerated, but otherwise drunken Nanao was just like his everyday Nanao.
 
Shunsui smiled.  It did raise an interesting question, though.  “What was the game that you failed at?”
 
She gave him a sharp look over her glasses, ignoring that her feet needed to move to keep walking.  He supported her easily until she remembered to take steps again.  “I did not fail.  Don’t say something like that.  As if I would fail at a stupid party game.  I chose not to answer, which had the unfortunate consequence of this state of inebriation.”
 
“Of course you didn’t fail.  My mistake.  What did you choose not to answer, Nanao-chan?”
 
“That’s private,” she said primly, and the light flush on her cheeks went scarlet.
 
But now he simply had to know.  “Nanao-chan—”
 
“No.”
 
“Lovely, lovely Nanao-chan, if you just—”
 
“I will not.”
 
“Sweet, precious Nanao-chan, your Shunsui would like to know—”
 
“Stop asking.”
 
“But my beautiful Nanao-chan—”
 
“You’re as bad as Rangiku-san!  I am not talking about that kiss, so stop asking!”  She poked him hard in the chest, her brows drawn together. 
 
“What kiss aren’t you talking about, Nanao-chan?”  He felt a burning curiosity and a small sting in his chest; what if it wasn’t about him?  She’d been inexperienced with men when their relationship started, but that didn’t mean no one else had ever tried to move in on his Nanao.  Men could be very, very stupid, he knew that well, and Nanao was so private.
 
Her frown deepened when she realized what she’d said.  “Oh, damn.  Damn Rangiku-san, I will seriously hurt her later.  No, I’ll teach Captain Hitsugaya a warding kidō to put around all the sake stashes in the Tenth, so she can’t get into them.”
 
“You’re scary, Nanao-chan.”
 
“It’s justice.”  She smiled up at him, small and full of dark intent.  “She deserves to suffer a little.”
 
“Maybe so.  But you can plan your vengeance later.  What kiss was she asking about?”
 
She sighed and glanced up at his face, which provoked another sigh.  Her shoulders settled into what he knew to be her resigned posture.  “My first kiss.”
 
The sting in his chest pricked him, a tiny puncture.  It was unrealistic to imagine that Nanao had never had any involvement with men before, but to actually hear about it was something different.  Hypocritical of him, he knew, given how little effort he’d put into keeping his private life private over the years.  “What was your first kiss, Nanao-chan?”
 
She looked up at him closely, as if she could hear the sting in his chest through his words, though he was sure his tone had been even and mild.  “It was with you,” she said softly.
 
The sting left his chest.  “On the porch the night you asked for a relationship?”
 
“I did not ask you for a relationship.  I merely suggested that if it were mutually agreeable, we could enter a short term trial for a relationship, which is not the same thing at all.”
 
The difference wasn’t particularly clear to Shunsui, but it was best not to argue these small points with her.  There was nothing wrong with Nanao asking him to have a relationship that he could see, but obviously there was a line in her head that it would cross.  He nodded and said nothing, which seemed safest.
 
“Anyway it wasn’t about that night.  That would have been fine.  Though it is still very unlikely I would have opted to tell the SWA.”
 
“Nanao-chan?  Last week was the first time we kissed, wasn’t it?”  He ran through different memories quickly, near misses and kisses to the cheek and hanging moments that went on forever, but he couldn’t find anything that his precise Nanao would call a kiss.
 
She looked down at the ground.  “This is so embarrassing.  Last week, that wasn’t the first time.  Damn Rangiku-san.  She’s really, really going to pay for this.”
 
He stopped them on the street and lifted her chin.  “Please tell me, Nanao-chan.  When—”
 
Her lashes swept down to hide her eyes.  “It was a long time ago.  The first time I went on a date.  You don’t remember.”
 
It was perhaps twenty years after she became his vice captain, then.  He didn’t remember; there was a blank spot in his memories of that night between when he’d gone out with Ukitake to drown his sorrow at Nanao’s date and when he’d been woken up by Nanao with a glass of cold water on his face, late for an early meeting with Yama-jii.  “I think I’d like the whole story, sweetheart.”
 
“I know.”  She drew in a deep breath.  “I went on a date with a shinigami from the Fifth Division.  But it’s what happened afterwards that matters.”
 
Twenty Years After Nanao Became Vice Captain
 
Nanao hesitated at the entrance to the bar.  She spotted her captain immediately; he was always easy to find in a crowd, his size and attire distinguishing him immediately.  His back was to Nanao, and a flash of white told her he was with Captain Ukitake.  Perhaps it would be best if she just left him and hoped he would make it home on his own.  A sharp elbow to the back sent her stumbling into the room, and she turned her head to give Rangiku a dirty look.
 
She moved back towards the door, but a flash of movement caught her eye—Captain Ukitake had seen her and was waving her over.  She allowed herself a moment of murderous thought towards Rangiku and then moved through the crowd to the table occupied by Captain Ukitake and Captain Kyōraku.  At the table she stood beside her captain, her back angled towards him.  Ukitake started to speak: “Good evening, Is—”
 
“Oh?  Ukitake, do you know this ravishing lady?  She must join us, then!  Join us!”  His invitation was full of the pleasure of a happy drunk, and he grasped Nanao’s hand to tug it towards him. 
 
Her back stiffened.  Was she so unmemorable that he could not recognize her shape in a yukata with her hair loose?  He hadn’t seen her face yet, but he should know her anyway, shouldn’t he?  “Captain Kyōraku, if you do not remove your hand from me, I will remove your hand from your body.”  She turned her head to glare at him, adjusting her glasses with one hand.
 
If anything, the pleasure in his face only increased.  “It’s Nanao-chan!  Lovely, lovely Nanao-chan.  Didn’t you have a date with that boy from Fifth Division?”
 
“That was hours ago, captain.  Do you know what time it is, sir?  Are you aware that you have a personal meeting with the captain commander in the morning?”  Exasperated, she tried to pull her hand away from his, but he wouldn’t release it.  Nanao suffered the indignity of a brief tug of war before Captain Ukitake stepped in.
 
“Kyōraku, let go of her hand, you’re being rude to Ise-san.”  He smiled genially, but there was a knowing look in his eyes as he watched them that made Nanao fight down a flush.
 
“I wouldn’t be rude to Nanao-chan.  I love my Nanao-chan.  Nanao-chan is being cruel to me,” he said, and made a pouty face. 
 
Nanao sighed.  He either hadn’t bothered with or wasn’t capable of keeping his voice down, and several shinigami were regarding them with interest.  “How drunk are you, sir?”
 
He smiled widely at her.  “Very!”
 
Ukitake nodded.  “Very,” he said.  “I am sorry, Ise-san, I was unaware he had a meeting in the morning.”
 
“Please don’t apologize, Captain Ukitake, this is certainly not your fault.”  Nanao studied the crowd, trying to calculate the best way of navigating an extremely drunk captain through the ocean of bodies.
 
“That’s right, Ukitake, it’s not your fault.  It’s Nanao-chan’s fault!” 
 
Nanao turned to face him, her eyes narrowed.  Her captain was smiling at her and his voice was cheerful, but underneath there was an edge she hadn’t noticed before.  “Please refrain from blaming your actions on me, sir.  Can you stand?”
 
He stood, his huge frame dwarfing her.  “Nanao-chan.”
 
“Please excuse us, Captain Ukitake.  I am sorry to have interrupted your evening.”  Nanao bowed slightly to him.
 
“Not at all.  Ah, Ise-san?  Please don’t be too hard on him.”  Ukitake smiled and scratched the back of his head.
 
Nanao flushed and nodded stiffly.  He made it sound as if she were an aggrieved woman instead of a professional vice captain.
 
She led Captain Kyōraku through the bar with a firm grip on his haori.  He followed her without a protest, ignoring the calls and waves from people he knew.  Outside of the bar Nanao walked him to a quieter section of the street to evaluate his condition.  His cheeks were reddened and he swayed a bit on his feet, like a tall tree in the wind.  Shunpo might be risky in his condition; he could flash step so far and so quickly that without a clear head he could end up out in Rukongai passed out in a dangerous district, or lost in Seireitei miles from his intended destination.  “We’ll walk.”
 
Captain Kyōraku stuck an arm out expectantly, but Nanao raised an eyebrow and sighed so that he would know she disapproved of this.  Yet she still allowed him to throw his arm over her shoulders while she braced her arm around his waist.  He impeded their progress by leaning over to sniff at her head. 
 
“What are you doing?”
 
“Nanao-chan smells good.”
 
“You do not,” she snapped, and it was true; he smelled of sake and cheap perfume and smoked foods, just as the bar had.
 
“Nanao-chan’s hair is down.”
 
“So?”
 
“Nanao-chan is wearing a lovely yukata.”
 
“I may wear whatever I please after working hours, sir.”
 
“Nanao-chan looks so beautiful.”  The arm over her shoulders shifted to allow his hand to stroke the fabric of her sleeve.
 
Nanao swallowed, uncertain.
 
“Nanao-chan didn’t dress up for me.  Nanao-chan dressed up for that scrawny boy with the bad haircut in the Fifth Division.”
 
“His name is Hajime-san.”
 
“Oh?  And how was Nanao-chan’s date with Hajime-san?”  He halted suddenly, and Nanao was thrown off-balance.  She didn’t fall, of course; he caught her easily, even in his drunken state.
 
“We’re going,” she snapped.  She tried to urge him forward by tugging on his waist.
 
“But I want to know about Nanao-chan’s date.”
 
“You can be so ridiculous.”  Still, he would not move.  Nanao sighed heavily for his benefit, but he was untouched.  He was capable of an incredible level of persistence and patience, and she weighed the irritation of placating his curiosity with her desire to get him home soon so that she could go to bed for a few hours.  “Hajime-san was perfectly nice.”
 
“Are you going to keep dating that boy?”  There was a dark thread under his idle curiosity, the same edge she’d noticed in the bar.
 
“Whether I have a relationship with Hajime-san or not, you may rest assured that my work will be unaffected.”  She glanced at his face, but it was covered in shadows.
 
“He’s not worth having a relationship with if your work would be unaffected, Nanao-chan.”
 
“I don’t understand your meaning.  Personal relationships of any kind have never impacted my work.  Can we please go now, captain?”  She walked a few steps, trying to move him forward.
 
“When you have a lover, Nanao-chan, even a person as responsible as you should be late to work sometimes.  If you aren’t, then you don’t have a very good lover.”  He’d allowed her to start walking him again, though the pace was slow.
 
“This is an inappropriate conversation for us to have.”  She was sure her face was red; she couldn’t talk about this, not with him, not when he was the man in her secret dreams.
 
“On the contrary, Nanao-chan, this is an important conversation for us to have, since you are now seeking a lover.”
 
A few people were passing them on the road, and Nanao waited until they were gone to answer.  “Are you insane?  I am not seeking a lover,” she hissed.
 
“But you’re seeing this boy, Hajima—”
 
Now she stopped in the road.  “I am not seeing Hajime-san.  I went on one date—one date—with him.”
 
“You said you liked him.”
 
“I did not!  I said he was perfectly nice.”  Her teeth were gritted so tightly her jaw popped on some of the words.
 
“Exactly.  That means you’ll date him again.  Then you’ll be seeing each other, and you’ll be lovers—”
 
Nanao clamped her hand over his mouth so hard her skin made a slap against his.  “Stop.  Stop now.  This is so inappropriate there aren’t even words for how incredibly inappropriate this is.  We are not talking about this.  We are not.”
 
She gradually pulled her hand away from his mouth and stepped back to his side to brace him for walking.  They moved forward in silence for several minutes.
 
“Ukitake says I have to allow this if it’s what you want.”  He sounded dubious about his friend’s advice.
 
“Dating isn’t something I require your permission for, captain.”  They were nearly to the Eighth Division, though their pace was so slow that it might still take long minutes to arrive.
 
“Nanao-chan is breaking my heart.”  His tone was so solemn that she felt his words like a sword through her chest.  Did he really mean that?  Sometimes when he drank he would become sentimental; even if the words rang true, as these ones did, he could simply mean he wanted her to stay a child.  The sword plunged a little deeper into her at that thought.
 
Still, it hurt her to cause him suffering; unlike his empty floral declarations, her love was real and strong, however much she might wish it to be otherwise.  No amount of dating would change the loyalty of her heart.  She coughed to relieve the tightness of her throat.  “You’re making too much out of nothing.  I didn’t even want to go on the date.”
 
At this he focused intently on her face, but she would not turn to him; let him decipher whatever he liked from her profile.  “You didn’t want to go?”
 
“Rangiku-san insisted it would be good for me.”  She didn’t add the other part of Rangiku’s argument: that Nanao should try to move past her love for Captain Kyōraku if she wouldn’t act on it.
 
“Rangiku-san?  But you said the boy was nice.”
 
“He was nice.  He was also dull, fascinated by ornithology, and he corrected my manners at dinner.”
 
“Unforgivable,” her captain said, and his voice was full of relief and amusement.
 
“I will not be seeing Hajime-san again, not because of your objections, but because I do not wish to see him again.”  Nanao was tremendously grateful to reach the Eighth Division gates; she sighed when they entered the courtyard.
 
“Absolutely, Nanao-chan.  A man who corrects a woman at dinner has no chivalry at all.”  She could hear the smile on his face in his words.
 
Nanao shook her head and tried to calculate the odds that he would not remember this conversation in the morning.  It was more than a fair chance; to be too drunk for shunpo required a very heavy level of drinking that her captain rarely entered.  Occasionally anniversaries of some past event would drive him to this—he was particularly bad around the date of Vice Captain Yadōmaru’s disappearance—but there was nothing like that at this time of year.  Would he really have done this because of Nanao?
 
At his division quarters she opened the door for him and helped him into the entryway.  He fumbled with his sandals so she leaned him on a wall and bent to remove his shoes.
 
“Nanao-chan?”
 
“Yes, captain?”
 
“Are you going to go on more dates?”
 
She looked up at him in surprise, but she couldn’t make out his expression in the dim light.  She could only see the dark brilliance of his eyes.  “I don’t know,” she said.
 
Suddenly he’d moved faster than her eyes could follow, and now she was pressed against the wall and he was leaning over her, his hands resting on the wall over her head.  Her heart fluttered in her chest.  “Lovely, lovely Nanao-chan.”
 
“What are you doing?” she asked, trying to sound sharp but sounding breathless instead.
 
“Did that boy kiss you?”
 
“This is so inappropriate.”  Nanao crossed her arms under her breasts.  She needed to walk away, but he brought his hand up to her face and stroked her cheek.
 
“Did he kiss you?”  His voice was tender and full of mysteries.
 
“No,” she whispered.
 
His other hand came up to stroke her other cheek, so that he cradled her face in his hands.  “Have you ever been kissed?”
 
Her eyes stared at his chest, refusing to meet his gaze.  She did not answer.
 
“So you haven’t.  But if you keep going on dates, some callow boy is going to drop his lips on yours like a fat slug and call it a kiss.  That’s not what a kiss is, Nanao-chan.  A kiss should be something special.  It should be a shared moment.”
 
Her eyes lifted to meet his.  He looked surprised for an instant by whatever he saw there, and then he smiled.  His intent was clear, and Nanao knew that if she wanted to stop him, she should push him away now.
 
His lips touched hers.  She enjoyed how warm and soft his lips felt.  He moved his mouth over hers, slowly and tenderly.  There was an electricity between them she’d never felt with anyone else.  Although Nanao had never been kissed before, she believed that this was a perfect moment, a perfect kiss. 
 
Her fingers loosened their grip on her arms and she tentatively reached for him, her hands hovering over his chest like cautious hummingbirds.  Her heart swelled in her ribcage with the pleasure and the possibilities of this touch from the man she loved.  His tongue dipped just enough inside her mouth to taste her flavor, but it was otherwise a chaste, sweet kiss.
 
He pulled back and studied her face.  “Mmm.  Nanao-chan is delicious.  Melon on your lips and dango in your mouth.”  He caressed her face with his hands.
 
“I got dango with Rangiku-san after my date.”  She felt wonderful and fearful, like she was balanced on a thin wire.
 
“Hajimou-san.  At least that boy will never have your first kiss.  I’m glad that it’s mine forever, Nanao-chan.”  He smiled at her, but her heart dropped and she fell off that thin wire.  He hadn’t kissed her because of an overwhelming love.  He’d kissed her out of some baffling possessiveness, or perhaps a competitive need to win over other men.
 
“You’re so selfish,” she said, and ducked under his arm.
 
“Maybe.  But a first kiss is important, Nanao-chan.  Everyone should have a good one.  Now you’ll think of me when you think of being kissed.”
 
Her eyes stung.  “You should go to bed.”
 
He swayed when he walked away from the wall and she reluctantly moved to brace him.  That he was still so drunk after such a long walk made her a little concerned.  Should she bring him to the Fourth? 
 
In his bedroom she let him drop onto the bed.  “You’re angry with me.  Because I kissed you?”  He plucked his hat off and flung it into a corner.
 
“Yes.”  That wasn’t exactly right, but she was not going to humiliate herself by explaining further.  She went into the bathroom and filled a glass of water.
 
“I don’t want you to be angry with me, Nanao-chan.  What if I promise not to kiss you again until you’ve kissed me?”  He yawned, loud and long.
 
She had trouble speaking over the wall of tears in her throat.  “That’s ridiculous.”
 
“It’s not.  If I wait for you to kiss me, then I’ll know for certain that you want my love.  So I promise, Nanao-chan, that I won’t kiss you again until you’ve kissed me.”
 
She set the water a safe distance from the bed.  “You have a meeting in less than five hours.  Please get some sleep, because I will be back for you very soon.”  She kept her face turned away from him, but he didn’t respond at all to her words.
 
Nanao darted a glance at him.  His eyes were closed and his breathing even.  The sting in her eyes had grown impossible to hold back at his promise.  How dare he toy with her emotions?  It was cruel, taunting her about wanting his love when he had no such feelings to offer her.  She knelt beside the bed.  “You idiot,” she said.  She was crying, something that she’d rarely done in her life.  To have her heart inflated with hope and then popped hurt unbearably.  “I shouldn’t have believed you, not even for a moment.”  One perfect moment.  She crossed her arms under her breasts, clutching her biceps with her hands. 
 
She tried to push back her tears, but that only made them bottle up in her chest and escape in quiet sobs.  His face stayed serene.  He did not wake up.  She pressed one hand against her chest, but there was no wound on her body to staunch.  She bent over his face, willing him to look at her, but her tears fell on his cheeks and he only huffed a sigh in his sleep.
 
Her heart compelled her down and her lips touched his in a salty, uneven kiss.  She stayed there for several moments and her tears ran down his face, but he never stirred.  Finally she lifted herself away from him, standing drunkenly.  “You idiot,” she said again, but this time it was directed at herself.  Her sobs stopped but her tears still flowed, evidence of the damage to her heart. 
 
He’d taken her first kiss, but she’d given him her second.  She must never allow him another.  He would shatter her heart into pieces without ever meaning to hurt her.

On to Chapter 29.



Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
darkmystcompel
Sep. 24th, 2011 05:59 am (UTC)
Oh, that was so sad. And unbearably sweet. And explained rather a lot, actually!

There is so much potential in the character of Nemu, isn't there? She's an interesting one.
r_dahlia
Sep. 25th, 2011 02:25 am (UTC)
I worry sometimes with this story that the tone is too bittersweet for straight romance, but this pairing seems to write with a sad undertone for me. In the future I think I'll try to write some light stuff with them, but it's hard for some reason. XD

Nemu is interesting. I don't have quite the handle on her voice I'd like yet, but she'll appear more in this story.
meroko26
Sep. 24th, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC)
Aw. So sad. But its true that you don't ALWAYS feel happy in love. There are the low points. And interesting with Nemu. Hope to see more of her.
r_dahlia
Sep. 25th, 2011 03:16 am (UTC)
I spent some time with this chapter, wondering about the sad tone, but in the end I do like the way the Shunsui/Nanao scene came out, so I put it up almost exactly as initially written.

Nemu will appear more in this story. ^_^ She's an important secondary character here.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )