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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.

Back to Chapter 30.
Chapter 1.

The hell butterfly came in the middle of the morning on Saturday.  Nanao froze in place on the bench in the garden.  Her book slipped from her fingers, forgotten.  The delicate black wings fluttered as the insect sought a place to land.  It stopped on her hand and the message began to play immediately in Sasakibe’s voice.
 
The Central 46 has reached a decision in your trial for the crimes in the command post.  This verdict will be rendered in a joint meeting of captains and vice captains.  The captain commander will hold this meeting on Monday morning.  Please maintain confidentiality in this matter until that time.
 
Nanao stared at her hand long after the butterfly flapped away.  She was surprised, somehow; even though this had been pending for weeks, there was still an element of unreality to the whole thing.  Vice Captain Ise, brought up on charges for disobeying orders—who would have believed it?  Certainly not Nanao.
 
Before the events around Rukia Kuchiki’s execution she’d never even considered where her loyalties truly were.  Afterwards, when she’d followed Shunsui without hesitation into battle with the captain commander, she’d realized that while she was loyal to the Gotei 13, that loyalty to duty could never be matched by the depths of her loyalty to her captain.
 
But now she would leave him.
 
She rose, shivering on the garden path.  The forgotten book she retrieved on her slow walk back to the house.  In the bedroom she stood hesitant until Shunsui rolled over and lifted the blankets in invitation.  She dropped the book and slid into the bed, sinking into Shunsui’s arms.
 
“You’re so cold, Nanao-chan.”  He clasped her icy hands between his warm ones.
 
“I was outside,” she said, her voice barely working.
 
“You should wear something over this lovely yukata, Nanao-chan.  I know it’s been warmer than usual, but it’s still nearly winter.”
 
She nodded and tucked her face into the side of his neck.  The heat of his skin and the scent of his soap eased her enough to speak more normally.  “There will be a joint meeting on Monday morning.”
 
“Oh?  About what?”  His hands stroked her back through her clothes.
 
“It’s a debriefing about the war.”  That was both vague and honest—any lies she told Shunsui while she was in such close contact with him would be readily detected by him.
 
“That’ll be worse than the usual meeting, then.  But you haven’t heard anything new about the complaint against you?”
 
She tensed and chose her words with care.  “I’ve heard nothing new about the complaint, no.”
 
He sighed.  “Yama-jii is really taking his time on that.”
 
“There have been many more important matters for his consideration in the aftermath of a war.”  Her voice moved to cool professionalism.
 
“You’ll forgive me if I’m more concerned with your fate than I am with Yama-jii’s scheduling problems.”
 
She shook her head against his skin and propped herself up on her elbow to look into his face.  She hesitated for a long moment.  “What do you think he will do?  About me?”
 
“That depends on exactly what happened, Nanao-chan.  If you want to tell me about what you did, I can tell you exactly what he’s likely to do.  I’ve known Yama-jii for a long time, and I’m familiar with his feelings on wars and laws.”   His eyes were soft and promised understanding without judgment.
 
Nanao was tempted, and felt the words creeping up her throat.  She knew this man, didn’t she?  And he told her he loved her constantly.  Perhaps she could tell him about her crimes without fearing his reaction.  It was still too hard to begin directly, so she started from a side angle.  “What does the captain commander believe about wars and laws?”
 
“He puts the higher objective over any other considerations, including the lives of his soldiers or things like the honor of duels.  So if you acted to forward our victory in battle, then he will likely disregard the complaint entirely or let it go with a little punishment just for show.”  Shunsui spoke evenly and slowly, though she knew this topic must be of great interest to him.
 
He raised a brow at her, but she said nothing.
 
“If someone acts for foolish or selfish reasons in war, and it jeopardizes the higher objective, Yama-jii will punish them harshly.  And he believes strongly in the law when it doesn’t conflict with matters of war.  You must remember how severe he was about Rukia-chan and everyone who acted on her behalf.”
 
She nodded, shivering slightly at the memory of Yamamoto’s reiatsu crushing the air out of her lungs.  His hands pressed her closer to his warm body.
 
“He was wrong then, and the law was wrong, but he followed the word of the Central 46—the word of law—absolutely.  He believes in order and duty very strongly.”
 
“Do you believe the same things about war that he does?”  She knew Shunsui didn’t share identical beliefs about law, but the memory of his eyes when he went into battle chilled her when she recalled it.
 
“Yare, yare, Nanao-chan.  These are big questions for first thing in the morning.”
 
She looked away from his face.  Perhaps he didn’t want to share this darker part of himself with her.  She’d thought that he might be willing to talk about this now, since they were in a romantic relationship.  He’d let her help him with his memory-induced insomnia for years.  But he’d never talked about the specifics of what haunted him, beyond that first mention of Vice Captain Yadōmaru when he’d promised to stop drinking so heavily.  She knew the barest sketches of other events, from public records she’d scoured in the library and delicate hints from Captain Ukitake.
 
Nanao could hardly demand he tell her everything when she was hiding so much.  Perhaps the scope of their relationship would be more limited than she’d expected.  She forced her disappointment to slide into resignation, then turned her head and met his eyes.  “We don’t have to talk about this if you’d prefer not to discuss it.  Why don’t we go out for lunch today?”
 
He stopped her from getting out of bed by simply resisting her upward movement.  “No.  We’ll talk about it.  I told you to ask me anything, didn’t I?”  He smiled, briefly and without amusement.
 
“It’s fine, really.”  She tugged at his arms, but he held firm until she lay down on her side, facing him.
 
“I hate war.  That’s the first thing that’s different between Yama-jii and I.  He thinks war is inevitable and necessary.  Over the years I’ve come to agree about the inevitability of war, but I draw the line at calling it necessary.  If it can be avoided, that’s what I’d prefer.  Yama-jii seeks victory in war over all things, and to an extent I must agree with him.  To me things like honor and style don’t have a place in war.  If you’re dead because of honor, you aren’t protecting whatever you went to war for.  Ukitake feels very strongly about personal honor and pride in battles, but I can’t agree with him.   Lost pride could be regained, but not if you’re dead.  And I can’t feel any pride in letting my subordinates die when I could have stopped it.”
 
Nanao thought of Kaien Shiba, of Vice Captain Yadōmaru, and of the times Shunsui had stepped between her and a wound.  She closed her eyes.  Her hand came up to caress his tight jaw.  “I understand.  You don’t have to tell me—”
 
“You deserve to know, don’t you?  What kind of man I am?”
 
“I know what kind of man you are.”
 
“But I’ve scared you in battle.  I saw it in your eyes.”  He smiled, but it was bleak.
 
She stopped herself from looking away and met his gaze instead.  “Tell me, then.”
 
It was several more seconds before he spoke.  “War demands terrible things.  There are boundaries I’ve had to cross that I never imagined I would step over.  Even the thinnest ideals of battle that I’ve tried to maintain—I’ve had to shatter them.  It doesn’t matter why our army goes to war.  However righteous the cause, in battle someone will win and someone will lose, but everyone comes out with blood covering their souls.”
 
He swallowed one of her hands in his.  “Shunsui,” she mouthed more than said.
 
His eyes closed and reopened intent on her face.  “It’s my duty to do whatever is necessary.  It doesn’t matter how I feel about it after.  I have so many regrets, but I must win my battles.  I went to war to protect my home, to protect my division, to protect my friends, and to protect my Nanao-chan.  To ensure the safety of what’s precious to me, I can do anything necessary in battle without a regard for things like honor or morality.  I would do anything to keep you safe.”
 
His eyes asked for her understanding.  How could she deny him when he’d laid himself bare for her?  How could any questions about Yamamoto matter now?  “Thank you for telling me.  And—thank you,” she whispered.
 
Relief flared in his eyes.  He bent to kiss her.  There was a slight hesitation in his movement.  Nanao welcomed him into her mouth and dug her fingers into his hair, returning his kiss until that hesitation disappeared.
 
She pushed at his chest with one hand, and he rolled on his back for her, pulling her on top of him.  “I know what kind of man you are.  I know you, Shunsui.”  She fitted her lips against his gently.  Her tingling hands slipped down his bare sides, her nails teasing him a little.  “You seem a little chilled,” she said, her voice low.   “Perhaps I should warm you up.”
 
“That’s a good idea, Nanao-chan.”  His voice was dark silk over her skin.  Her hands explored his naked body in flowing strokes.
 
“It’s always best to be prudent.”
 
His clever fingers worked at the knot of her sash.  Her garments were gone in moments.
 
“My Nanao-chan,” he murmured against her lips.
 
She pulled him into her, savoring this contact.  He wanted her reassurance that her feelings for him were unchanged by his confessions.  Words about the weight of her love were impossible, but he would understand her enough through her body.  Every touch was infused with her dreams; every sigh a confession of feeling.
 
She gave the whole of her heart to him without saying a word.

***********************************************************************
 
Her crimes would stay secret.  She wouldn’t tell him; Nanao decided that almost immediately.  How could she, after what he’d told her?  He would do anything necessary to protect what he cared for, including acts that cost him greatly, that haunted him years later.  In her first truly critical command experience she’d disobeyed an order, attacked another officer, and risked not only all of Soul Society, but the balance of the universe itself.
 
How could she ask him to excuse her behavior?  How could she expect anything but negative reactions?  The idea of killing one hundred thousand souls was impossible to her, so she’d pinned unrealistic hopes on Ichigo Kurosaki and allowed the situation to escape from probable controllability.
 
Yet she still did not believe she could have given the order to destroy everyone in Karakura.
 
The judgment that would strike down on her soon was what she’d earned with her crimes.  She would accept what was coming, and she would not tell Shunsui, in case he felt some obligation to help her.
 
She’d taken pride for so many years in her role as vice captain, believing that she was fulfilling her duties as completely and perfectly as she could.  But she’d been unable to act as a captain would have—as Shunsui would have—and do whatever was necessary for victory in battle.
 
Even if she was somehow spared serious punishment for her crimes, Nanao wasn’t sure that she should be permitted to continue serving as a vice captain.  The role of the second-in-command was to lead when the captain could not.  If she wasn’t capable of setting aside personal morality and killing by whatever means the mission required, she was not truly acting as a leader of the Gotei 13.
 
Nanao’s fingers tightened around her cup of tea.  Strength, she thought.  But there was still a thread of hope winding around her heart that she could not quite cut.  Maybe he would understand, forgive her weaknesses, and still want—
 
She shut off her thoughts before the thread of hope could thicken.  She might not be able to kill her hopes entirely, but she would not allow herself to believe in them.  After all, hope was the cruelest emotion, hadn’t she learned that long ago?

************************************************************************
 
“Where are we going?”
 
Shunsui tugged at Nanao’s hand, guiding her along one of the winding paths in his garden.  “It’s a surprise.”
 
“It’s a bit late for a lunch picnic, isn’t it?”  Nanao tilted her head at him.
 
“Lovely Nanao-chan, spontaneity is the essence of romance.”  He moved in front of her, walking backwards to watch her face.
 
“Spontaneity breaks ankles.”  But she was enjoying this small Sunday adventure more than she would admit.
 
He glanced behind him and came to a stop, grasping her shoulders with his hands.  “Cover your eyes.”
 
“This is silly,” she said, but her hands came up to hide her eyes.
 
“Wait here a moment.  And no peeking!”  His footsteps retreated from the stone of the path to grass.
 
She sniffed.  “As if I would peek.”  Curiosity made her foot tap a bit as she listened to him rustling and tinkling a few feet away.
 
He returned soon and draped an arm around her shoulders.  “Take a look, Nanao-chan.”
 
She opened her eyes and he moved to her side so that she could see what was in front of her.  His face was eager in a way that usually meant presents Nanao did not like, and she felt a flash of wariness.
 
But it wasn’t like that at all.  Off the path was a row of hedges that she’d thought were there to provide an attractive contrast to the flower beds nearby.  But there was an opening in the hedges he’d created by tying back some of the shrubbery with ribbon.  She stepped through the greenery.
 
“It’s—” she stopped, blinking.
 
“It’s a secret,” Shunsui murmured in her ear.
 
“It’s beautiful.”  It was a small clearing, a secret garden within the larger garden.  He’d brought in large vases with colorful flowers overflowing from them, some of them out-of-season rare beauties and some wildflower weeds, combined in no discernable pattern.  The effect was lovely—he really did have a good eye for beautiful things.  The vases framed a large blanket with a tray in the center.  She could hear the gurgle of water nearby—perhaps he had a stream on his property?  It was extensive enough.
 
“It would be better with the moon, but it’s getting too cold at night for midnight picnics.”  He steered her to the blanket with an arm around her waist.
 
“This is quite attractive as it is,” she said.
 
“When you see it in summer, you’ll really like it, Nanao-chan.  I was thinking I should put a bench out here for you.”  He gestured at the shade under a graceful tree.  “There, I think.  A large one, so I can rest my head on your lap.”
 
She sat neatly on the blanket.  “You—” she started, but couldn’t continue.  He would put a bench out here for her in his secret place?  He wanted her to see it in the summer, under the moon?  She’d misjudged him, misjudged his intentions, for so many years.  Much of that was his fault, but some of it was hers, too.  She’d been timid and afraid of losing what she already treasured to a proclaimed love that might only be a whim for him.
 
“This is plum wine.  Rangiku-san said you enjoyed it the other day.”  He smiled at her, held out a cup.  His smile slipped at her expression.
 
“I’m sorry.”  The words fell out, surprising both of them.
 
“Hmm?  What are you sorry for, lovely Nanao-chan?”  He dropped the wine back to the tray.
 
Her brows drew together, and she struggled to find a way to express her thoughts.
 
“Don’t look so worried, Nanao-chan.  You don’t owe me any apologies.  We’re together now, aren’t we?”  He cupped her cheek in his hand, smiling.
 
She nodded.
 
“Besides, I don’t want you to focus on something in the past, not today.  Today is for us.”  He picked up the cup of wine and handed it to her.
 
She sipped it, watching him over the rim.  “You’re up to something.”
 
His smile grew into a full grin.  He poured himself a cup of the wine.  “Have a chocolate, Nanao-chan.”  He took the top off of a small box on the tray.
 
“You know, for someone who said spontaneity is the essence of romance, you’ve done a lot of planning for this.”  She slipped one of the chocolates between her lips.
 
“It’s because I want to impress precious Nanao-chan during our courtship.”  His eyes followed her tongue as she licked the sweetness from her lips.
 
“It’s almost over,” she said, and couldn’t stop her sadness from reaching her voice.
 
“Nothing is over unless you want it to be.”  He brushed his lips against hers.  She raised her free hand to his neck and deepened the kiss, opening her mouth for him to taste.  He pulled back.  “Delicious Nanao-chan.  But not yet.”
 
“Do you have something more planned?”  Her eyes narrowed.
 
He smiled.  “So suspicious.  But as it happens, I do.  I’m going to meet your condition today.”
 
“My condition?  You intend to prove—”
 
“To prove my love.  Yes.”  His eyes nearly glowed with pleasure.
 
“You don’t have to do that.”  She stared down at her wine.
 
“Oh?  Have you changed your mind, Nanao-chan?”  His voice was mild, curious.
 
“You don’t have to, because—because I believe you already.  I couldn’t before, but now—it’s different now.”  She could feel the blush tingling on her cheeks.
 
“Is it?  I’m glad, Nanao-chan.”  He tipped her head up, stroked one of her pink cheeks with a hand.  “That just makes this moment sweeter.”
 
“Sweeter?”
 
Shunsui pulled the wine from her hand and put it on the tray.  He clasped her hand in his.  “Marry me, Nanao-chan.”
 
Her mouth opened and closed, but could not form words.  She couldn’t even seem to form thoughts.
 
He smiled at her expression.  “Is it such a shock?  You wanted something from me that would be only yours.  So I’m offering you something no one else has ever had with me.”
 
“You—you want—” she stopped, blinking rapidly.
 
“Yare, yare, Nanao-chan.  Were you just using me for sex?  Did you never intend to make an honest man of me?”  At her indignant sputtering he chuckled.  “Won’t you marry me, Nanao-chan?  It’ll be a grand adventure.  Something completely new for both of us.  We’ll experience it together.”
 
She pressed her free hand to her forehead.  The skin was hot and she thought she might be running a fever.  “To get married—”
 
“That’s the idea, sweetheart.  We’ll end the trial courtship today, and continue with our relationship.  Are you alright?  You look like you might faint, Nanao-chan.”
 
Nanao scowled.  “I’ve never fainted.  I don’t faint.  You want to get married.”
 
“Yes.”  His eyes were full of amusement and love.
 
“To me.  You want to get married to me.”  She spoke slowly and enunciated each word.
 
“Yes, lovely, precious, sweet—”
 
She clamped her hand over his mouth.  “But you’ve lived so long—in two thousand years, you never wanted to marry anyone else?  Why is it me?”
 
He lavished kisses on her palm.  “I love you, Nanao-chan.  It’s the simplest and the most complicated thing in the world.  Is there someone else you want to marry?”
 
She jumped a little.  “Someone else?  No.  It’s always been you.”  She flushed again, stared at their joined hands.
 
“It’s the same for me.  It’s always been you.  Only there was a lot of time before you were there, so I didn’t realize it right away.  Marry me, Nanao-chan.”
 
She studied his face, her brows draw together.
 
“This is the part where you say yes, Nanao-chan.”  Her mouth formed a little o, but language appeared to evade her again.  “Think of all the benefits, Nanao-chan!  It’s the ultimate reason to stay at my house forever, and no one will ever question it again, they’ll just say, ‘Oh, Kyōraku is so lucky, to have such a beautiful wife.’  And your ability to make me do work will be absolutely unmatched, the incredible variety of leverage you can bring to bear as my wife will be fantastic for you.  And you’ll have two full baths!  But if you want more, we can add more to the house, you could have dozens of full baths if you wanted.  And I’m rich, very rich, and that always presents a practical advantage to life in Seireitei.  Nanao-chan?  Are you alright?  Are you listening to me?”
 
“Your income is not an issue.  Neither are your baths.”  She floundered a bit.  She wanted to say yes, wanted it so much, but would that be fair to him, when tomorrow he would find out she was a criminal and a failure as a vice captain?  It would be deceptive of her to agree to marry him when he wasn’t in possession of all the facts.  But she needed to do this carefully, without hurting him, without refusing him.  She closed her eyes briefly.  “The trial isn’t over until tomorrow.”
 
“The trial courtship?  We’ll end it a day early.  It’s not important.”
 
“We agreed to a full two weeks of trial courtship, not a minutes less.”  She pushed on his chest until he lay down on his back.
 
“You know, Nanao-chan, when a man asks a woman to marry him, he likes to get an answer.”  He drew in his breath sharply as she crawled over him.
 
She planted small kisses along his jaw, the edges of his mouth, his ear.  “It’s always been you, Shunsui,” she whispered in his ear.  Her hands industriously worked until she’d exposed his body to the cool air.  “Ask me tomorrow.”  She licked a path down his strong throat.
 
“Tomorrow?”  He sounded bemused, and she glanced up at his face.
 
He wasn’t angry or upset, but he could become either, so she made her voice as soothing as she could.  “Ask me tomorrow, and I’ll answer you then.”  She trailed her mouth down his body, taking little nips at his muscles to see them tighten.
 
“What are you doing, Nanao-chan?”
 
She drifted lower, enjoying the way his tension went higher.  “I’m being spontaneous.  Spontaneity is the essence of romance, remember?”
 
“And now you have an interest in romance?”
 
“I have an interest in you.”  She bit the muscle of his thigh and then eased the spot with her tongue.
 
“What will you answer if I ask you tomorrow, Nanao?”  His question caught in his throat a little.
 
She didn’t answer for several minutes and he did not ask again.  When she flowed back up his body his hands were swift at her sash, and then the cool air was touching her skin.  “Don’t you know already?  It will always be you, Shunsui.  I need you,” she whispered, rubbing against him like a cat.  “I need you, Shunsui.”  Her eyelids fluttered, heavy over her eyes.
 
The expression in his eyes softened, the bemusement and the near-upset fading.  “I’m with you, Nanao, and I’m not going anywhere.”
 
He pulled her down to him, and he was with her, so close, and their heartbeats were so much the same that she wondered if their hearts had switched places in their bodies.  Yes, her kisses said against his mouth.  Yes, her nails scratched into his skin.  Yes, her body sang against his body.
 
But yes never passed her lips.

*******************************************************************
 
Nanao woke very early on Monday.  For one short moment she enjoyed the feeling of Shunsui wrapped around her before she remembered what day it was.  Today she would face judgment; today the pretense that everything was normal would end, one way or another, and there was so much for her to do before then.
 
She pulled away from Shunsui with care and slowness.  If he woke now, she wasn’t sure she could contain her secrets.  Her crimes and her love and her fears would all fall out into the room.  If he knew those things, and he took her side, it could have terrible consequences for Soul Society; if he knew those things, and he sided against her, it could have terrible consequences for Nanao’s heart.
 
She did not linger at the house.  In the bathroom she prepared for the day with crisp efficiency.  Her face was cool and tranquil in the mirror, but her eyes were haunted and changeable, like an ocean full of ghosts.
 
In the bedroom she moved silently passed the sleeping Shunsui, but could not stop herself from looking back at him.  The hairpin case she’d made him was on the bookcase.  On impulse she opened the case and took one of his favorite hairpins, secreting it away in her sleeve.
 
She would not see him again before the meeting.  Already she’d planned to send a hell butterfly to wake him when there were only minutes left before the meeting, so that he would barely have time to dress and appear at the First Division.
 
The offices at the Eighth were empty, but it was still very early.  The manual for running the Eighth Division she moved to Shunsui’s desk, with no note or explanation; it would be obvious what it was when he read it.  She picked up the packets of instructions she’d made for division members—orders ranging from scheduling night patrols to ordering a new sofa set—and walked through the division, dropping them neatly in the center of her officers’ desks.  It took several minutes to distribute all of the orders.
 
When she finished she returned to the office of the captain and vice captain.  She stacked her few personal possessions into a small box, sealed and labeled it with her name and the contents, and brought it to her quarters to sit with the other neatly piled boxes of her things.  At least the work to eliminate traces of her from the division would be minimal for whoever followed after her.
 
She stood with her eyes closed for several minutes, breathing in and out deeply.  She could smell the odor of books, of furniture polish, of her clean floor mats and of the old wood of the barracks itself.  But no matter how long she was still and searching, she could not find her peace.
 
She’d left that in a house of many windows a few miles away from here.
 
No matter.  She would do without.  It wasn’t something she needed to survive, and what she would be doing from now on would not be living; it would be surviving.
 
It was still early, but there were stirrings across the barracks that signaled the start of the day.  Nanao left the Eighth, taking nothing with her but a stolen hairpin.

On to Chapter 32.