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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
Contains: Depictions of violence, description of damage from torture, foul language.
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 34.
Chapter 1.

The emergency meeting was called in the morning. Shunsui regarded the hell butterfly with one eye. He’d been sleeping—a rarity for him now, after five days without Nanao—and he rose wearily from bed. The summons could be about Nanao.

He was at the First Division within minutes. Other captains trickled in. “What the hell have we been called for so early, anyway?” Kenpachi asked.

“Nobody knows, so why don’t you wait quietly?” Byakuya did not bother to look at Kenpachi while speaking.

“Listen, you prissy bastard—”

“Silence!” Yama-jii said as he entered.

He strode to the front of the room, followed by an odd-looking member of the Twelfth with an exceptionally large head, wheeling a screen in front of him. The technician placed the screen to the right of Yama-jii and stood next to it, cranking his eyeball in and out of his head nervously.

“I have received this morning, via a courier of the Twelfth Division department working in Hueco Mundo, several items of interest. First, there is this video, which was accompanied by a report from Captain Kurotsuchi.” He stamped his cane.

“Should I start it? Oh, ah, yes, I’m starting it.” The technician fiddled with the controls until black and white video of a laboratory began to play on the screen.

A figure that was clearly Nanao strode between computers, making notes and speaking with Nemu. Suddenly a large vat of bubbling fluid burst, covering Nanao. The camera was obscured by thick smoke for several seconds. When it cleared, Nemu kneeled in the liquid, bleeding and coughing. A melting human skull was cradled in her hands.

Nanao’s skull was cradled in her hands.

The air went out of Shunsui’s lungs. “Is this real?” His voice sounded harsh to his ears.

“I received this video with a report on the incident from Mayuri Kurotsuchi, who sent along three witness accounts of the event.”

“But is it real?” The technician from the Twelfth fumbled back behind the screen to escape Shunsui’s gaze.

“I did recently send Nanao Ise on an observe and report mission to Hueco Mundo. But as to the validity of the tape, I can neither confirm nor deny that she is dead. I also received via that same courier a report from Nanao Ise on the work being done in Hueco Mundo. This report was conveyed with an urgent request for assistance from Nemu Kurotsuchi.”

“From Nemu Kurotsuchi?” Ukitake asked.

“Yes. Whatever is happening at the Twelfth Division base in Hueco Mundo, it is highly suspicious. I am sending a team to take Mayuri Kurotsuchi into custody until we can determine the truth of his activities.”

“I’m going,” Shunsui said. His body was tense and his grip on his reiatsu tenuous, but he knew if he overreacted Yama-jii would not allow him to go, not that he would accept being forbidden. But that fight wasn’t what he wanted now; he wanted to go to Nanao right away.

Yama-jii only nodded. It seemed he didn’t want to have that fight, either. “Captains Ukitake, Kenpachi, Unohana, and Kyōraku will enter Hueco Mundo and capture Mayuri Kurotsuchi. The captains of the Second and Sixth Divisions will stay in Soul Society, but provide assistance if it proves necessary.”

Byakuya and Soi Fon nodded.

“Fuck yeah, finally something interesting is happening,” Kenpachi said.

Another member of the Twelfth appeared in the door of the meeting room. Shunsui was sure he knew the horned boy, but he couldn’t think of his name now. He couldn’t think of anything but Nanao. “I’ll open the Garganta, if you’ll come with me,” he said, scratching at his horns.

Shunsui was at the door immediately. “Now.”

The man swallowed. “Yes, it’s already set up at the usual spot. We can go right now.”

In the Garganta Shunsui led the group, moving at his full speed. Ukitake came up beside him, a bit winded.

“Ukitake.”

“I know. Find her right away. The Kenpachi and I will take care of Kurotsuchi. He sent sempai with us, so—”

Shunsui glanced back at Unohana. “She’ll be alive,” he said, not because he was sure that was the truth, but because he needed to hear the words.

“Ise-san will be alive. You’ll find her.”

He nodded. Wait for me, Nanao. Wait for me.

***************************************************************************

Nanao ran across the sands of Hueco Mundo. She slowed while climbing a dune, glancing back to see the dome that housed the Twelfth’s facility still looming large in the distance. It had to be of enormous size—she’d been running for what must be hours, but without seeing much change in the size of the dome or in the surrounding scenery.

Could all of Hueco Mundo be night and sand? Shouldn’t there be some kind of settlements? Even Hollows would sometimes form groups.

At the top of the dune she surveyed the landscape for any sign of Hollow or any other threats. With the collar on and her reiatsu blocked, she couldn’t properly sense the reiatsu of others. It would be very easy for something to attack her before she could remove the collar; without her kidō or shunpo, she could be killed before she ever touched the release mechanism for the restraint.

There was nothing on the horizon. Nanao continued forward, walking now. She was tired, and although she did not feel hunger in the collar, she suspected when it was removed she would be starving. The wind chilled her as it dried the sweat from her run on her bare legs. Sand had gotten into the top of her socks and her feet itched. The obi on Nemu’s uniform limited the flexibility of her midsection. For all the books she’d read that featured daring escapes, few had mentioned the mundane discomfort overlaying the adrenaline and fear of flight.

It would likely distract from the romantic notions of an adventure narrative. Complaints about itchy feet were not particularly romantic, however valid they might be. Shunsui would certainly omit them from his serialized novel. These types of complaints were more likely to appear in a letter to her column, with an answer printed below.

Dear Vice Captain Ise, I experience a lot of physical discomforts on my missions that distract from my goals. I am particularly bothered by itchy feet and cold legs. What can I do? –Distracted in Duty

Dear Distracted in Duty, It is critical that you maintain focus on your missions. Are you wearing any sort of modified uniform? I would recommend the standard uniform for comfort and practicality. Individuality has a place, and that place is not the shinigami uniform. Additionally, if you suspect you may be in cold weather, bring appropriate outerwear. Some distractions are difficult to avoid in the field, so you must learn to overcome these issues and focus on your work. Remember, being a shinigami is an important responsibility and a great honor. Act like it. –Vice Captain Ise


Nanao rubbed at her temples. The captain commander was sure to send a team at Nemu’s request, wasn’t he? It couldn’t be much longer. She hoped Nemu’s time passed as uneventfully as hers had.

The only warning she had before she was flung into a dune was the sound of a single footstep behind her. She landed in the sand, coughing. A few of her ribs felt cracked, but that was not her primary concern now. She hit the release mechanism for the collar and rose to her feet.

The Hollow was exceedingly tall and vaguely humanoid, with one eye and a bit of forehead not contained within his insect-like mask. He fired a cero straight up into the air as if it were a signal flare. “It was more difficult to find you than you might imagine. You got farther than Mayuri-sama anticipated with your reiatsu sealed. I’ll congratulate you for your resourcefulness. But I really must kill you here.”

Nanao drew the tantō Nemu had given her, allowing herself a fleeting wish for her zanpakutō. Her reiatsu fluctuated wildly, freed from the restraint of the collar, and she clamped down on it hard. She’d read reports on these collars and seen the effects on Rukia Kuchiki after she’d been released from one. It might be days or weeks before her reiatsu resumed normal levels. She hoped the limited number of hours she’d spent in the collar would speed her recovery, but that would not help her now. Somehow she’d have to get through this with her power wavering and sputtering.

The Arrancar drew two swords from the sash at his slight waist. “Don’t you have some other weapon? That really won’t do you much good against me, you know.”

Nanao weighed the tantō in her palm. “I thank you for your concern, but it is misplaced. As it happens, I have a lot of experience with this weapon.”

“Oh? I suppose we’ll see.” He sprang at her. The Hollow was fast, but his speed couldn’t compare to the speed Shunsui used in their Friday sparing matches.

“Hadō number 11: Tsuzuri Raiden!” Electricity sparked up her blade and across his, running up his arm. She blocked his other sword with a wordless kidō shield.

He hissed and drew back. Nanao pressed the advantage. “Bakudō number 61: Rikujōkōrō!” The kidō felt off—her reiatsu had dropped precipitously. With her power so uneven she couldn’t risk a prolonged battle. “Hadō number 73: Sōren Sōkatsui!”

“What? No!” The Hollow burst into blue flames, disintegrating into the sands of Hueco Mundo.

Nanao wiped the sweat and sand from her face with a cloth she pulled out of her sleeve. She’d been lucky that the fireballs from her last spell had hit so hard—if they’d been as weak as her Rikujōkōrō restraint, the Hollow would have survived. She tucked the cloth back in her sleeve and straightened Nemu’s uniform, still holding her tantō in one hand. “If you are attempting to surprise me, you are failing.”

A grinning Arrancar, smaller than the last, and with much less mask, strolled up a dune. Four larger, animal-like Hollows followed. “How perceptive of you. Mayuri-sama implied you were no threat at all, but you easily disposed of my subordinate just now.”

“I am a vice captain of the Gotei 13. Underestimating me would be foolish.” Nanao spoke with a confidence she did not feel at present. Her grip on her reiatsu was tenuous at best.

The Hollow unbuttoned his jacket. “Your pride in your position is quite appropriate. I share your sense of pride in my rank.” He slipped the jacket off. There was a hollow hole in the middle of his chest, and below that was the number 10. “I’m afraid you will not fare as well against me as you did against my lesser comrade.” He smiled, but there was nothing friendly in his face. He reminded Nanao of a shark. “This will hurt, vice captain.”

Nanao shifted her feet in the sand. She said nothing, watching the group of Hollows.
There was no signal, just the rush of five enemies attempting to surround her. She slipped into shunpo and destroyed one of the Hollows with a shakkahō to the back of the head. More Hollows howled in the distance, likely summoned by the signal cero.

“How interesting. Shall we play, little vice captain?” Number 10 appeared behind her, smiling and swinging his sword.

She turned and blocked him, throwing a Tenran over her shoulder at the Hollows charging up behind her. The tornado threw them back into the dunes. “I don’t like to play games,” she said. Not with you.

***************************************************************************

The four shinigami captains exited the Garganta, Shunsui leading, Ukitake close behind, Kenpachi laughing manically, and Unohana moving with a serenity that made it seem as if she wasn’t running at all.

“Where is that crazy bastard? I’m looking forward to this.” Kenpachi’s grin widened.

“The research facility is housed in the remains of Las Noches, that large dome there.” Ukitake glanced at Shunsui. “Kyōraku?”

“She’s alive. In the desert.” The words couldn’t express the incredible relief that welled up in him when he felt Nanao’s reiatsu, small and sharp, some distance away. But it was fluctuating in a way that worried him. “Ukitake.”

“Go. We will handle matters with Captain Kurotsuchi.” Ukitake nodded. “Go.”

“Whatever, more fight for me,” Kenpachi said.

“We will be at Las Noches, Kyōraku-san.” Unohana’s expression was unchanged.

Shunsui nodded and flashed into his fastest shunpo, drawing his swords as the desert blurred around him.

As he approached he saw a Menos Grande fall, the yellow lightning of a Raikōhō still crackling around its head. The sands were strewn with the disintegrating remains of Hollows. How long had Nanao been fighting out here?

He hoped none of the blood sinking into the sand was hers.

There was a crowd of Hollows surrounding something—it was impossible to see the center, but he was sure that Nanao was their target. He let his reiatsu slip loose as he cut through the enemies. In the middle was Nanao, dropped to one knee in a circle of wet red sand, a tantō broken in front of her. Blue fire flared in one of her hands. A small Arrancar stood a few feet away, holding a sword.

The Hollow half-turned towards Shunsui, and he saw the number 10 inscribed on his chest. “Oh? Another shinigami? Have you come to play as well?” The smile fell off his face as he grasped for his throat, gurgling as his head slipped off his neck.

“Sorry. I don’t have time right now,” Shunsui said. Fresh blood dripped off his blades. He disposed of the remaining Hollows with the same efficiency; most were fleeing into the distance, and he let them go.

“Nanao-chan.” He sheathed his swords and knelt beside her. She was tying a cloth around her thigh as a tourniquet with trembling hands.

“It’s an artery.” She fell back against his chest, struggling for air.

He examined the wound. It was a nasty slash across her thigh, deep enough to notch the bone. Blood ran freely from her leg, slowed by the tourniquet, but not stopped. He dropped a hand onto the wound, beginning a healing kidō immediately. His other arm supported Nanao; she was making no effort to hold herself up.

“Nemu-san helped me escape. I think Kurotsuchi is going to do something terrible to her.” The words came out in quick bursts as she tried to breathe.

“Ukitake and Retsu-san are at Las Noches. They’ll help her. Don’t speak,” he said as her mouth opened. The blood flowing from her leg wasn’t stopping. He increased the amount of reiatsu he was putting into the healing kidō.

“It won’t work. I was in a reiatsu-sealing collar, and then I used so much power here, against the Hollows. My soul isn’t stable enough to accept healing.” All of the color was draining out of her face. She was always pale, but this was a whiteness reserved for the dead.

“It will work.” He poured himself into the healing kidō, but the reiatsu slipped away from the wound and out of her body as if she were a ghost.

“This is a well-documented phenomenon. There’s a full chapter on it in the Unabridged Encyclopedia.” She smiled slightly. Her head lolled against his chest. He steadied her with his free hand.

“That’s not what’s happening. You’re going to be fine, Nanao-chan.”

“It’s not nice to lie. Isn’t that what you tell me? Shunsui—”

“Don’t. Whatever it is, you’ll tell me when you’re better.” He pushed so much power into the kidō that her flesh heated under his hand, leaving a contact burn on both of them.

“But I have to apologize. I was unfair to you, and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have started a relationship with you when I knew I had committed those crimes at the command post.” She coughed.

“Stop talking, Nanao-chan. Conserve your strength.” Her eyes were so dark against her skin. Tears slipped down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be with you. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be loved by you. I—” She coughed again, unable to continue.

“Don’t apologize. If you want to feel my love, you can have that for the rest of your life, Nanao-chan.” Her blood flowed unceasingly against his hand. He could feel the flaring reiatsu of the other captains in battle. If he brought Nanao to Retsu, could she do anything for her, in the middle of a fight?

She smiled again, and his heart caught when he saw her lips were blue. “Shunsui,” she whispered, and he could see she had more words, they were in her eyes, but her eyelids were heavy and closing.

“Nanao-chan? Nanao-chan!”

The desert slipped away as he ran for Las Noches. He’d never moved faster, but it wasn’t fast enough. Nanao’s heart—so delicate and beautiful he’d imagined it as a butterfly—still beat, but so faintly he could hardly feel it against his hand.

Ukitake met him just outside the dome. His eyes dropped to Nanao, unconscious in Shunsui’s arms. “The entrance is here. Retsu-san is inside, working on Nemu Kurotsuchi. Captain Zaraki is still engaged with various Arrancar, although we’ve already subdued and captured Mayuri Kurotsuchi.”

Shunsui followed him into the laboratory, unconcerned with the hanging corpses or the various vats and tanks. All of his attention was focused on Retsu, bent over a table applying kidō to someone he assumed was Nemu Kurotsuchi. The girl’s chest was splayed open—she’d apparently been subjected to a vivisection—and there were obvious bone breaks in one of her arms and both legs. A white cloth blooming with red covered her lower half—a small attempt to save some of her dignity—and he thought it must have been Ukitake's effort; Retsu was focused entirely on saving the girl's life. He could see Nemu's eyes blinking when he reached the table. “Retsu-san. Nanao-chan is severely wounded and she isn’t responding to healing kidō.”

Retsu looked up from her work on Nemu’s organs. “Nemu-san has informed me a sealing collar was used.”

“Captain Unohana, please attend to Nanao-san. I am not in mortal danger. I have survived worse injuries than this.” Nemu’s words were small puffs of sound. Shunsui felt a welling of gratitude for the girl; she’d saved Nanao’s life earlier, and now she was trying to save it again, despite her heinous condition.

Retsu indicated a nearby lab table. He laid Nanao carefully on the surface. Retsu examined Nanao visually and then with kidō. “She has to be stabilized enough to go through the Garganta. There’s some damage to the Saketsu and Hakusui organs related to using a high volume of reiatsu after being sealed by the collar. Her condition requires the equipment in the Fourth Division.” Retsu’s voice was calm, as it always was. Shunsui stood away from the table as Retsu worked, although he wanted to feel Nanao’s pulse under his hands.

Ukitake talked quietly with Nemu, his head bent low to hear her bare whispers, his thumb rubbing small circles on her undamaged wrist. Somewhere in the distance walls shattered and buildings fell as Kenpachi continued cutting a swath through Hueco Mundo. Shunsui forced his breathing to be even and deep. There was nothing he could do now, and he would not distract Retsu from her task.

Waiting was always the hardest thing.

On to Chapter 36.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
meroko26
Nov. 10th, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC)
Aww poor Nanao Nemu I hope they're okay and that bastard Mayuri gets what he deserves! Yay for Shun hero!
r_dahlia
Nov. 12th, 2011 06:09 am (UTC)
Mayuri is a rather shady individual, isn't he? I wanted to give Shunsui a somewhat heroic moment without making Nanao incapable of combat, so I hope that worked out. Thanks for reading!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )