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Title: Journey Into Dreams
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: M
Status: Multi-Chapter, Ongoing
Contains: Spoilers for the Lost Substitute Shinigami Arc, consensual adult activity, beginning in this chapter.
Summary: Nanao's vacation takes an unexpected turn when Captain Kyōraku follows her to the Fourteenth District.


Back to Chapter 1.

A/N: I tried to work some of my slots on my fanbingo card into this story. Fanbingo is a community at Dreamwidth. This is chapter two of five; this story will be around thirty thousand words total.

The word kitsune appears in this chapter. Kitsunes are foxes that appear in Japanese folklore; they possess magical abilities, including the power to assume human form, which they may use to trick others.

Nanao floated on the surface of the small lake, drifting with the slight current. The sun was warm on her face, and she felt drowsy, but not peaceful. She hadn't slept well after she'd returned to the room. Her Captain had come back in shortly after she did, but she'd feigned the sleep she couldn't reach. Just knowing he was there had pushed away any chance of rest.

How could she stay in the Eighth Division when even being in the same room with him filled her with anxiety? Anxiety over what Lisa might have told him, anxiety over the gentle rejection he'd give her, anxiety over the temptation she felt to ignore the other problems in favor of snatching whatever intimacy she might be able to have with him, however brief.

This was not a relaxing getaway, but how could it be, when the source of her trouble had followed her to the Fourteenth District? It was a mistake to come out here, if he was just going to follow her. She could have been getting work done at the Eighth. There was movement in the water near her, and she sighed. "Shouldn't you be in the Living World, Captain?"

"I was in the Living World. I saw our friends there, and I enjoyed it," Captain Kyōraku said.

She kept her eyes closed, still floating, her brow furrowed. "Then why aren't you still there?"

"Because I promised my Nanao-chan that I would be back soon, and I was, in less than a day. Imagine my surprise when Enjōji-kun told me you'd taken an unplanned vacation to parts unknown. Alone."

"I am entitled to free time, and I may spend it as I see fit. If I want to be alone, I can be alone."

"Did you want to be alone, Nanao-chan?" he asked, and the question was much too dangerous to answer.

She shifted the conversation to less treacherous territory. Her eyes opened when she spoke. "Do you know what a vacation is, Captain?"

"It's a magical time when lovely Nanao-chan relaxes in a lake wearing the most delicious bikini. Is that pink?" He was swimming near her, a wide grin on his face. The sun glinted off the water on his tanned skin, and she swallowed. Hopefully he was wearing something on his lower half. It was a distinct possibility that he was wearing nothing at all. She closed her eyes and tried to push the image out of her mind.

"It could be called pink, although that would lack precision." She'd sounded more combative than she'd intended, but she was tired and hadn't wanted to see him so soon.

"If you want me to be more specific, I'll need a closer look."

She opened her eyes when she felt his hand brush her back. He was swimming very close to her, his eyes focused on her bikini top. "What are you doing?" she snapped.

"I'm trying to find a better description of the color for you, since you found 'pink' inadequate. My Nanao-chan should never have to settle for anything inadequate."

"Stop staring at my chest." She flicked a spray of water at his face, scowling.

"That's mean, Nanao-chan!" He playfully scooped water into his hands and splashed it on her chest.

"Don't you dare," she said, her eyes narrowing. She was not in the mood to play with him.

He grinned and shrugged, but one of his hands disappeared into the water suspiciously. "Would you call it cherry?"

"No." She flipped out of her floating posture and brought her arm up to block the water he splashed at her. She returned the volley immediately, whipping water at his face.

"Pink like the sunrise?" He circled her, splashing water at her back.

"No." She hit him with a backhanded wave of water.

"Watermelon? Cherry blossom? Rose? You'll have to help me; I'm running out of pink words." He splashed her again, and she'd had more than enough of that.

"Absolutely not." She pushed him, trying to sink him into the water.

He resisted and grabbed her waist with both hands. "Breathe," he murmured, and pulled her under with him.

Surprised, her hands grabbed onto his shoulders. The water felt cooler without the sun on her skin. But his hands were warm and his touch sent sparks through her body. He brought them back up to the surface after a few seconds. Nanao's hair fell across her eyes, the tie lost to the water. At least her glasses were safely on the shore.

She took her hands off him to push her hair back, dunking it under the water until she could smooth it back neatly. "Why did you do that?"

"You seemed hot, Nanao-chan." He grinned and it struck a raw part of her heart. He was so attractive like this, his eyes teasing and narrowed against the sun, his muscles hard against the softness of the water, his lips wet and full against the straight lines of his teeth. She wondered how soft those lips would be if she kissed him.

She swam away from the hands around her waist. "It's your fault," she said, angrier than she'd meant to sound.

"I like to make Nanao-chan hot. But I wish it wasn't anger so much. What did I do that made you so angry with me, Nanao-chan?" He caressed her cheek, and she batted him away.

You made me fall in love with you. But that wasn't his fault, just as it wasn't his fault that he didn't love her in the way that she wanted. Her anger deflated, like the air in a leaking balloon. "Nothing. You haven't done anything."

"I'm sure that's not true. I've always done something." He smiled, and because he was trying to cheer her, she smiled back. It was just a small lift of her lips, but his smile widened in response.

Her heart flinched; it hurt to be close to him, but she didn't want him to leave, either. She was hungry for whatever pieces of him she could have. "You did follow me on my vacation. That is completely inappropriate." She sniffed.

He laughed. "The image of Nanao-chan relaxing and wearing vacation clothes was too much of a temptation. How could I resist?"

She sighed and started floating again, letting the current move her. "At least the scenery is nice."

"Everything I see is beautiful," he said, and she closed her eyes. If she looked at him now, she was sure he would see too much.

After several quiet minutes a thought occurred to her. "How did you know where I was?" She'd left long before he'd woken up.

"Have you noticed how marvelously helpful the people are in this District? No fewer than three of the ladies at the inn offered me directions, maps, and a picnic lunch for me to enjoy with 'my wife.' Wasn't that kind of them?"

She shifted from floating to treading water so that she could see his face. "They didn't! I was most explicit with them this morning that you are not my husband, and that I am vacationing alone."

"Don't scowl like that, sweetheart. I'm sure it was just an innocent mistake." He was too handsome, happy in the summer sun, with the landscape blurred behind him and the water caressing his skin.

"Don't call me that. Do you really think it's just a mistake? This is at least three times you've been addressed as my husband by these local women. They all look somewhat similar, too—"

"There's some resemblance; they're fox-faced, some more than others, but I assume there is at least some distant relation between them. It's not unusual for particular features to become common in a region, especially an isolated one. "

"Of course, but—I don't know, all of these beautiful women, all of the fox symbolism in the area, and there was Chiyo-san—" she stopped, unwilling to tell him about the love spell.

"If you're suggesting that the innkeepers are kitsunes making mischief, I'm delighted that you'd let your imagination free like that, but truthfully I think it's more likely that they have poor memories or romantic streaks. But what about Chiyo-san?" His leg brushed against hers.

"Chiyo-san sells rare novelties and objects." But it wasn't as if the old woman was actually selling working love spells; Nanao didn't believe in the existence of such things. She shook her head. "I'm sure you're right, the innkeepers are just trying to be helpful to tourists."

"I'm very grateful to them right now." His voice had dipped. Her hand brushed his chest, and she realized they'd been drifting closer to each other.

"Why?"

"Because I've gotten to see my Nanao-chan wearing a bikini and relaxing, both of which are very rare things. When did you get this swimsuit, Nanao-chan?"

She licked her lips. "It's not new. I bought it for the SWA's trip to the beach."

"I still regret not sneaking along on that trip. Is this the bikini top that you lost in the ocean?" Their legs were touching with every movement Nanao made. This was a bad idea, she knew that; but he was so magnetic. She'd tried to stay away from him, but he'd followed her.

"That trip was for SWA members and their female guests only. You would not have been welcome."

"No?" His hand brushed against her ribcage, as if by accident, but her breath caught.

"This is the same swimsuit. It has a weak clasp, which led to that unfortunate incident." He was very close now, much too close. Her breasts rubbed against his chest and her hands moved to his shoulders of their own accord.

"Does it?" His hand shifted to her back, two of his fingers touching the clasp.

"Yes. If you just put a little pressure on it in the right direction, it pops open." Her hands came together behind his neck. The temptation to kiss him was overwhelming. Her love might be unrequited, but lust—she could feel his desire for her, brushing against her hip—he shared that with her. She could have this part of him, at least. If it was going to be impossible for her to stay in the Eighth Division anyway, why shouldn't she have this memory?

The clasp opened under his fingers. Her top drifted on the water, still attached by the clasp at her neck. His eyes darkened. "Nanao-chan."

She pressed her lips against his, the desire of years rising within her. He returned her kiss, his tongue slipping into her mouth. She welcomed it, welcomed him. Her legs wrapped around his waist. They were still in the water, but she didn't care. He was strong enough for both of them, and she wanted to feel him.

One of his hands gripped her bottom, holding her tighter against him. She moaned into his mouth at the sensation. He was wearing a fundoshi; she could feel it against her thighs. "Nanao—"

"More," she said, biting his lip.

He groaned. She kissed him aggressively, her tongue dueling with his, her mouth demanding more. He matched her intensity, and she thought they might have swollen lips later, but she couldn't be gentle; she wanted to feel everything, wanted to leave her mark on him.

Nanao slid down on his body and realized that he walking them out of the water. She pulled herself up higher, her legs tightening around him. A flash of pleasure sparked through her. She rocked on him in a little pattern that made her nails bite into his back. Both of his hands held her against him, and she made a pleased noise against his mouth.

They were out of the water now, and he laid her down on a blanket that had been set for the picnic he'd mentioned earlier. He held himself over her, resisting her efforts to pull him down. "Nanao-chan."

"Come here," she whispered, arching her back. His eyes were drawn to her breasts, still beaded with water, glistening in the sun.

"There's no rush, is there?"

She arched her back again and he bent his head to her breasts, licking and teasing. He kissed his way back up to her mouth soon, devouring, hungry for her, as she was hungry for him. Her legs wrapped around his back, seeking to bring him closer.

"Nanao-chan, we should slow down."

She shook her head. Why should they go slowly, when she was already melting and aching for him? He resisted her pulling, and her eyes narrowed. With a swift movement of her arms and legs she flipped him on his back, sitting astride him with a small smile.

He laughed, low and deep. She stretched her arms over her head, and his hands clamped down on her hips, hard. He swallowed. "We should slow down."

"Why?" She leaned forward, balancing herself with one hand on his chest. Her other hand drifted back to his fundoshi, her small fingers gathering the fabric and moving it to one side. Her hand wrapped around him, and he groaned.

"That's good, but—we have to talk before we do this, sweetheart."

"We can talk later." She stroked him experimentally. Her hand came off his chest to clasp one of his, shifting it to her bikini bottom.

His fingers hooked into the pink fabric, tugging it down, but he stopped. "We can't do this without talking first, Nanao."

"Yes, we can." She wiggled a little further out of her bikini. "Please?" He groaned and she leaned down to kiss him, asking again without words. He kissed her with an urgency that left her with no doubt that he felt the same hunger for her that she felt for him.

His eyes closed, his brows drawn together. "No, Nanao." His eyes opened, and the firmness of his resolve surprised her.

She froze, uncertain. "You don't want this—you don't want me?"

"Of course I want you. You can measure my desire with your hand." His voice was low and a little teasing.

She licked her lips. "Then why—"

"I want to make sure that it's clear to both of us where our relationship stands before we do this. I don't want there to be any misunderstandings between us."

She reeled back. He couldn't wait to reject her love; he wanted to do it now, before they'd even been intimate. Heat rushed to her face. She stood, slapping his hands away from her body. "You couldn't have at least waited an hour?" she hissed, retrieving her forgotten bikini top from the blanket and throwing it on.

"I'm trying to be considerate of your feelings—"

"Shut up." That was worse. He was compassionate and considerate, and he wouldn't want her to suffer any punctured illusions about what could be between them, or any regrets about sleeping with him when he wasn't in love with her.

Humiliation and anger burned through her body. She found her glasses and her cover-up, brushing her fingers through her hair roughly. He'd righted his fundoshi and stood. "Nanao-chan, please listen to me."

"Why did you have to ruin it?" Her eyes began to fill with hot tears. "Leave me alone." She left the lake with a fast step into shunpo, arriving at the inn and going to her room without stopping to speak with anyone. Her eyes wouldn't clear, no matter how much she blinked. She began to pack her things, throwing them carelessly into a bag.

There was another bag still at the lake, with a book and a few other things in it, but she'd write that off as a loss; it was better than facing the possibility of returning to the lake, where she'd been so rejected.

The hair comb he'd bought for her slowed her rapid packing. She carefully tucked it into some clothes, hoping to avoid any damage. She also paused when she saw the wrapped fox sake set. It was truly a present for him—she'd been interested in it because she thought he might like it. She carried it to the bag her Captain had brought with him, quibbling for a second before opening it. His clothes were packed with less neatness than hers, but it wasn't as careless as she might have expected.

She shifted his things to make room for the sake set, but froze when the door opened. Captain Kyōraku stepped in, thankfully dressed in a kosode and hakama, carrying her bag and the picnic blanket. He set them on the floor.

There were a few moments of silence before he spoke. "It's kind of Nanao-chan to pack for me."

She stood, cradling the sake set. "I'm leaving."

He walked over to her, bringing his hands to her shoulders. "Nanao-chan, we need to talk." His voice was gentle, but she stumbled back as though his touch burned.

"I don't want to talk to you right now."

"What happened at the lake—"

"No. Let's just forget what happened earlier." She stared at the sake set.

"Even if we did forget that we nearly made love at the lake, we'd still need to talk."

She shook her head. "I can't."

"I know that it's difficult for you, but it's not easy for me, either. Please, can you try?" His eyes were tender and his voice soothing.

She was struck again by how much he cared about her, and that made the pain in her heart worse, because she couldn't hate him, not when he was trying to be as gentle as possible. Her eyes closed. "No. Not now." She opened her eyes and met his concerned gaze squarely. "Here, take this. It's for you." She shoved the wrapped sake set at him and fled out the door.

An inn worker greeted her. "Hello, Ise-dono. How may I serve you and your husband today?"

"He's not my husband. Please let him have the room for the duration of my booking. And if there is any luggage remaining, please have it shipped to my address in Seireitei."

"Certainly, Ise-dono. Will you not be joining your husband for the rest of your vacation?" Her close-set eyes twinkled, her smile bright.

"My vacation is over," she said, hurrying out of the inn and away from the fox-faced woman.


After a few steps of shunpo she stopped at a roadside shrine with a fox statue inside. The forest was quiet here, the sun dappling a pattern on the restrained flowers of her beach cover-up.

She would have to leave the Eighth Division.

A denial rose immediately in her throat. The Eighth was her home. How could she leave it after so many years? How could she leave him?

After the Winter War, when she'd gone to the battlefield and seen him with those terrible wounds, her chest had been torn open and her heart exposed and raw. He could have died; he nearly had. He was a Captain, and it was his duty to put his life in danger to protect others. She'd sat at his side in the hospital and ached for him, for the realities she could not change, and the dreams she could not make reality.

She hadn't been able to wrap her heart back in protective bone. She was still open, and it hurt. It hurt when Lisa told her that Nanao could not have the kind of relationship with Captain Kyōraku that she wanted; it hurt each time he was close and she could not touch him; it hurt when she'd touched him at the lake and he'd refused her.

This trip was intended to give her time away from him, to see if she could tuck her heart away and things could go on as they had been. But the static nature of their relationship was gone; instead she was faced with a shifting puzzle that she didn't understand.

She would have to leave the Eighth Division.

She rose, nodding. Staying was likely impossible, although leaving seemed just as difficult. She took one flash step and then several more, intending to reach the rim of the District and straighten her appearance before approaching the gate to Seireitei. Her clothes had not been high on her priorities list back at the inn, and she tugged on the hem of her beach cover-up as she left shunpo. It was really too short to be worn anywhere but the beach and—

That shrine looked identical to the one she'd just left. She walked over for a closer look, bending at the waist to study the statue. It was the same shrine. But she'd taken flash steps that should have put her miles away.

"You seem really interested in the fox symbolism in this area, Nanao-chan."

She turned her head to see Captain Kyōraku leaning against a tree, his eyes riveted to the area exposed by the cover-up's inadequacy. Nanao straightened immediately. "Don't stare," she snapped.

"It's very hard to resist at the moment. Have I told you how much I love your beach clothes?"

She sighed, drawing on her reserves of patience. He'd followed her; of course he'd followed her. "This isn't a good time for that. Something strange is going on." She studied the sky, the trees, and the ground, frowning.

"I know that things between us have been different—strange—since Lisa-chan came back into our lives." He affected a casual tone, but his eyes were sharp when she glanced at him.

"Strange is the wrong word for what's between us. More importantly, have you been here before? Is this spot familiar to you?"

"What word would you use to describe what's between us?"

"Answer my question, please." She crouched to touch the earth, but it felt ordinary.

"If you answer mine." At her nod he said, "No, I've never been here before. This place is wholly unfamiliar. What word would you use for what's between us?"

""Difficult. Treacherous." She rose and stepped toward him. "We'll have to do a test."

"Treacherous? Do you find our situation dangerous, or do you think that I'll betray you?"

"We need to take a few flash steps. I think it would be best if we stayed together."

He stayed where he was, even when her foot started tapping and she waved at him impatiently. "Tell me first, Nanao-chan."

"You could at least pretend an interest in our situation." She scowled at him.

"I'm aware that our situation in this place is bothering you. But right now the situation between us is more important to me than our external situation. So please, tell me first."

"After this, we will flash step together." He nodded. "What's between us is dangerous, not because you would betray me. But we have very different things that we value and are true to, and it's not—it's not wise for us to pursue a closer relationship. Now, can we go, please?"

He left his lounging position, coming to tower over her. "You must know that I value you beyond words, Nanao-chan. If you know that, you could trust me to be true to you."

"You would be true to me in your own way. But we have different definitions of what it means to be true to someone." She rubbed at her sternum, as if that could ease the terrible tightness in her chest.

"Tell me your definition, and I'll tell you that I can meet it." He cupped her cheek, his thumb stroking her skin.

For one moment her heart filled with hope. She was sure it showed in her eyes, because he leaned in, his hand cradling one of hers. He might try to be true to her, to give her the kind of exclusive, serious relationship she craved with him. But was it really fair of her to ask him to pretzel himself to fit the demands of her heart? And if he did it, how long would it be before his unhappiness at the constraints overwhelmed his happiness to have finally won Nanao?

She remembered Lisa's warning: Trust his actions, not his words. He loves romantic ideas, but it's just dressing for the same carousel of one-night stands and crap relationships most people have. Maybe he is capable of more, but if he hasn't shown it in the last two thousand years, do you want to take that risk? Bottom line, he's a bad bet for you, Nanao-chan.

Those words had stung Nanao then, delivered in Lisa's matter-of-fact way; they'd stung more when she'd seen affection and pity in Lisa's eyes. Lisa wasn't being catty or cruel. She was trying to be kind to Nanao, and spare her more pain in the future.

"No," she said, and the word echoed like a bell into the silence between them, digging the chasm deeper.

"Nanao-chan, what is it? If this is about Lisa-chan, I can explain that."

She took a step away, his hand dropping from her face. "You don't owe me any explanations. I am your Vice Captain, not your wife." She flinched when the words came out. Why did she say that? It must be all of the women from the inn repeating over and over, your wife, your husband, to the two of them; it had gotten trapped in her throat and escaped just now.

A silence fell between them and she studied the packed earth of the trail. Their hands were still joined and she flexed her fingers once, to see if he'd let go. His hand tightened around hers, which surprised her, so she glanced up. There was an odd expression on his face, something she hadn't seen often. He looked very solemn, but his eyes were light—that was strange, because he ordinarily looked happy and had serious eyes.

"Nanao-chan."

She swallowed, but didn't speak.

"My lovely, precious Nanao-chan." He closed the space between them.

"We should go. We need to try our shunpo, it's very important—"

He kissed her.

She sank into the moment, into the kiss, before she remembered that she was trying to distance herself from him, that this was a very bad idea, and that the outcome of a kiss had been disastrous at the lake. "Stop," she whispered, pulling her lips away from his. "We can't do this. You can't play with me like this."

"Who's playing?" he asked, seeking her lips again.

She shoved him away with both hands on his chest. "You are. You're always playing, and that's fine most of the time, but it's not now."

"I want you to take me seriously, Nanao-chan." He held her hands against his chest.

"Then be serious," she hissed. "I believe we're in a serious situation here, so if you could pay at least some attention to that, I would appreciate it."

"Don't look so worried, sweetheart. We'll figure this out."

It wasn't clear to her whether he was talking about the shunpo problem or about the two of them, and Nanao didn't ask, since he shifted to her side, wrapping an arm around her waist. "Holding hands would have been adequate for the purpose of the test, Captain."

"But you said that it's important for us to stay together, Nanao-chan."

She sighed for his benefit, which made him smile and tighten his hold. It felt good to be close to him—his body was firm against hers and he radiated warmth. "Let's go."

He flash stepped with a speed that had her gasping. She grabbed his shoulder with one hand and a fistful of his haori with the other. After several steps he stopped easily. "We should be at the gate to Seireitei."

The fox statue at the roadside shrine leered at her. She scowled at it.

"Yare, yare. Nanao-chan, I think our vacation might be a bit longer than expected."

"This is my vacation, not our vacation. I can't believe this is happening. Let's try another direction." She shifted to his front so that she could grip his shoulders more tightly. Risking accidental separation during shunpo would be foolish in these questionable circumstances. That was why she wanted to be closer to him; it had nothing to do with the way her senses tingled when she touched him or how comforting she found his scent.

He tightened his hold on her waist and brought his other hand up to stroke the nape of her neck. Captain Kyōraku flash stepped east of their previous course.

The fox statue smiled knowingly at them. "I'm starting to dislike that thing," Nanao said.

"We'll try again." He went west, but again the shrine and the stone fox greeted them. "That statue does look pretty smug, doesn't it?"

"Try the direction where the Laughing Fox Inn is, I have a feeling we'll be able to go that way." Nanao was right; with a few flash steps they easily reached the resort. She groaned and hit her forehead against his chest.

He chuckled.

"It's not funny," she scolded, but without heat. "Let's try to go further in this direction."

A short while later, the smiling fox statue welcomed them back to the shrine.

"It's not a barrier." Nanao's brows drew together in concentration.

"No, it's not. It's more subtle than that. It's almost as though the landscape is reorienting itself around us as we move."

"What should we do, then? If the land itself is shifting around us, I don't know how to counter that."

"With a lot of pins?" He grinned at her.

"Be serious. There must be a kidō or a technique to break this trap. You must know of something we can do."

He raised his eyebrow suggestively. "I know of many things we can do."

"How exactly would anything like that help?" She slapped his drifting hand away from her backside.

"It might help you relax. I just want you to be happier, Nanao-chan. You look so tense and worried."

"And you don't seem to be concerned enough." She stepped away from him, crossing her arms.

"Nanao-chan—" he broke off, turning his head to see up the path. Two beautiful women in swimsuits and transparent cover-ups walked down the trail from the lake toward the shrine at a leisurely pace.

Nanao hadn't sensed them, too focused on him, but he was more alert than she'd given him credit for. Perhaps he was not as casual about the trap they were in as she'd assumed.

"Good afternoon, ladies," Captain Kyōraku called.

"Good afternoon. You must be guests at the Laughing Fox Inn," one of the women said, the other tittering behind her hand. They had the same narrow faces and bright features that characterized all of the women of the district.

"We are. We've just been enjoying the hospitality of this beautiful area." His tone was amiable, but Nanao knew him well enough to see the awareness of his body; at the smallest sign, he could jump into battle.

"We're leaving, actually," Nanao said, watching their faces.

"Leaving so soon? I'm sure you'll change your mind. There's still so much for you to do out here." The women nodded to each other, smiling.

"Is that so? Perhaps one of you lovely ladies has a suggestion on what we might do next?" Captain Kyōraku smiled, but his eyes were sharp.

"Oh, I'm sure the inn is the best place to go. They can inform you of all that the district has to offer," one of the women said.

"We're leaving," Nanao said again.

"Don't be hasty, Nanao-chan, we could go back to the inn and have something to eat and a bit of rest." He stroked his hand down her arm, and the fox-faced women giggled.

She knew why he was touching her; he wanted more information out of this conversation, and she wasn't helping him with that. But she was tired and her temper was fraying. It felt as if the entire district was playing with her, and she hated that.

"Your husband is so considerate—" one of the women said.

"—so charming!" added the other.

"You're so lucky," the first said, and they both nodded.

"He's not my husband," Nanao snapped, and one of the women jumped, surprised. A bright tail popped out over the woman's bikini bottom.

"Have a good day, we'll see you at the inn!" the other woman said, waving, and then both of them hurried off.

Nanao watched their backs until they were out of sight. "Did you see that?"

"When you yelled at them? Yes." Captain Kyōraku rubbed his chin.

"The one that jumped, she had a tail."

"Yes."

"A fox tail."

"Yes."

"They're kitsunes. They really are." She plopped down in the grass by the shrine.

He sat beside her. "That's what it looks like."

Nanao shook her head. They were being played with by fox spirits. Was it just mischief, or something more sinister?

"You know, I always thought that if I met a kitsune they'd use their wiles to seduce me for their own mysterious reasons." He looked a bit wistful, and Nanao made a sound of disdain.

"You're disappointed that they aren't targeting you for seduction?" She narrowed her eyes.

"I didn't say that." He grinned. "Actually, given our encounters with the women of this district so far, I'd say that they're targeting you."

She smacked the brim of his hat. "Don't get such a dreamy look when you say that."

He endeavored to look innocent, as if he hadn't just been obviously fantasizing about Nanao and the fox women. "I don't know what you're talking about, Nanao-chan."

"Liar." The corners of her lips turned up. "My first vacation in years, and I get targeted by kitsunes and trapped in the Fourteenth District."

"At least we're together. It's better than being alone, isn't it?" He held up a corner of his pink haori. "Are you cold, Nanao-chan?"

The wind was a little chilly, but she waved away his offer. She was not going to snuggle up with him. "Alone was the point of this trip." The fox statue was still smiling, and she thought she could hear the giggling of the fox women.

"Alone was the point? Nanao-chan, when I went to the Living World without you, it wasn't because I wouldn't want you along ordinarily, I just needed to see Lisa-chan alone this time. Next time—"

"You don't have to explain yourself to me," she interrupted, hating the gentleness and patience of his voice.

"I want to explain. Things have been changing, and I know that it must have been difficult for you."

"Everything is fine," she said.

He sighed. "We're past the point where we can pretend that, don't you think?"

Her shoulders slumped. "Can't we just go back to the way things were before?" Before the lake, before Lisa's return, before his wounds at Karakura ripped open her heart, even before the Valentine's Day Incident when things had shifted between them—back to when she'd been content, secure in her position as Vice Captain of the Eighth and the comfortable flirtation she and Captain Kyōraku enjoyed. Everything was easier then.

"No."

Her eyes widened. "No?"

"I don't want to go back to that. I want things to change. Nothing can stay the same forever, sweetheart." The weight of his gaze pressed her lids closed.

"You—you weren't happy then?" There was a waver in her voice that she hated for the weakness it exposed.

"I enjoyed our relationship as it was. But I want more. That's natural, isn't it? To want more of something, of someone, that makes you happy?"

She drew her knees up, resting her chin on them. "You want more from me? Like the relationship that you had with Yadōmaru-sempai when she was your Vice Captain?" She caught the subtle flinch that ran over his features from the corner of her eye.

"Nanao-chan, you and Lisa-chan are not the same. You aren't her replacement to me." He rested one large hand on her shoulder.

"Obviously. The two of us are nothing alike beyond our superficial resemblance. You'd have to be an idiot to imagine that we could be exchanged." She adjusted her glasses.

He looked surprised for a moment, and then he laughed. "You're right, Nanao-chan. You and Lisa-chan are not very alike at all. I'm glad that you don't worry about that."

"You didn't answer my question." She removed his hand from her shoulder with two fingers.

"I'm not involved with Lisa-chan, Nanao-chan."

"I didn't ask you that." She could feel the frown on her face.

"But you wanted to know."

She sighed at that. She had wanted to know, and she wouldn't have asked. But he'd avoided the question again. "Do you want a relationship with me like the one you had with Yadōmaru-sempai?"

"I want us to have our own relationship, on our own terms. Lisa-chan has nothing to do with it."

Her chest ached, but she forged ruthlessly ahead. "She was your Vice Captain, and you slept with her. I am your Vice Captain, and you wish to sleep with me. What exactly is the difference?"

"You shouldn't make these kinds of comparisons. The situations have nothing to do with each other." He tried to tip her chin with his fingers to see her face, but she slapped him away.

"What is the difference between the situations? They appear analogous to me."

"Everything about us is different. All of the emotions involved are different." He cupped her cheek, turning her to face him. This time she allowed it. "Believe me, Nanao-chan. You are unique among the women I've known. I could tell you more. I could go on forever, talking about what you are to me, but I think you might run away."

"It isn't as if I'd get far, given the trap we're in." She smiled very slightly. What he'd said was something to consider, to weigh with the words Lisa had given her, and with Nanao's own misgivings about getting involved intimately with him. But although he'd said she was unique, he hadn't offered any specifics about the kind of relationship he wanted with her. There was nothing that signaled that the relationship he wanted was the one that she wanted.

But they did have more urgent issues.

He nodded at her. "The kitsune trap is a problem. I think we should go back to the inn."

"Are you serious?"

"It's the only place that we seem to be able to go freely, and it's the most likely place to find some answers." He stood, rubbing the back of his neck.

"If the kitsunes have malicious intent, going to the inn could be dangerous."

"Yes, but I think the confrontation may be the only solution here. There isn't an obvious barrier or a spell to break."

"I don't want to go back yet. I think we should try to walk to the edge of the allowed area, and see if we can get a handle on whatever the obstacle may be." Nanao stood, stretching her arms over her head before remembering how short the beach cover-up was. When she glanced at her Captain, he was watching her with avid interest.

"We can try that, but let's be prepared to return to the inn, if it comes to that."

She nodded and they began to walk up the path, away from the shrine and the inn.

He fell into an easy stroll beside her. They walked in silence for a long stretch of afternoon, but the forest was unchanging around them. "Let's go back to the inn, Nanao-chan. It'll be night in a few hours. You must be hungry."

She was also exhausted and cold—her sleep had been poor for weeks, and she'd gotten no rest last night—but she said, "No, I want to keep going."

"Then take my haori, at least." He started to remove it from his shoulders.

"I'm fine." She waved away the haori. "No, thank you."

They continued through the gloomy forest. The sky was heavy with gray clouds, and she thought it might storm soon. But she wanted to be back on familiar ground, back at home. It would be easier to deal with the changing planes of her relationship with Captain Kyōraku at home, miles away from any interfering kitsunes.

"Can you think of any reason the kitsunes might target you?"

She thought for a minute. "I can't. If we assume all of the women we've met are kitsunes—"

"I think that's an excellent assumption to start with, Nanao-chan."

"Then I don't see why they'd want to harm us or trap us. I helped Chiyo-san and her granddaughter, and they were grateful." It was good to be able to talk with him this way again—they hadn't really talked normally since he was in the hospital. The silence had fallen between them then, too heavy to break, but this vacation had cracked it down the middle.

"Tell me about what happened."

She told him about the bandit attack.

"That could have been an arranged event, to see what you would do."

She frowned up at him. "But why?"

"Perhaps the kitsunes find you interesting. Without asking them, it's impossible to know."

"I can't believe kitsunes would be interested in me." She shook her head.

"You're a very interesting woman, Nanao-chan. I've been fascinated by you for a long time now." He drew his knuckles over her cheek.

She wasn't certain of how to respond to that, so she returned to the topic of the kitsunes. "Whether the bandit attack was arranged or a genuine attack, that's how it happened."

"And she offered you a gift as a reward? The sake set you gave me?"

"No. She made me another offer initially, but I didn't accept it." Her feet sped up their pace, and she forced herself to slow.

"What did she offer you?"

She darted a glance at his face. "A ribbon," she said, unable to admit to the love spell.

"A ribbon?" He reached into his kosode. "Nanao-chan, was it this ribbon?"

The love spell ribbon lay coiled in his palm. She stared at it, shocked. "Where did you get that?"

"It was in one of the sake cups in the set you gave me. I couldn't resist seeing my present from Nanao-chan, but I though the ribbon was odd. I meant to ask you about it earlier."

She snatched it from his hand. "That shouldn't have been in there. This is bad, isn't it?"

"I don't know, Nanao-chan. It feels like there's a kidō or something else coating it, but it doesn't seem bad, necessarily. It's not just a ribbon, though. What is it?"

She crushed the ribbon in her hand, her knuckles white. A drizzling rain fell into the trees, chill and sharp.

"What is it, sweetheart?" He put his hands on her shoulders, and she could read concern in his eyes.

"It's a love spell. That's what Chiyo-san said."

"A love spell?" One of his hands eased her grip on the ribbon, opening her fingers. "How would something like this work?"

"She said that if someone tied it around her wrist and the wrist of the one that they loved, that user's feelings would be returned by the victim."

He rubbed the dull ribbon, as if feeling for the enchantment.

The silence was unbearable. "I didn't accept it."

"No?" His tone was even and she couldn't read his mood in his voice.

Her free hand fisted around a corner of the beach cover-up. The ribbon had been with the sake set, somehow, but it wasn't her doing. "No. I refused it. Something like this is extremely unethical. And I don't believe in love spells."

"Did you believe in kitsunes before this morning?" He raised an eyebrow.

"No. But that doesn't matter. I would never use something like a love spell, even if it was real."

He dangled the ribbon, allowing it to pool into her cupped palm. "Chiyo-san is a kitsune, and they are very clever. If she offered you this specific item, she must have thought it would offer some appeal for you."

"She was just being kind." The rain fell between them. What could he be thinking? "I would never have used it."

"But you were tempted, weren't you, precious Nanao-chan?"

Her breath caught. "If I was tempted—it was only for a moment. And I would never have accepted the love spell. I would never use it on you." Her hand clenched around the ribbon. It was such a small thing with such a terrible power. She pulled away from her Captain and threw the ribbon; it floated down into a puddle a few feet away.

"Nanao-chan?"

"I was tempted. Sometimes—sometimes I can't even breathe without you. I hate you for that." She started off into the forest, her eyes blurry from the rain and her tears of shame and anger.

His arms wrapped around her, and she was pressed against his solid chest. "Don't cry, Nanao-chan."

"I'm not crying," she said. It was barely true; her eyes were full of tears, but they hadn't fallen.

He pressed kisses into her hair. "I know you wouldn't have used it. Did you think I would be angry that you were tempted?"

"I'd never want you to be my victim. I—just for a moment— I was tempted." Her words were a whisper against the rain, but he caught them.

"You wanted me to be your lover?" He tipped her head up, and she saw his eyes were dark and hot under his hat, his voice matching them.

Her eyelids fluttered down. "I wanted—"

"Tell me," he murmured near her ear. His lips kissed the shell of her ear, warm against her icy skin.

Her hands curled around his neck.

"You're too hard on yourself. I wasn't shocked or angry that you were tempted. I was glad."

She looked up at him, her eyes wide and wet. The rain fell harder now. "You were glad?"

"A happy little thrill went through me, because Nanao-chan was tempted. Upstanding Nanao-chan wanted me enough to be tempted. Didn't you?" He kissed her cheek, down to her jawline, and then to the corner of her lips. "Tell me," he whispered, and her eyes closed.

"I wanted you."

He kissed her, one of his hands in her hair, the other on her back, pressing her against him. His lips were soft and his tongue tasted of tea. She swayed on her feet.

He broke the kiss. "You're freezing, sweetheart."

Her lips followed his, engaging him in another kiss. "I'm fine," she said, although she was very cold. The chill in her limbs was nothing against the heat of this moment.

"Yare, Nanao-chan. You're freezing, and you have shadows under your eyes as dark as bruises. You have to give more attention to your body's needs."

"That's what I'm trying to do." He resisted her efforts to kiss him, and she tugged on his hair in irritation.

He chuckled. "I will spend all of the hours you want kissing you and satisfying your needs, after you're warm and fed and rested."

She pulled harder on his hair. "Do not treat me like a child. I am entirely capable of taking care of myself."

"Nanao-chan is so rough with me. I don't want to treat you like a child, but I do want to treat you like someone that I value. I know you can take care of yourself. But that doesn't mean I don't want to treasure you."

She sniffed but released his hair.

He grinned, wicked and slow. "Nanao-chan satisfying her needs—that's something I'd like to see."

"That's inappropriate," she said, and nodded for emphasis.

"Is it?" he asked, his hand on her backside, and she stopped in the middle of removing his transgressing fingers.

Was it inappropriate? It would have been clearly so only days ago, but now she wasn't sure. What was appropriate when she'd admitted that she wanted him enough to consider a love spell? When they'd nearly made love this morning?

"Don't frown, lovely Nanao-chan. I'm only teasing." He kissed her temple.

She nodded. "We should take shelter. I don't want to go back to the inn yet, though."

"It's the most logical course of action. We haven't gotten anywhere in hours of walking."

She stepped back from him, crossing her arms over her chest. "I know that. And I would like to speak with Chiyo-san, since she was the source of the—of the ribbon. But—" She thought of the laughing women, of their continual torment with their praise of your husband, of their knowing looks, all scraping against the raw wounds of her heart, and shook her head. "I want to rest first." She wasn't ready to face that; she needed to gather herself, to find a reserve of icy calm.

"If that's what you want." He glanced around. "Our options are pretty limited. There was a cave a bit off the path back there."

"Alright, let's head there." Nanao turned back toward the path.

Her Captain walked to the puddle, pulling out the ribbon. "We might want to have it with us." His eyes were apologetic.

She nodded. The ribbon made her uncomfortable, but it was something the kitsunes had given them, and it would be wise to hold onto it. He looked very serious now, but somehow that wasn't what she wanted. "You lied, Captain."

"Nanao-chan?" He stopped his strides toward her.

"You weren't just teasing. You know that you would want to see that." She raised an eyebrow and walked serenely along the path.

His surprised chuckle made her lips twitch. "Is that an offer, naughty Nanao-chan?" he murmured over her shoulder.

"Absolutely not. It was an observation," she said primly.

"But Nanao-chan, I think you should make it an offer. The leverage something like that would give you over me is tremendous. You could name your price in paperwork."

"It's a poor negotiating tactic to tell me how much you'd pay when we aren't even bargaining presently." The conversation was light, but Nanao felt more uncomfortable with it now. Sex and work again—was that the extent of what he wanted for her? Just a Vice Captain that he could sleep with when he was bored?

He'd been talking, continuing the joke, but she hasn't been listening. "Nanao-chan?"

She shook her head. The cave he'd suggested for shelter was ahead, although it was really more of a small rocky overhang.



A/N: Thanks for reading this story, I appreciate it!

I wanted to give some general information about my upcoming projects here. After this story is complete, the next Shunsui/Nanao I will post here will be fanfic for the Week of Love giveaway at the shunsui_nanao Livejournal community, happening between July 6th and July 12th. (If you're a fan of Shunsui/Nanao, you might be interested in checking it out; I think it's going to be fun, and there's a doujinshi prize drawing.)

After I post the giveaway fanfic, there's a Shunsui/Nanao story that I've been working on that isn't complete yet, but will definitely be rated at NC-17. I thought about editing down the sexual content to lower the rating, but I've decided the sex is integral to the story, and so I won't change it.

I'm also doing a Byakuya/Yuzu future story this summer for the Crack Ship Big Bang community at Livejournal, because I thought it would be a fun challenge. ^_^; And of course there are always a few Shunsui/Nanao story ideas that I want to write; I still love to write this pairing. ^_^

On to Chapter 3.