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Title: Practicing Marriage
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: T
Status: Multi-Chapter, Ongoing
Contains: Spoilers through Bleach manga chapter 515.
Summary: When Nanao's family asks her to consider an arranged marriage, Captain Kyōraku decides to interfere.

Notes: This chapter is roughly one quarter of the way through this story, which is largely a sweet romp through courtship with some obstacles to overcome. ^_^

Back to Chapter 5.

Chapter 1.

He chose well, she had to admit that. The restaurant was clean and crowded with shinigami. They sat in a corner booth, a pleasant hum of conversation around them. "Does this earn me the point, Nanao-chan?"

She sipped from her drink. It was a sweet blend of juices and alcohol he'd insisted she'd like. He was right, she enjoyed the flavors. "You can't have the point until I've tasted the food, Captain."

"Captain? I'm wounded, Nanao-chan. Surely you wouldn't still call me Captain when we're married? Perhaps you should practice using my name while we're practicing marriage." He smiled when she narrowed his eyes at him.

He did have a point. She would likely not be calling him Captain in certain situations when they were married. She could try it out and see how his name felt on her tongue. "Shunsui-san," she said haltingly.

He smiled brilliantly. "My name sounds so good in your voice, Nanao-chan. But you're still so polite. Our relationship should be close enough for less formality, don't you think?"

She frowned. "Shunsui-kun," she said, as if he were a peer of hers.

"That's very friendly. And it's better than the last one. But I think I'd like something more bare for our intimate relationship. Something more naked." His voice dipped low during his obvious innuendo.

"I see, Shunsui-chan," she snapped as a restaurant worker brought their food.

Captain Kyōraku burst into laughter. The server held a blank face and escaped as quickly as possible. Nanao pressed her lips together.

"You can call me that if you really want to, Nanao-chan, I won't refuse it. Would you also like to tell me what a bad boy I've been and maybe spank me a little? That would be fine, too." He grinned.

"Punishing you has a certain appeal, but I think you'd enjoy it too much," she muttered.

"Definitely." He picked up a shrimp from his bowl. "Try this, Nanao-chan, it's the best here."

She ate a bite of the shrimp. "It's excellent."

"Can I have the point now?"

She pretended to consider it. "Yes, I suppose you can have it."

"Thank you, Nanao-chan." His hand crossed the table and covered hers, his thumb stroking the pulse in her wrist. "Can I have my name, too?"

She hesitated. Whatever jokes he made, it really was an intimacy to use his name at all, much less without an honorific. When she spoke it was with a careful precision that measured the weight of the gesture. "Shunsui."

He looked serious, but his eyes smiled, and his hand squeezed hers. "That's my favorite by far. Will you use my name like that from now on?"

"While we're practicing marriage, I'll use your name." She needed to put that limitation on, to remind herself and him that this was a temporary arrangement. They weren't married. She wasn't even certain that considering marriage to her Captain was a wise decision.

"Thank you, Nanao-chan." His smile was dazzling and his thumb caressed the fine skin of her wrist.

She felt a bit light-headed suddenly. She withdrew her hand from his, focusing intently on her food. When their server returned Nanao refused a second fruit drink in favor of some tea. The alcohol might not have caused her light-headedness and skipping heart, but it certainly couldn't help.

The tea was bad. She sipped and then sighed, making a face.

"What's the matter with it, Nanao-chan?" He stopped his idle conversation when he saw her expression.

She handed him the cup. "It's weak and tastes a bit burnt, somehow."

He took a drink from her cup. "It's awful. I'll have them bring something else."

"No, it's fine. I'm done eating anyway. Though I do wonder if you should really have that point for good taste when the restaurant serves tea like this." She arched one brow.

"I have to confess that I've never had the tea here. Ukitake seems fine with it, although his tastebuds might be damaged from centuries of medicinal teas, if he enjoys this tea." He set the cup down, lifting his sake dish. "The sake here is excellent, however. Would you like some, Nanao-chan?"

"No, thank you. But is it so hard to make decent tea? At the division, if I don't make it myself, it's awful at least half the time."

"Making tea is an art, Nanao-chan." He drank sake, his eyes amused. "Maybe you should add it to your list of things you want in a husband."

"It's very important. Maybe I'll add it to the list." She propped her chin up on her hand, smiling.

"That's an excellent idea, Nanao-chan. You may recall that I make very good tea."

She raised her eyebrow. "Is that so? I'd have to taste your tea again before I could give you the point, though. It's been a while."

"You'll have plenty of opportunities while we practice at being married at my home." There was anticipation in his voice.

She hesitated. "I don't have anything packed, and that may take some time, so perhaps we should delay the marriage practice at your home until tomorrow."

"There's no need to delay our practice. We can go to your quarters right now and pack. It's still early." He rose and bundled her out of the restaurant before she could maneuver her way out of coming to his house. He was in high spirits when they entered her quarters. "Do you want me to help, Nanao-chan? Just tell me what you need me to do." He looked huge in her small quarters and his eyes roamed with interest over all of her things.

"I would prefer to pack my things myself. Why don't you make some tea? You wanted the point for that." She gestured at her kitchen area.

He headed over and began rifling through her kitchen items. She moved to her closet and pulled out a bag, packing slowly. She wasn't quite sure of what to bring—she'd never lived with a man, much less under the pretense of acting married—and she wasn't sure of how long to pack for, as they hadn't set any hard time limits on their practice.

"You have so many more things than you did when I was here last, Nanao-chan. But that was several years ago."

She glanced at him where he sat at her small table. She did have more books and pictures and clothes—she'd gone shopping more with Rangiku and other SWA friends and taken up some reading and hobbies that Rukia Kuchiki had brought back to them from the Living World.

Did he think she had too many things? She was packing to come to his house. Maybe he hadn't thought about how much space she would take up in his house and in his life. She felt gnawing worry at the idea, because if even her Captain felt that way, what about the men in the matchmaker's file? She'd be marrying into their households, most likely. Even if her husband moved to the Ise estate, that wasn't her space, either. She hadn't lived there since she was a small child. What personal space would she retain?

How much would she give up to save her family with this marriage? "I do have more things. But I've been thinking of getting rid of some of them," she said, frozen.

"Nanao-chan?"

She darted a look at him, stiff.

"I only meant that I'm glad you've gained more friends and interests. I don't want you to get rid of any of your things." He rose and came close to her.

"It's entirely possible that I would need to trim my personal possessions if I did enter an arranged marriage. I hadn't thought about it before." She looked at the low bookcases lining her quarters, pictures of her friends arranged neatly on top.

"No, Nanao-chan. You deserve to have personal space, personal things, in a marriage." He rested his hands on her shoulders, warm and comforting.

"But there is no assurance that I would be able to actually have those things. The nobles of Seireitei are largely traditional in their views. Whatever I might want, my husband would have the very real leverage of the needs of the Ise estate to use against me in any disagreement."

"You aren't wrong, sweetheart. Some men would use your family's needs against you. But I wouldn't do that, Nanao-chan." He lifted her chin. "And I have a very big house. I want you and all of your things there with me."

"Even setting aside the traditions of the nobility, I don't know if I can fit into another person's life. I left my family when I was quite young, and I've always lived alone."

He smiled. "You'll fit with me, Nanao-chan. I promise. We'll fit together. And you should have everything that you want in our house. We can always build more closets."

She shook her head, smiling. "Building more closets is an inefficient solution."

"We need to have lots of storage, so that you can have many, many pairs of those lovely little panties in your hand."

he looked down at her hand and startled. She was clutching a pair of lavender lace panties she'd been packing when he'd triggered her worry. A bright flush lit her cheeks and he chuckled. "Panties take up very little storage space," she said with a huff, stuffing the offending garment into her bag.

"Imagine how many you could fit into a closet. Maybe we should have one devoted only to panties. If you can't fill it, I am more than willing to offer eager assistance." His eyes gleamed.

She wasn't touching that offer. "I prefer to select my own garments. And weren't you making tea?" She arched a brow at him.

"It's finished. Would you like some?"

She nodded, deciding what she'd packed already would do for now. She could always come back for more of her things. They'd probably only be practicing at being married for a few days anyway, since time was of the essence and she'd need to make a decision on second meetings fairly soon. The matchmaker had suggested one week would be an appropriate time between the initial meetings and whatever second meeting she chose to have.

He led her to the table with a flourish, pouring a cup of tea. She lifted the cup, savoring the aroma, before taking a small sip. It was perfect, of course. "You can have the point for the tea."

He grinned.

"And—" she paused. "The point for closets." It wasn't really about closets and he surely knew that, but what he'd said about fitting together—she believed he genuinely wanted her to be happy, and wanted her to fit into his life. It mattered more than she would have imagined.

His eyes widened, his smile shrinking, but his eyes grew warm and tender. "Thank you, Nanao-chan. For both points."


They lingered over their tea. Nanao relaxed in the familiarity of her quarters, but something nagged at her about their earlier conversation. He'd said they'd fit together. The matchmaking process was formal and usually involved both families, at least to the point of knowing a match was being pursued.

But he hadn't mentioned anything about his family yet.

"Nanao-chan?"

"Hmm?" She looked up from her tea cup. "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

"I was saying that you seem less interested in the arrangements for the summer division party than usual. I just suggested that we set off fireworks from the courtyard without any objections from you." He smiled and raised an eyebrow.

"No fireworks in the courtyard. If you really want fireworks, we'll make arrangements with the Twelfth Division to set them off over the river." Nanao finished her tea. What if he hadn't told his family about the match meeting at all? Was he really taking this seriously if his family wasn't involved?

"You never let me have fireworks in the division any more. It was only one little fire and it only caused a negligible amount of damage to the roof."

"We had to have an entire roof replaced in the barracks. That's not negligible." She took the empty cups and the tea pot into her tiny kitchen area for washing.

"What about ice sculptures? Those would be fun and the risk of fire is almost nothing."

"Where would you get ice sculptures?" But her thoughts were still on her concern. His family was much higher ranking than hers. What if he didn't want to admit an interest in someone from the lower nobility to them?

"From Toshirō-kun or Rukia-chan. I'm sure they could be persuaded to make a few thematic sculptures for us."

"What sort of themes?" she asked, curious.

"Maybe we'd have a few sculptures of girls in yukatas, girls in bikinis, girls wearing flowers, girls in school uniforms—"

"All of those selections are dubious and the last one is also inaccurate. School uniforms are not particularly representative of summer." She finished the dishes and strode over to pick up her bag.

He lifted it out of her hand. "School uniforms have a universal appeal, Nanao-chan."

She waved him out of her quarters and closed them up. They headed towards his house. "I do not find school uniforms to be particularly appealing."

"Nanao-chan, there are so many glorious features to a school uniform, let me tell you—"

"That's unnecessary," she said, but he continued anyway. She barely listened as they neared his house. If his family wasn't involved, what did that mean? Why wouldn't he tell his family about the match?

They arrived at his gate. He was still extolling the virtues of the school uniform. He opened the gate, welcoming her with a flourish. He grinned at her with a teasing light in his eyes. "Nanao-chan in a school uniform would be like a dream come to life. I can't tell you what I'd pay to see you like that."

Her breath caught. It was too close to what Rangiku had said people would think—They'll say that you married him for money and that he married you to get his lecherous hands on a desirable young girl who wouldn't sleep with him otherwise. "Would you pay the price of the restoration of the Ise estate and the opening of three new shops for that?" There was a thread of hurt under the snap of her sharp voice that surprised both of them, but his joke was poorly timed when they were still in these delicate negotiations with each other. She'd expected better from him, but perhaps she'd expected too much.

Her bag dropped out of his hand. "Nanao-chan." He laid his hands on her shoulders and she shrugged him off. "I didn't mean it like that. I was only teasing. I'm not buying you, Nanao-chan."

She shook her head, turning away from him. "What was it that you said? That I was exchanging myself for money through an arranged marriage?" He'd said his motivations were selfish, but she hadn't believed him, and she'd defended him to Rangiku. The idea that his motivations were actually base and sordid felt like a kick to the chest.

He looped around in front of her. "I was angry and I was wrong. I shouldn't have said that to you. You aren't selling yourself. I'm not buying you. We're two people who care about each other and want to be more to each other. That's what this is. That's why we're considering marriage."

He reached for her and she allowed it, standing stiff and still in his embrace. His heart beat under her cheek and he was warm and strong and familiar.

"We'll fit together, Nanao-chan, I promise."

"It's not as simple as that." She pulled away from him and moved to his porch, sitting down heavily. "There's a gulf between us of age, experience, fortune, and status in society."

He ran a hand down his face, his frustration leaking out in a sigh. "First I heard this from Ukitake, and now from you, too? Whatever gulf there is between us doesn't matter. We're important to each other, and that's what matters."

A small hope rose in her. She was sure it showed in her as because he shifted closer cautiously. "Did you tell your family about the match meeting? What did they think of the match?"

He hesitated. "I haven't told my family yet. It was so rushed to get the meeting and it wasn't important to tell them anyway—"

"It wasn't important? You didn't find the possibility of entering into marriage with me important enough to tell your family about?" That hurt more than she'd expected. She frowned blackly at him, her arms crossed.

"No, it wasn't like that. You're very important to me, Nanao-chan. But it wasn't important what my family thought of the match, because they couldn't have swayed me anyway." He sat down beside her, leaning close.

"What were you going to do?" She gave him a hard look.

"About what, Nanao-chan?"

"About me. Were you just going to show up one day at your family's estate with a wife?" A darker thought crossed her mind. "Or were you never going to explain me at all? How serious were you about marriage?"

"I was going to tell my family. I hadn't thought about when, in particular, because I was focused on you and me and not on what other people were going to think. Since it's important to you, I'll send them a letter tomorrow."

Perhaps she'd overreacted; it'd been a very long day full of difficult conversations. "The men in the matchmaker's file all had the approval of their families to pursue a possible marriage with me. That is the normal process, according to the matchmaker."

"And because I'd skipped a part of the normal process, you questioned my seriousness." His tone was even and understanding.

"If the approval of their families was important enough for the men in the file to secure in advance of any meeting, wouldn't it logically be even more critical for you, since your family is from much higher-ranking nobility?" She gestured with one hand.

"No."

She looked up, her mouth forming an o of surprise. "No?"

He smiled wryly. "At this stage of my life, securing the approval of my family in advance isn't critical. They don't expect anything of me in this area. I'm a second son, and they resigned themselves to the idea that I was effectively married to the Eighth Division and not likely to marry or have children a long time ago. If I did just show up with a wife one day, their reactions would be positive, Nanao-chan."

"You don't need your family's approval because of your advanced age?" She frowned, considering.

"Ouch, don't say it like that, Nanao-chan." He made an exaggerated wince.

The corners of her lips twitched. "I see. You're old enough that your family's expectations for your marriage have faded away."

He cringed theatrically. "Nanao-chan is cruel to her Shunsui."

She smiled. Even though age was one of the things that separated them, it didn't seem so important now, and it made the other things that separated them not look as important, either.

He returned her smile. "I'll write to my family tomorrow. They'll be happy, Nanao-chan—especially my mother. We should do some training tomorrow and refresh your hand-to-hand combat skills."

"What? My hand-to-hand skills?" Nanao's brows drew together. Was his family going to attack her? But he'd said they'd be happy to see her.

"It's preparation for meeting my family. You'll understand when you meet my mother. Don't worry about it, Nanao-chan." He tilted his head, scratching his chin.

His family was widely known as experts in the martial arts. Was there some sort of sparring match to gain his mother's approval? "I've kept my combat skills sharp, but I'll work hard."

"You don't have to be so serious about it. My family won't influence my decision to marry you. Though there is something lovely about seeing that determination in your face for marrying me."

She fought down a blush. He'd caught her out—she wanted this to work, wanted him to be her match. She hadn't even considered any of the other candidates after he'd come to the Ise estate. Maybe she should try to explain herself a little. "Earlier, when I thought you weren't serious—I wasn't being fair to you. I expect more from you than I do from the men in the matchmaker's file. I expect more, and it's not fair of me. I don't know why I have these expectations. I should stop thinking that way."

His eyes widened and then warmed. His hands curved around her face, his thumbs caressing her cheeks. "No, Nanao-chan. Please continue to expect more from me than you would from any other man. I'll do my best to surpass your expectations."

She blinked in confusion. He looked pleased and his words were serious. "Why would you encourage me to have higher expectations for you than for other men?"

"I'm more important to you than any other man. That's why you have higher expectations for me. I'll meet them, Nanao-chan."

"Even if I were to accept your premise, it's still not very fair to you, is it?" She clasped his wrists and lowered his hands from her face.

His hands grasped hers. "I've never cared much about fair."

She thought of the games his sword played and his ruthlessness in battle and nodded. "Still, you must have some expectations for me in this."

He shook his head while she was talking. "Nanao-chan is already exactly what I want."

She persisted. "Even things like the school uniform—"

"I was only teasing."

"I know, but you'd be thrilled if I wore one. Don't pretend that's not true." She narrowed her eyes at him.

He grinned at her. "That's an entirely separate negotiation, Nanao-chan."

She understood now what he'd meant earlier—he'd pay dearly for her in uniform, but it wasn't in money and it wasn't directly related to their possible marriage. "It would be a very high price."

"What's the currency?" he asked, low and silky. His eyes were dark with the pleasure of the game they were playing.

She lifted one of her hands to her face, tapping a finger against her lips as if she was contemplating the question deeply. "I think you'll need to make an opening offer."

He leaned in. "One week of leading advanced sword drills."

She scoffed. "That's much too low. You should be thinking in quarters of sword training drills."

"Quarters? Outrageous," he murmured. He was very close, so close she couldn't focus on anything but his eyes and then his lips in turn.

"Submit your next offer in writing," she said. All of her thoughts had fled to his lips—firm and full. She wanted to kiss him but that could be a poor choice; it was hard to tell after the long day. Too many things had happened between them for her to fully understand them all and make the best decisions.

She raised her hand to his face, covering his lips with her fingers. He stilled. She drew her hand back.

"Nanao-chan?"

"I need to think about this more. I'd like to suspend our negotiations and our marriage practice for the night."

He grasped her hand, kissing her fingers. "If that's what you want, Nanao-chan." He stood and offered her a hand up. "If you want a temporary reprieve, that's perfectly fine with me. We can pick back up tomorrow." He smiled and grasped her hand as he led her through his house to a guest room, her bag slung over his shoulder.

She'd been to his house before, but she'd never stayed overnight and slept. It was an impropriety and a line crossed that she hadn't been willing to step over before. "Thank you," she said, accepting her bag from his hand.

"We'll start again in the morning?"

"At dawn, if you'd like." Her lips curved up. He was not an early riser by any means.

"Until tomorrow, Nanao-chan." He kissed her hand and left the room with an extravagant bow.

She prepared for bed and settled in with a sigh. She was in over her head with him, but there were some moments today when she'd felt that she could handle this situation with him. Tomorrow. She'd be in control tomorrow. Maybe she could even make him feel in over his head, just a little bit.

On to Chapter 7.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jan. 1st, 2013 04:20 am (UTC)
This story is addictive. I've been checking back a few times a week to look for any updates and it always makes my day when there is one. Great story!
r_dahlia
Jan. 2nd, 2013 12:41 am (UTC)
Oh, thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying this story. ^_^
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )