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Bleach Fanfic: On A Shadowed Path

Title: On A Shadowed Path
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: M
Status: One-shot
Contains: Spoilers through Bleach manga chapter 520, adult content.
Summary: Shunsui's new path was not one that he wanted Nanao to walk.
Notes: This is my gift story for the Lovely Winter contest at shunsui_nanao.  I've added a little more to the final third after my initial posting of this story yesterday.




Shunsui looked up from the paper in his hand and out of the window, the damaged landscape of Soul Society spread before him. Everyone out there was his responsibility now. As the Captain Commander, it would be his duty to protect as many people as he could, even if it meant sacrificing some of them. The weight of it bowed his head.

"That's from the Central 46," Nanao said. Her clothes rustled as she clutched her book closer to her chest. "They've made you Captain Commander."

"Yes."

"Are you going to accept it?" Her voice was steady.

"Yes. Yama-jii left it to me, Nanao-chan. I have to accept the appointment." He closed his eye. "I am going to do things that are—difficult. I can't spare anyone any longer."

"You're going to do the things that he should have done?"

"I'm going to do the things that he'd become too kind to do. Yama-jii really loved some of us, Nanao-chan. He changed over the years, became gentler, softer. I wouldn't say that these are things he should have done, because these are things that no one should do." He looked down at the order from Central 46 in his hand.

"Yet you're going to do these things that no one should do?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

She must be repulsed by him. He'd anticipated that reaction from her, but it stung more bitterly than he'd expected. "Yes, I am. The battle that's coming will require a ruthless response if Soul Society is to survive. It's a dark path, but I won't ask you to come with me. Third Seat Okikiba will become the Vice Captain of the First Division. You can stay here at the Eighth." It was her home, and he took a small amount of comfort in the image of her surrounded by familiar faces and activities when he was gone.

"You don't want me to come with you?" He could hear her hands clenching around the book. Her knuckles must be white, her eyes relieved.

It would be a lie to say yes, so he didn't. "My Vice Captain will be deeply involved in everything that I do. I am going to force Retsu-san to become a monster again, something she left behind so long ago that most people don't even remember who she used to be. I am going to have the new Kenpachi made into the best killing machine possible, without regard for the consequences. That's just today, Nanao-chan."

"I see. And there will be more decisions like these tomorrow," she said, her words slow and heavy.

He would not turn to her. "Yes. I will make decisions that would violate any decent ethical standards every day. I can't ask you to come with me, Nanao-chan." Losing her stabbed him like a wound, deeper and sharper than the damage from the Quincy's gun.

Her clothes rustled again as she placed the book on the table and came closer to him.

He dreaded seeing her face, seeing horror in her eyes. Shunsui steeled himself to turn.

"You don't have to ask." She pressed herself against his back, her small hands fisting in the uniform above his hips.

Relief washed over him. The paper dropped from his hand when he reached back to cover her small hands with his own. "You have to be sure."

"I'm sure."

"I don't know if I could let you go later if you come with me now. And I'm going to shadowed and bloody places—"

"I would follow you to Hueco Mundo. Do you really think that I wouldn't follow you to the First Division?" she interrupted, her voice low and burning.

"It would be wrong for me to take you." He couldn't accept her offer. Nanao deserved to stay fresh and happy, her youth and innocence untainted by him.

"I'm coming with you. It doesn't matter how much blood we wade through. There is no other path for me." She clung to him fiercely.

He pushed her hands back gently, made enough space for him to turn to see her. Her head was tipped down, her face hidden. "Nanao-chan, no—you're very young, there's still so much that you could do—"

She lifted her chin. "Stop trying to get rid of me. We both know that's not what you want." Her eyes were brilliant with the shine of tears. "Don't try to be a better man than you are. Tell the truth." Her hands reached for him but stopped before touching him.

"Nanao-chan." He was too old, too damaged. He did not deserve her by any measure that he could name. But she'd demanded the truth, and he would tell her. "I want you. I love you. I'll hurt you if you come with me."

She nodded. Her hands rose to his shoulders. "I understand," she said, and pulled him down.

He had no right to her but he couldn't force himself to step away. She kissed him, her mouth bittersweet with the flavor of tea and peaches. Nanao shifted closer to him, her hands trembling around his neck. He should stop, now, but instead he wrapped one arm around her back, tilting her head to deepen the kiss.

He could taste her tears, salty and hot, as they spilled into the kiss. A pang of guilt shot through him. But she dug her fingers into his back to bring him in. Her moan sent his hand roaming over her back, seeking more of her skin. She made a sound more pain than pleasure when he brushed her side and he drew back. "Nanao-chan?"

"My ribs were broken. They've been healed, but they're still tender. Be gentle," she murmured with her eyes on his lips.

He took a step back. "I'm sorry, Nanao-chan. I didn't mean to hurt you." He picked up the paper, folding it.

"It was nothing. It's just a tender spot. Don't look like that, please." She touched his face softly.

"I never want to hurt you," he said, backing away from her touch. His guilt seeped into his voice.

She sighed, wiping the tears from her face with a few brisk swipes. "Please get permission from the Central 46 to take me with you when you meet with them. It'll cut down on paperwork."

He looked away but didn't deny her request.

"Do you want me to bring Captain Unohana here?" she asked, her voice steady, although he could see her hands shaking slightly.

"No, I'll go to her. She deserves the comfort of familiar surroundings when we have this conversation." He smiled without warmth.

Nanao nodded. "I'll get our things ready to move to the First Division."

He should refuse to take her with him. She couldn't know what it would mean, not really. "I'll tell the Central 46," he said instead, and felt worse than he had when he'd decided to ask Retsu to be a killer again.

But Nanao smiled at him.



Shunsui dropped his empty sake cup on the porch, leaning back on his hands. All of his injuries ached dully. The sake didn't numb him enough, not tonight. Not with Seireitei in ruins and Yama-jii gone.

Not with the weight of the First Division Captain's haori on his shoulders.

Soft footsteps alerted him to someone's presence. He was sure it was Nanao without looking; he knew her rhythms by heart.

"Captain."

He did look then, at her blue yukata with bright birds, her neat hair, her beautiful eyes. There were still a few things to be grateful for. "Nanao-chan."

She stared at his house—what was left of it—with a puzzled expression. "Half of your house is gone. Did you file a work request yet?"

He poured himself another drink and sipped. "No. It's all right, Nanao-chan, I don't use that half very much."

"I'll file a request tomorrow." She studied his face, her brows drawn together.

"Don't bother. There are a lot of people in worse situations." He finished the drink, watched her eyes narrow.

"I will file it as a low priority request." She came closer, waiting for an invitation.

He waved his hand at the wood of the porch. It would be better if she left. He'd wronged her earlier by agreeing to bring her with him to the First and by accepting her kiss. He'd made her cry and gasp with pain, and he couldn't promise that it wouldn't happen again if she stayed. Guilt was not enough to break his desire for her.

She sighed, moving to his bedroom to select a cushion for the porch and dropping it pointedly near him.

"Do you want to drink with me, Nanao-chan?" he asked, certain that she wouldn't.

She lifted the jug to sniff at it. "Not if it's this—does this even qualify as sake?"

He took the jug back, pouring a fresh drink. "I'm not good company tonight."

"I have reports for you."

He raised his cup to her. "This is work, Nanao-chan? Fine. Report as much as you like." He drank.

"Captain Unohana says that Captain Kenpachi should regain consciousness soon. She anticipates training with him in a limited capacity in a few days." Her voice was carefully neutral, and that stung.

"Does she? Good." He emptied his glass.

Nanao said nothing.

"Feel free to voice your objections, Nanao-chan. Ukitake has already shared his objections forcefully." He smiled, icy at the edges.

When she spoke it was in even tones. "Captain Ukitake can object because he is not the one with responsibility for Soul Society."

"Ukitake would refuse to do what I've done to Retsu-san if he were the Captain Commander, Nanao-chan. That's the kind of man he is." He reached for the jug and she stopped him, her hand warm and her eyes cool.

"Captain Ukitake isn't the Captain Commander for that very reason."

"Even Yama-jii didn't ask Retsu-san to become a killer again. He had developed principles against things like that."

"That's why he's dead," she hissed. Fury burned cold in her eyes. She rose and strode into his house.

He could hear her opening cupboards and tinkling glasses. She returned with a tray holding a bottle of plum wine and two glasses.

He accepted the glass she offered him, dropping his sake cup. "So you wanted a drink after all, Nanao-chan."

"You still have a kitchen and your wine," she said, her voice calm and deliberate.

He tasted the wine. She'd chosen one of his finest bottles, but he didn't mind that. The occasions that Nanao drank with him were much rarer than the wine. He swirled the liquid in his glass. "I warned you that this would be a dark path. If you want to step away from me, I won't stop you."

She set her glass down with a discordant clank. "Do you think that I'm angry with you? About moving to the First Division, about the Kenpachi and Captain Unohana, about this afternoon? No. I am angry with Captain Ukitake for acting sanctimonious over a hard decision that he doesn't have to make. I am angry that Captain Yamamoto died in battle without killing the enemy's leader. I am angry that you will be forced to make up for his weak softness with brutal ruthlessness. I am very angry, but not at you." Her eyes blazed and her lips trembled.

"I'm upset that Yama-jii is gone, too, Nanao-chan. I loved him."

The mask of fury on her face broke. She stood, facing away from him. Her breathing was precisely measured until she sighed jaggedly. She dropped to her knees behind him, her arms circling him, her front pressed to his back. "I know. I'm so sorry," she whispered.

"Nanao-chan."

"I know that you loved him, and that he loved you."

"Yama-jii was like a father to me." He drank from his glass. She wrapped her hand around his wrist. "Don't worry, Nanao-chan. I'll have a few more drinks and fall into bed, and you can pull me out very early in the morning. I won't be careless, I promise. You don't have to stay."

"You want to lose yourself in something?" She moved away from his back, took the glass from his hand and set it on the tray. She shifted to his front with a graceful motion. Her small hands stroked his jaw, his cheekbones. "You can lose yourself in me."

"Nanao-chan," he murmured, seeking the will to refuse her.

She leaned into him, her lips just brushing his in silky invitation.

He let himself have one breath with her before he grasped her shoulders and pushed her back gently. "You don't have to do this, Nanao-chan. My love for you is not an obligation that you need to fulfill. You don't owe me anything, sweetheart."

Her brows drew together before smoothing out. "This is what I want." She reached behind her to the knot in her sash. Her yukata loosened and she parted the robe until her skin gleamed pale in the moonlight.

He swallowed hard, closing his eye. He had no right to taint her, to drag her into the shadows with him. "You're so fresh and beautiful, Nanao-chan. You deserve a young man, someone honorable and clean."

He opened his eye when he felt her touch. She took his hands, studying his palms. Her eyes lifted, her gaze clear and strong. "What you think I deserve is meaningless. I don't want some hypothetical young man, however clean he may be. I want you."

His guilt was heavy in his throat. "You don't owe me this, Nanao-chan."

She pulled his right hand to the pulse at her throat. "I know." She drew his left hand down her body, into her panties. "Does this feel like obligation to you?"

He took a shuddering breath. In another time, Yama-jii would have thought nothing of sending a woman to Shunsui to make sure that he would be refreshed and ready for battle. Yama-jii would have used any resources at his disposal to help their chances of victory.

But Nanao was delicate and dewy under his fingers, like the petals of a flower. He caressed her once and she gasped, the pulse in her throat speeding up under his fingers. Her hands dropped their hold on his hands and came up to rest on his shoulders.

Yama-jii had changed, softened, until he had protected Soul Society without that absolute ruthlessness. Nanao had come of age in this gentler time. She had never been used the way Yama-jii would have used her when he was a harder man, and she would never know the way that things had been.

She'd come to Shunsui of her own desire. She wanted him, even though he was so much older, so much more damaged than she was.

"Nanao-chan." His right hand moved to the back of her neck, tugging her down.

She kissed him, shrugging out of her robe.

"Inside," he murmured. It was possible someone might need him unexpectedly and shunpo out to his house. If he was going to have Nanao, he wanted her all to himself.

He removed his clothes carelessly as he drew her into the bedroom, falling onto his back on the bed. She folded her robes neatly, putting her glasses and hairclip on top of the pile next to the bed.

His fingers traced the outline of her lips. "I'm going to keep you out of the war," he said. "I won't let you take the field." That was selfish, too, and futile; if their enemy came again to Seireitei, he'd have no control over whether she ended up in the fight.

It was clear that she knew that, too. "I understand," she said indulgently. She would have been angry if there was any power in his denial.

"Come closer."

She came to him on her knees.

He drank in her delicious freshness, savoring each of her cries, each tremor of her body. She was a white column over him, the purple bruises shadowing her ribs only making her more lovely and precious to him.

"Promise me that you'll come back to me when this war is over, no matter where it takes you." There was a dark and thrilling need in Nanao's voice. Her core was slick against him. He groaned and sat up, his hands lifting her hips.

"I promise, Nanao-chan," he said, and meant it. If he was alive he would return to her without hesitation. What good fortune may have won him Nanao, he couldn't imagine, but he wouldn't waste his opportunity to have her love.

If he died in battle, his body would be brought to her. He'd make those arrangements tomorrow.

Either way, he would keep his promise.

She came down on him with a sharp little moan. He liked the sound and rolled his hips until she made it again, her hands digging into the muscles of his shoulders. "Nanao-chan."

She said nothing, but he took all of her cries as declarations of love; they were as close as he might ever have to such a confession from her.

Afterward he fell back against the bed and Nanao followed, her face pressed against his throat, her heart beating fast against his chest. It was painful—his wounds were not as forgiving of her weight as he was—but he preferred the pain to being without her.

She sat up. "I'm pressing on your injuries. I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking."

He grinned. "I know." He stopped her from rising. "Stay with me, please."

She tilted her head, considering. "We should be on our sides, then. That won't put pressure on your bandages."

Seeing her practicality applied in this circumstance widened his grin. He rolled with her, curling himself around her, his chest against her back. Her hair had fallen over her eye and he brushed it back, propping himself up to study her face. She was beautiful, her eyes that rare shade of violet, her lips pink and swollen.

She half-turned to see his face. "When the Twelfth Division makes you a new eye, make sure that it's identical to the way it was before. Don't let them change it at all."

"No changes, Nanao-chan? I'm sure they have a lot of exciting colors and enhancements to choose from." He raised his eyebrow.

"No. It wouldn't be the same if they changed the color of your eye or enhanced it in some way. Your eyes should be the same as before." She studied his eye. "That color—it's exactly right."

He liked the sentiment, liked the thread of possessiveness in her voice. "Do you love the color of my eyes, Nanao-chan?"

Her eyes narrowed and then she relaxed, one corner of her mouth curved up. "Perhaps I do."

He chuckled, delighted. "Tell me more." He leaned down to her ear, nibbling the lobe. "Tell me more about your love for me."

She shook her head, tapping her lips as if in deep thought. "You'll have to be more specific."

A blazing happiness rose in his heart. "I can do that.  Do you love my hands?"

She took one of his hands, her fingers caressing the palm.  "Your hands always warmer than mine.  It's annoying.  But I love that, too."

Contradictory, but she could be that way sometimes.  "I see.  What about my lips, Nanao-chan?"

She rolled all the way over, facing him.  Her fingers traced his lips.  "They have a good shape.  I like the way they feel on my lips and on my skin."

He kissed her softly, to remind her of that feeling.  "Is it love, Nanao-chan?"

She watched him through heavy-lidded eyes, her tongue gliding out to wet her lips.  "Yes."

He was very specific and very, very thorough. Nanao was detailed and precise in her answers, as befitted the best Vice Captain in Soul Society.  "Tell me more," he said when he'd exhausted all of his physical traits.  "Please."

She hesitated, raising her hand slowly to his chest, over the rapid beat of his heart.  Her eyes had a vulnerability that stole his breath.

"Will you say it to me?  Only this once?" he coaxed.  His hand covered hers on his chest.

She closed her eyes, her brows drawn together.  Her lips parted but no sound emerged.  She moved closer, to his ear.  "I love you," she whispered, a delicate and difficult confession.  She drew back, swallowing.  He followed, his hand cradling her cheek, his lips murmuring words of love and praise.

He treasured this moment, every small confession of love she made, for his hands, his lips, his heart, and so many other parts of him that it was all of him, even more than he was, really.



Nanao loved him.

She fell asleep at dawn, and he let her rest, watching the sun rise through the doors to the porch.

He had compromised many of his principles over the years, for various reasons he had thought important. If she wanted to do the same to stay with him, he wouldn't try to stop her. Maybe he could not keep her clean if she came with him on this dark path, but he would keep her safe.

All of the precious and fragile people that Yama-jii had protected for so long would be kept safe by Shunsui now. He would protect them ruthlessly, by any means necessary. Yama-jii might have been unhappy about the methods Shunsui would use, but he would have understood.

And Yama-jii would have been glad to see Shunsui's happiness, glad to see Shunsui with a woman that he loved. Many years ago, it might have been different, but Yama-jii had changed over the years, and the man he'd become would have been glad for Shunsui.

Shunsui kissed Nanao's shoulder and lay down on his back beside her. She rolled over to him, still asleep. Her head rested on one of his bandaged wounds. He winced, shifting her gently until her head was on his undamaged shoulder instead. No happiness was ever entirely free of pain, but Nanao was worth any price he would pay.

He closed his eye and let himself ease into sleep.