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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.


Back to Chapter 10.

Chapter 1.

I will attend recruiting meetings at the Shinigami Academy with you next quarter.

Nanao contemplated the written offer Shunsui had left on her desk before he'd left for the advanced sword drills class he'd volunteered to teach. He really was trying to impress her. But the offer he'd made for her to wear the school uniform was much too low.

She dipped her brush into the ink. Your offer is declined. Please revise your offer upwards. She nodded, waving the paper to dry it.

The door to the office opened and Rangiku flowed in, dropping to the sofa with a sigh. "It's so warm over here. The office at the Tenth is freezing."

"I would imagine that your Captain would like to gently encourage you to do more work." Nanao rose from her desk, intending to deposit the paper on Shunsui's desk.

"Gently encourage? Ha. I told him my boobs were going to get frostbite and he was completely unmoved." Rangiku gestured at her chest. "Can you believe that?"

Nanao's lips twitched up. "Captain Hitsugaya is very hard-working and focused."

"He really is. He needs to relax. What's that?" Rangiku plucked the paper with the rejected offer from Nanao's hand as she passed near the sofa. "Is Captain Kyōraku trying to bribe you for something?"

Nanao snatched the paper back. "It's just a game we're playing." She deposited the paper on Shunsui's desk and returned to the seating area, sitting in a fat chair.

"Oh? Lucky Nanao. I wish I had someone to play sex games with."

"It's not a sex game," Nanao snapped.

Rangiku raised her eyebrow. "Isn't it?"

"Maybe," Nanao conceded. She couldn't say for sure that it wasn't—Shunsui obviously wanted to see her in the uniform for titillating reasons, and she wasn't sure what their relationship would be like when she accepted one of his offers and wore the uniform. "It's complicated."

"It usually is. Maybe Shuhei-kun would play games with me, but his Captain is too serious. I stopped at the Ninth before I came here and Shuhei-kun could only talk for a few minutes, they're so busy over there."

"It's a lot of work, publishing the Seireitei Bulletin. Would you like some tea?" Nanao rose from the chair.

"Sure. Where is your Captain, anyway? He's usually here at this time of day, isn't he?"

"He is usually here." Nanao slipped out of the office and prepared a tea tray at the office kitchen. "But at the moment, he is leading an advanced sword skills training," she said as she came back into the office with the tea.

"Leading training? Voluntarily?" Rangiku accepted a cup of tea.

"He is trying to impress me." Nanao settled back into the chair.

"I see, because of the arranged marriage thing. Is it working? Are you impressed?"

Nanao hesitated. "I am leaning in that direction, however, any positive impression must be balanced against the fact that he should do things like the training anyway, since it's his duty."

Rangiku huffed. "You're hard to impress, Nanao. You sound like my Captain."

Nanao sipped her tea. "I do feel a certain empathy for Captain Hitsugaya's position. After all, if you're here, it means there's probably neglected work being left to him at the Tenth."

Rangiku shrugged. "Yes, but I had to come over here, after I saw Shuhei-kun." Rangiku sat up, looking somber.

Nanao set her tea cup carefully on the table. "What is it, Rangiku-san?"

"I wasn't sure if I should tell you or not, but things like this don't go away just because you ignore them. Shuhei-kun sent me a text to come over to the Ninth. You know that the Seireitei Bulletin accepts unsolicited articles for publication when they have space?"

"Yes, I am aware of that." Nanao frowned.

Rangiku pulled some folded up papers out of her sleeve. "Shuhei-kun wanted to show me an article that they'd received unsolicited, to get my opinion on it." She opened the papers and handed them to Nanao. "It's an anonymous submission, and it's about you, Nanao. Shuhei-kun wasn't sure what to do, so I told him I'd take care of it."

"What?" Nanao skimmed the pages, a heavy sickness building in her stomach. "What is this?"

"In theory it's an article announcing your possible engagement to Captain Kyōraku."

"It's nothing more than gossip and innuendo and—" Nanao exhaled in a hissing sigh.

"In theory it's an article. In reality it's a unflattering teardown of the two of you." Rangiku shifted on the sofa to lean towards Nanao, resting her hand on the arm of the chair. "They won't publish it."

"Of course they won't publish it. The Seireitei Bulletin is a respectable paper. Did you read this?"

Nanao Ise was recruited at a very young age as a top selection for the Eighth Division at the request of Captain Kyōraku. Although still a child and an unseated officer, Ise was trained by Vice Captain Lisa Yadōmaru under the close supervision of Captain Kyōraku. Ise was elevated to the empty Vice Captain position by Captain Kyōraku at an age that shocked many onlookers, despite lingering questions about her qualifications. With the possibility of a marriage between the two on the horizon, some say that they are reminded of the classic story The Tale of the Genji.

"And it goes on from there. Do you know what they are implying?" Nanao's hands tightened on the pages.

"They're drawing a comparison between Captain Kyōraku and Hikaru Genji. They're implying that he selected you as a child to be trained as his wife. It's just gossip and innuendo, Nanao, you're right about that. It's nothing true."

"There are enough twisted truths in it to make it sound plausible that he plucked me from the Academy and had me groomed to grow up into his wife." Nanao rose and paced to the window, blood pounding in her head.

"But that's not what happened. Everyone who knows the two of you knows that this is a lie. And it's not going to be published, Nanao." Rangiku was soothing and earnest but Nanao shook her head.

"Someone took the time to do this, and to do it well enough that it's hard to see how it could be someone who doesn't know us." She flipped through the pages. "They took care to make it something that could slide into a publication, if Hisagi-kun had been rushed or an underling had added it in without thinking."

"Yes, but that didn't happen. I wasn't sure if I should tell you or not, because I didn't want you to be hurt by an ugly unpublished article, but I thought you should know that someone did this."

Nanao nodded. She returned to the chair, sitting heavily. "No, I'm glad that you told me. It's better to know. Thank you, Rangiku-san."

Rangiku made an acknowledging sound in her throat.

"But Shunsui is quoted here. 'In a world of beautiful flowers, Nanao-chan has always been the loveliest to me. I'm very lucky,' Captain Kyōraku said. Why would he give someone a quote about me without telling me?"

Rangiku waved her hand in a denying gesture. "That quote seemed familiar to me, so I had Shuhei-kun look it up in the back issues. Captain Kyōraku did say that, but it was for the article about the SWA's ballroom dancing fundraiser."

Something very tight in Nanao's chest eased a bare inch. "It's all a manipulation, isn't it?"

"Yes. The article is put together well enough to pass a glancing inspection, but it can't stand a deeper look."

"Someone wanted to humiliate us publicly." Nanao straightened the pages carefully and laid them on the desk.

"I've thought about that a little, actually. I don't think this article is targeted at you, Nanao," Rangiku said.

Nanao frowned. "Please explain."

"If the article intended to cut you down or belittle you, there are juicier places to hit you personally. It doesn't even mention the loss of fortune of your family, or the way that your nobility is at stake in the matchmaking process. That's why you're considering an arranged marriage in the first place. If someone was targeting you, that's where they should have hit—at your pride and at your family. But they didn't."

Nanao picked up her tea, staring at the surface. "Instead they went for a Hikaru Genji angle, something that makes it look like Shunsui has arranged our entire relationship."

"Exactly. Accusing him of selecting a child and having her brought up to serve his whims puts Captain Kyōraku in a very unflattering light. That's without considering any of the other unsettling implications."

Nanao winced. "I don't even want to think about that."

"The question is: who would have written this article?" Rangiku asked.

"I wish I knew. But given that it's targeted at Shunsui, the possibilities are much wider than they would be if it was targeted at me." Nanao rubbed at her temples.

"True. And since it's just a malicious little article and not any sort of aggressive physical attack, it really could be anyone. Jealous shinigami, former lovers, enemies he may have made—it's a lot of possibilities."

Nanao's shoulders slumped a little.

"Don't look like that, Nanao. This isn't anything that you have to worry about. Shuhei-kun will monitor the submissions box very closely from now on. If this is the best someone can do to hurt the two of you, it's not very much at all." She pressed her hand over Nanao's, squeezing encouragingly.

"I know that. But I still feel—disturbed." She fell silent. It hurt to be attacked this way, and even though only a few people had seen the article, she felt ashamed and exposed.

"I understand. It's a hurtful, hateful thing to do." Rangiku's eyes were warm and comforting.

Nanao gathered herself quietly for a few minutes, until she was sure no tears would leak into her voice. "Thank you for telling me."

"Of course. We're friends, Nanao."

Nanao smiled weakly. "I feel as though I've been taking a lot of your time and giving you my problems lately, without doing much for you."

Rangiku looked surprised. "Friendship isn't a balance sheet, Nanao. Your life has been more interesting and difficult lately. Mine is dull right now. I can't even find anyone to play sex games with me." She made a pouty face.

Nanao shook her head. "I'm sure that Hisagi-kun would play sex games with you, if he could get the time away from work."

"He needs to practice his escapes. I could teach him a few things." Rangiku grinned.

"You could certainly teach him about avoiding Captains and work." A new thought occurred to Nanao. "I should apologize to you. I accused you of ditching work this afternoon, but it's actually my fault that you aren't at the Tenth, since you came here to tell me about—that."

Rangiku laughed. "I was going to skip out anyway."

"Do you want to stay for a while? I'll get more tea."

"Sure, I'm not going back to work any time soon." Her difficult mission fulfilled, Rangiku leaned back into the sofa cushions.

Nanao collected the tea things and lifted the tray, going out to the office kitchen. Her hands were steady as she poured fresh tea, but inside she felt unbalanced. All of the beautiful lightness she'd felt at the picnic was gone.

She straightened her shoulders and raised the refilled tray, determined to enjoy the afternoon with her friend, but suspecting that she would fail.


Nanao sat at her desk, staring at her work without really seeing it. Rangiku had left an hour ago and Nanao still hadn't finished a single piece of paperwork. The bell for the end of the workday began to ring in the distance.

The office door opened and Shunsui swept in. "Good afternoon, lovely Nanao-chan."

She glanced up. "How was your training?"

"It went well. Have you noticed that one of the Sixth Seats is lagging behind a bit in sword skill?" He leaned a hip on her desk.

She rubbed her temples. The tension headache that had started with Rangiku's visit was throbbing in her skull.

"Nanao-chan?"

She looked up at him. "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

"Are you feeling alright? You don't look well, sweetheart." His voice was full of concern and she felt a flare of sharp resentment.

She pushed it down. It wasn't his fault that someone wanted to hurt him and had hurt her in the process with the newspaper article. "I'm fine."

"Did something happen today?"

She focused on the paperwork in front of her, shifting it into a pile. She wouldn't be finishing this work today. It wasn't right to be angry with him, though. She would discuss this issue with him calmly.

"Nanao-chan?"

She stood, picking up her kidō book. "We need to talk. I would prefer not to do it here."

"Of course, Nanao-chan. The bell rang for the end of the day. Do you want to go home?" He had worry in his voice and in his eyes.

His house was very private. At least the location of the conversation should spare her further embarrassment. "Yes, that would be fine." She left the office and stepped into shunpo without waiting for him.

He stayed with her easily; he was too fast to lose. She detoured from the house into the garden, looking for a bench. It would be easier for her to have this conversation on a bench than across from him at his table. She would be able to sit in profile to him, and that would be less revealing. A stone bench in an unexpected opening in the path appeared and she sat neatly.

He sat next to her, too close, touching her arm with his hand, her thigh pressed against his. "Nanao-chan?"

She shifted over slightly to escape his touch and pulled the article out of her book, handing it to him wordlessly.

He read quickly, his expression sober. "This was for the Seireitei Bulletin?"

"Yes, an anonymous submission." The bench was surrounded by bushes blooming with flowers. It was a beautiful spot, but Nanao took no pleasure in it now.

"This isn't going to be published, Nanao-chan." His voice was reassuring.

She waved that off, irritated. "Of course it won't be published. Hisagi-kun saw it this morning and pulled it out of the submission pile."

He sighed. "Then it's just an unpleasant little incident, and nothing will come of it."

Her eyes narrowed. "What did you think of the article?"

"It's something intended to be hurtful to us, but it won't be published, so it's not important, Nanao-chan." He touched her arm and she fixed him with a hard stare.

"Saying that it doesn't matter because it won't be published misses several issues of some significance. Deliberately, I imagine."

He tipped his head in acknowledgement.

So he didn't want to talk about this with her. She could understand that, but it wasn't good enough, not when she'd all but agreed to marry him earlier today.

"What's bothering you most, Nanao-chan?"

"Saying that it won't be published is true, and it does minimize the damage, but it doesn't eliminate it. My friend Rangiku-san has seen it; my colleague Hisagi-kun and whatever shinigami under him read through the submissions box have seen it. This is—unpleasant."

"That's only a few people, and they will keep this private, Nanao-chan. The shinigami at the Ninth won't spread this article, I'm certain that their Vice Captain and perhaps their Captain have already told them to keep this private." The coaxing in his voice set her on edge.

"It is embarrassing and unacceptable that my friends should be obliged to protect me this way." Her back was so stiff that her shoulders began to ache.

"I'm very sorry that this has hurt you, but I'm sure that your friends care about you and are glad to protect you from this article." He was so careful, so gentle in his speech that she couldn't stand it.

"Do you know who wrote this?" she asked, facing him fully.

"No." His answer was quick and certain.

"You noticed that the article was directed at you, I presume." She raised an eyebrow.

He hesitated. "Yes, I noticed, but it would be impossible to say who might have written it."

"Impossible to say? I would suggest that the pool of suspects must be rather small, actually. It's likely someone familiar enough with us to get enough of the details right to be believable, and someone with an agenda to publicly humiliate both of us."

"Nanao-chan, what do you want to ask me?"

"You really can't think of anyone, no enemy you may have made, no scorned lover, who might have written this article, who might have enjoyed sabotaging our marriage? I know you don't have any resentful underlings from the Eighth who would write this; you're too beloved there." She crossed her arms.

He hesitated again. "I don't think it's productive to try to discover the origin of this article, Nanao-chan. Even if I track down the person responsible, it's doubtful that anything worthwhile will come of it. This article is a small gesture, and it's had the largest impact that it will be able to have on us already. It's very unlikely the person responsible has the ability to do any further harm."

"That's not enough. Really, how many people could there be in your past that would do something like this? How many enemies have you made? How many lovers have you had?" The questions were bitter in her mouth. She rose, pacing the path in front of the bench.

"Nanao-chan." He stood, striding to her and grasping her shoulders. "This isn't worth your attention, sweetheart. Just let it go, please. I'll talk to Kensei-kun and make sure that nothing like this ever goes into publication."

She shook her head. "How many?" Her brows drew together. That he wouldn't look into this at all, that he didn't think it worth his effort, distressed her deeply. Were there too many suspects?

"I didn't think you were bothered by my past relationships, Nanao-chan," he said, his voice carefully neutral.

"I wasn't bothered by them before. But I am very concerned now." Her eyes stung.

His hands rose to cradle her face. "Please don't worry about my past, Nanao-chan. You occupy a special place in my heart and in my life. You'll be my wife, Nanao-chan."

She grabbed his wrists, pulling his hands away from her face. "You think I'm jealous?" She stalked to the bench, her head high. He had more romantic experience than she did, but that didn't mean she necessarily envied him that experience or felt envy for those that had relationships with him before. After all, she hadn't considered a relationship with him seriously until very recently. It wasn't that she'd never felt jealousy about his attention to other women or that she wasn't feeling a bit of it now, discussing his lovers. But it was such a small part of her issues with this situation that she felt demeaned. "They can keep you," she said, ice dripping from her voice.

"Nanao-chan." He sounded alarmed, and she felt a small miserable pleasure at that. His hands turned her to him. "I was only trying to reassure you of your importance to me. Please don't make any rash decisions. Let me make this up to you." He kissed her jaw, her cheek, the corner of her lips.

Make this up to her? He wouldn't investigate, wouldn't even talk seriously with her about the possible suspects or motivations, and he thought things would be fine if he did some paperwork? "Please let me go."

He froze, straightening slowly. His hands released her shoulders and hovered in the air, as if unwilling to retreat completely. "Nanao-chan, please don't let this small attack come between us. That's what the person that did this would want to happen."

"Now you have an interest in their motivations?" She shook her head and moved to the bench, sitting wearily.

"My primary interest is always in you. This is obviously bothering you, but no, I don't really care about someone taking a swipe at me. It happens, and sometimes it connects, but I won't spend my life hunting down everyone who thinks badly of me. It's not worth it. Enjoying our time together is much more important to me than tracking someone who dislikes me enough to have spent a few hours writing a rude article. I only care about this because it affected you." He sat beside her, taking her hand.

She allowed his touch, considering his position. She didn't like it; the article hurt her, and the idea that someone wanted to humiliate them hurt her more, but there was some merit to his stance. He wanted to spend his time on positive things, instead of negative ones. He'd probably endured many more attacks of all kinds over his long life than she had.

"It's just an article, pieced together to sound as disturbing as possible. It shouldn't come between us, sweetheart." He kissed her temple and shifted closer on the bench.

"I don't like the idea that someone we know harbors a grudge against us." She sighed.

"No, it's unpleasant to think that. But I don't believe it's anyone we're close to, Nanao-chan."

"It's not anyone that we are close to, I would agree." Slapping at him for his past lovers was poor form, but she was hurt, and she wanted him to feel that.

"What can I do to make this better for you? I don't want you to be unhappy, sweetheart." He responded to her stinging barb with genuine concern.

She relented, unable to maintain her anger when he was acting so loving. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. I don't think I have the appropriate perspective at the moment for discussion to be worthwhile."

"Nanao-chan, after our conversation last night, I hope you know that I'll be as open with you as you want me to be. Not pursuing the source of the article doesn't mean that I'm closing out discussion with you about anything." He kissed her cheek and she turned slightly towards him.

"I already know that you're no Hikaru Genji. You might have the strategic planning ability for something like that, but you're too romantic. You would never do that."

He smiled. "I want you to choose me because you want me. If that's a romantic notion, then I'm a romantic."

"You are a romantic, there's no question about that." She didn't want to apologize for what she'd said. She'd been angry but she didn't feel that she'd been wrong, necessarily. There was a gulf between their perspectives on the article that probably couldn't be fully bridged. She tipped her face up to him instead of speaking.

He kissed her lips softly. "Nanao-chan."

She leaned her forehead against his. "Let's put the article aside for now. There is one thing, though—"

"What is it, Nanao-chan?"

She knew the article had no basis, but she wouldn't mind the reassurance of hearing it from his mouth. "There was no merit to any part of the article, was there?"

On to Chapter 12.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
akai_miko
Feb. 2nd, 2013 05:23 pm (UTC)
So.... Something bad happening? An enemy on horizon?
uvu it was too bright and happy yeah
you had to do something like that.....

I'm glad that you included Rangiku here.

//last line though *cackles*
r_dahlia
Feb. 4th, 2013 12:12 am (UTC)
Well, some conflicts are happening. This story is generally lower key and sweeter overall, though. Last chapter was probably peak sweetness for the story, to show how good they could be together before taking it away for a while. ;)

I do love Rangiku.

That question--Nanao, don't ask questions that you might not want the answer to, it's not a good idea! ;x

Thanks for reading!
akai_miko
Feb. 4th, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC)
You are evil >w>

:3 I'm glad you like the idea of friendship between her and Nanao!

Oh, OOOPS.

No problem!!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )