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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 mentions an uchikake, which is a full-length outer robe worn over a kimono in a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony.

I'm sorry for the delay in getting this chapter out, thank you for your patience! Some of the delay is due to edits that I've made to chapters 4 - 11. These edits are primarily minor dialogue additions, small tweaks to Nanao's characterization, and nothing that changes the plot of the story. I needed Nanao to have a bit more spark and fire for the ending I've planned. This story will end around chapter 20 or so, so there's not too much left.

If you've sent me messages/reviews/comments and I haven't responded yet, I will very soon! Thank you for your interest in this story, I appreciate it. ^_^

Back to Chapter 16.

Chapter 1.

At the Ise estate activity was higher than Nanao could ever recall. Workers cleaned tatami floors, ran clothes over the wood in the house, and moved furniture. Nanao followed the sound of her aunt's forceful instructions to the main bath of the estate house.
"Just cover it for now, we'll have to repair it later," Kasumi said. Workers dutifully applied new boards to the stairs leading up to the bath.

"Kasumi-bāchan," Nanao said.

"Nanao-chan, you're here early." She waved at the workers. "The underpinnings are rotting and all of the wood needs replacement."

"It looks fine." Nanao couldn't see any flaws beyond the step the workers were replacing.

"That's the idea," Kasumi said dryly. "We'll dress things up for now, in the hopes of keeping up appearances long enough for your match meetings to finish."

"It's not strictly necessary, as Captain Kyōraku already knows the true state of affairs here." But Nanao understood it was also a matter of pride for Kasumi and the residents of the Ise estate to present themselves well.

Kasumi led her out of the bath and into the back garden, where people were trimming shrubs and flattening the paths neatly. "It is something of a novel courtship technique to confess all of the worst things about a potential marriage at the first match meeting, but it does appear to have succeeded for you with Captain Kyōraku."

"The financial needs of the Ise estate were not particularly off-putting to him. He is not a man who places a great deal of value on having large sums of money in his accounts, beyond purchasing what he wants." Nanao watched a gardener painstakingly trim centimeters off a tree branch.

"Many men like to think themselves above watching their purse closely, but clutch the purse strings close when asked to part with some of their money." Kasumi's voice was neutral.

Nanao nodded. "I am aware of that. Captain Kyōraku mentioned that as a possibility with the other men of the matchmaker's list. But he has promised that he will sign over equal access to his money to his wife."

Kasumi's eyes narrowed. "He promised you that?"

"Yes."

"When will he sign it over?" She leveled a stare at Nanao. "I'm not asking purely because of the estate. Having equal access to the money would be an important security for you when you're married. If he should become displeased, he wouldn't be able to wield money over you like a cudgel. If he should die before you, you wouldn't be dependent on the generosity of his family for your funds. This is important, Nanao-chan."

A small boy with a rake went over the sand around a stone arrangement with great care. This match meeting and Nanao's marriage were important to so many here at the estate. "I'll ask him to have the papers prepared for signature on the day of the wedding, if we move forward with this." A wave of icy anxiety flickered through her veins. It wasn't anxiety about asking Shunsui for that concession; he'd grant it without reservation, she was sure.

Marriage is important, everyone said, and they were right. It was hugely, enormously, important.

"Good." Kasumi pressed a hand to her arm. "Nanao-chan, I know I've been speaking as if your marriage to Captain Kyōraku is a foregone conclusion, but that's not the case. If you don't want to marry him, if you would rather call everything off, tell me and I'll cancel the meeting tomorrow. You have choices, Nanao-chan."

Nanao's lips curved up, her body relaxing a little. It meant something to her to have Kasumi say that, knowing what it might cost her and the Ise estate. "Thank you for that. I do have choices. I'm choosing to have a match meeting with Captain Kyōraku tomorrow, and if I do marry him, it will be because I've chosen to do so. Don't worry, Kasumi-bāchan. No one wants me to freely choose my path more than he does," she said, and knew it to be true. He'd persuaded, coaxed, gifted, and romanced for her favor, but he'd never tried to rob her of her choices in the way Imaoka had. Nanao believed Shunsui wanted deeply to be chosen by her.

Kasumi studied her expression, her face softening at whatever she saw in Nanao's eyes. "Then I would like to discuss a few matters having to do with the potential wedding, if you don't mind."

"Of course, what do you want to discuss?" Nanao asked.

Kasumi walked to a wooden bench in the garden, sitting stiffly. "Have you given any thought to your wedding, Nanao-chan?"

"Exceedingly little," she said. "I have a few magazines I haven't read."

Kasumi nodded. "It isn't as if you were able to spend your childhood dreaming of a future wedding." Her voice held a ribbon of guilt.

There was history for that guilt, but Nanao didn't want to revisit it today. "I doubt very much that I would have done that under any circumstances. It's outside of my interests, even the ones I had as a child."

Kasumi's eyes closed and reopened, but she changed the subject, as Nanao had hoped. "There are a few things that we should consider, in any case. The first is that if the wedding can take place soon that would be best for the estate."

"That would be fine with Captain Kyōraku," Nanao said. "I don't believe his mother would object, either."

"I hope you're right about that. The second issue is that the Ise estate will not be able to host any kind of ceremony or reception. The estate couldn't be reconditioned in time. We must politely decline any ideas that involve the estate."

"That's fine. I don't have any particular opinion on where it should be held, though I would favor something close to the Gotei 13. All of my friends and acquaintances are there, and it would be easier to invite them without objections to their social standing if it's within the Gotei 13's space."

"I don't think you need to listen to such objections, unless they come from Captain Kyōraku's family. That would be thorny," Kasumi said.

"They won't raise objections like that, because it wouldn't get them anywhere with Captain Kyōraku."

"You're very certain of him," Kasumi said, smiling.

Nanao adjusted her glasses. "I suppose I am," she admitted.

"I'm glad." Kasumi shifted on the bench. "I know that you are young, and that many traditions may not be of interest to you, but there are two that I would like you to consider regarding your wedding clothes."

"What is it?"

"I would like you to wear a kimono made of Ise silk. There's a particular bolt of silk that I've been eyeing for you since after the first match meeting with Captain Kyōraku, and I'd like your permission to prepare your wedding kimono with it."

"Yes, please have the kimono made if the engagement proceeds tomorrow. I'd be happy to wear Ise silk for my wedding. I wouldn't want to wear anything else." Kasumi had excellent taste, and Nanao was sure that whatever she'd selected would be lovely. Kasumi had gifted Nanao most of her kimonos and all of them were quite elegant.

"Thank you, Nanao-chan." Kasumi paused. "Our family has an uchikake, a very beautiful one made of red Ise silk with a crane pattern. It's been worn by five generations of Ise brides. I know it's a very traditional piece, but I'd be proud to have you wear it for the ceremony."

"I'd be honored to wear it, Kasumi-bāchan." Nanao smiled at the emotion in her great-aunt's eyes. Kasumi worked hard to preserve the Ise name and took pride in the family and their traditions, even when life had been very hard. If it meant something to Kasumi to see Nanao in the family's uchikake, Nanao would wear it with pride.

"Thank you, Nanao-chan. There are so many things we need to prepare for the wedding, especially if we want it to happen soon. The guest list, invitations, food, entertainment—and so much depends on what his family needs or wants in the event. We must be certain that they are satisfied by the choices. It's important for you to start your marriage on good terms with Captain Kyōraku's family."

"I suppose that it is important." The list Kasumi had started ran on and on in Nanao's mind. The necessary arrangements seemed endless. She swallowed. "I'll have to get a bigger notebook."

"What?"

"For all of the lists I'll need to make. Maybe I'll make a list of all my lists." Nanao rubbed at her temples. The thought of organizing a huge event that was very important to two families on a short timeline was headache enough, but she was likely to have very little control over the wedding itself. Kasumi and Midori would both want a strong hand in guiding the wedding, Nanao was sure, and there would be vital traditions and noble conventions to follow.

"Don't worry, Nanao-chan, I'll help you as much as I can. We should talk about the other fabrics for the wedding—I'd like them all to come from the Ise estate, and for the colors—"

"It's a nightmare," Nanao murmured. Adding event planning for a noble wedding on top of her regular work and SWA duties? And no decisions would be as simple as Nanao choosing something—Kasumi and Midori would need to be consulted, traditions considered, and a compromise reached. The prospect of sleep in the next few months receded further and further away from Nanao's grasp.

"What did you say, Nanao-chan?" Kasumi touched Nanao's arm lightly. "Are you feeling alright? You look a bit distracted."

"Can we talk about the wedding after the meeting? I'd prefer to focus on what's tomorrow for now."

"Of course, Nanao-chan." They watched workers industriously grooming the garden and the outside of the house. "So much work and it's all for one afternoon. It would be more usual to have an engagement occur at a third matchmaking meeting instead of the second, but it's such a relief to have an engagement happening at all."

"We aren't there yet," Nanao said. She agreed that an engagement would be announced tomorrow, but the inevitability of it, the pressing weight of eternity— topped with the looming logistical nightmare of the wedding—made her breath tight in her chest.



But soon enough the hour of the meeting arrived. Shunsui was early, remarkably neat and well-dressed in dark blue with the finer pink silk haori on his shoulders. He was courteous to the matchmaker Takahashi, charming to Kasumi, and attentive to Nanao.

They took tea in the same room they'd had tea during the first match meeting. Nanao found herself just as impatient and unfocused this time as the first. Why did they have to do this—drink tea for an hour and speak of nothing—when everyone knew the purpose of this meeting?

"The weather has been very pleasant. I believe our summer flowers will be exceptionally lovely this year," Kasumi said.

"The weather has been very good, Kasumi-san. I'm sure that the summer flowers will be as delightful as the spring flowers have been." Shunsui smiled.

It went on and on. When would they get to the private meeting? Was the room getting hotter? The walls seemed closer in than before. Nanao shifted, uncomfortable.

"Don't you think so, Nanao-chan?" Kasumi asked.

"Yes," Nanao said promptly, having no idea what she'd agreed with, but Kasumi nodded.

"Of course you're correct, Ise-dono," Takahashi said.

The conversation dragged on like that for several more minutes. When a second pot of tea arrived Nanao rose to her feet, stifled and needing to escape. "Please excuse me for a moment, I need some fresh air."

She ignored the concerned questions of her aunt and the matchmaker and strode to the gardens as quickly as she could in her kimono. On the garden path she slowed, breathing deeply.

"I'm beginning to think that you have an aversion to match meetings," Shunsui said, his voice warm and amused behind her.

"I have an aversion to sitting in pointless conversation for hours and pretending we aren't here for one particular purpose. I don't want to talk about the flowers of summer or whether it's been unusually humid this year anymore." She rubbed her sternum. It'd gotten hard to breathe in that room. But this was an important day, not just for her, but for her great-aunt and for Shunsui, as well. She turned to him, opening her mouth to apologize.

He pressed a kiss to her hair, his hands closing on her shoulders gently. "I take it your visit to your great-aunt has not been relaxing."

A small laugh escaped her lips. "They were making cosmetic repairs and cleaning all day and night. I told Kasumi-bāchan that you already know the status of the estate, and that you'd already seen some of it on your first visit, but everyone worked hard anyway."

"And no one got any sleep at all." His hands cradled her face. "Listen, Nanao-chan, even if you believe that you know how things will end up, it doesn't mean that it's not worth experiencing the journey there. I agree the tea was a bit dull, but this moment with you is a special one that we'll only have once, and I want to experience it all. So let's start over, all right?"

He wanted to embrace the moment. He believed in ichigo ichie, in a once in a lifetime experience. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I'm sorry that I left the meeting so suddenly."

He shook his head. "It's fine, Nanao-chan. I would have engineered an escape sooner if I knew that you were on the verge of running away."

"I wasn't running away, I was just running out for some air." It was a fine distinction, but she wanted to make it. Nanao smiled. "We'll restart. Good afternoon, Shunsui."

His eyes gleamed silver. He'd trimmed his beard and his hair was tied back more neatly than usual. But the pink silk haori was still on his shoulders and his hairpins stuck out of his hair tie. Even when he was playing the part of the noble, he was still Shunsui. "Good afternoon, Nanao-chan." He kissed her, just a bare brush of his lips against hers. "We have an audience," he murmured.

Nanao laughed, and it sounded suspiciously close to a giggle to her own ears. She really did need some sleep. "It's not just the gardeners clipping that same hedge for the last several minutes. The matchmaker brought opera glasses. Kasumi-bāchan may have dug out a telescope; she's ambitious enough. We are a subject of great interest to many people currently."

He smiled, a bit rueful. "I'll be on my best behavior."

She shook her head. "There's no need. Everyone is so inclined to think positively of you that you could strip naked and walk on your hands in the garden and they'd call it charming eccentricity."

"And what would my Nanao-chan think?"

"I would find it decidedly not charming," she said firmly, her lips twitching. It was such a relief to see him like this after the weight of everyone's wishes for the future had been pressed more firmly on her. No one had tried to pressure her, but when she saw the efforts and fragile hopefulness of her great-aunt and all of the estate residents in the last day, she'd wanted to secure their futures. She'd taken those hopes on voluntarily, but the weight was heavy. Seeing Shunsui lifted some of that. He was trying to take those hopes and carry them with her, wasn't he? "Please keep your clothes on in my family's garden. But I am glad that you're here."

"Did you miss me, Nanao-chan?" he asked, smiling. It wasn't something she'd usually admit to directly; she'd always evaded it by adding in their division or their friends, putting as many people in front of her need for him as she could, hiding her affection in indirect words.

But she had no need to evade him now, did she? Not when they stood on the edge of something much more important than a small admission like this one. "I missed you," she said quietly, and it was still a surprise to both of them that she would say the words.

His eyes widened and softened, his hands rising to her face, his thumbs gently stroking her cheekbones. "I missed you too, Nanao-chan." He leaned closer, his deep voice silky next to her ear. "It makes me so happy to hear you say that."

She gasped when she felt his tongue caress the shell of her ear. He straightened quickly, his expression intense before he grinned and feigned a fluttering motion over his heart. She shook her head in mock rebuke, but it was all play; it was what he'd said in her ear that was real.

She turned to the path and he laid his large hand against her back. They began to walk slowly away from the house. "I visited Lisa-san yesterday. I told her about the matchmaking and the possibility of our engagement. We talked about that, and about other things."

His eyebrows went up at her change of address for Lisa. "Was she able to put your mind at ease about your recruitment?"

"Yes. She recruited me to the Eighth for my potential and my resemblance—not physical—to her. It was more than I could have hoped for, really. I spent most of the day with her, talking about other things."

"I'm glad, Nanao-chan. I knew she had good reasons for choosing you. You must have stayed there for a long time. I hung around the office, in case you decided to stop in and check on the paperwork."

"I was too busy talking about you," she said, her lips curved up.

"I'm afraid to ask, given what Rangiku-chan and my mother said about me." He winced, exaggerating it.

Nanao laughed. "Lisa-san said you are appallingly romantic and somewhat clingy, and no amount of good sex could make up for that."

"Appallingly romantic? It has a certain flair, although it would be nice to get a good character reference from my friends and family someday."

"The 'appallingly' may have been implied rather than stated. Lisa-san said some very nice things about your loyalty and generosity. The credit for good sex should count for a lot, since sex is so important to Lisa-san." She fought down a blush. Talking coolly with him about sex was still beyond her powers, but she didn't need to show that on her face.

"I suppose that's something, since she does take sex so seriously." He gave her a sidelong glance. "Lisa-chan and I never had that kind of relationship, though."

"I know. I believe she's speculating from the information available to her and her own perceptions." She shrugged. "But it would have been fine if the two of you had been involved that way in the past. Undoubtedly I would have found it very awkward for a while, but it wouldn't change things between you and me, or affect my relationship with Lisa-san. After all, if I held everything you've ever done against you, I'd never have time for anything else," she finished lightly.

"Nanao-chan is so practical." His hand climbed her back to caress the nape of her neck in a way that sent delightful shivers through her. "Nanao-chan is so beautiful, too."

She smoothed her hand over her hair carefully. Delicate purple flowers cascaded from the ornament woven into the upswept hair at the back of her head. "Kasumi-bāchan wanted me to be as appealing as possible for this meeting. It's a new kimono from the estate." Koi fish leapt in waves across the pale silk.

"It's lovely, but you're far lovelier."

"Lisa-san might have said appallingly romantic," she said, but smiled.

"My sentiment was true, as well as romantic. But Lisa-chan has no appreciation for romance, which is too bad. She has enough interest in sex that I would have expected a bit of interest in romance to leak in."

"She does carry a wide selection of books, and some of those are about romance as well as sex. The sexual content in my book collection has risen dramatically since she opened her shop. It's a bit disconcerting, actually."

"How fascinating. What kind of sexual content has invaded your collection, Nanao-chan? Did Lisa-chan give you books yesterday?" He watched her face, his eyes lit with avid interest.

"Lisa-san sold me books yesterday. She's very entrepreneurial."

"She sold you books? I think she would have gifted them to you if you'd asked."

Nanao nodded. "But Lisa-san is making a living doing something that she loves, and I want to support her in that, so I buy my books."

"About those books—"

"Yes? Did you have a question about the books?" she asked innocently, tilting her head. Teasing him was more fun than she'd expected.

"What was in them, Nanao-chan?" He leaned closer to her, with a glance at the distant but not-so-secretly staring gardeners.

"I haven't had time to read them yet, but I would characterize the content as ambitious." She arched a brow.

"Ambitious," he said, a dreamy look on his face. "I want to see them, Nanao-chan."

She laughed. "You can go to Lisa-san's bookstore and buy any number of sex books. There's no reason for you to read mine."

"It's because they're yours that I want to read them. Nanao-chan's ambitious sex books—"

"They aren't my sex books, I haven't even read them," she protested.

"But you will, because Lisa-chan picked them for you." He grinned. "Please let me read your sex books, Nanao-chan."

"Absolutely not."

He pouted, which she ignored, her lips twitching. "Nanao-chan, if we're married, can I read your sex books?"

"We could negotiate the question then. There are probably a number of boundaries we'd need to negotiate." She swallowed, her throat suddenly dry.

"Yes, and we will. But let's take it one step at a time, sweetheart." They'd come to the edge of the tended garden. "Will you come with me to the abandoned garden?"

"Yes, but why?" Her brows drew together. "You've already seen it. It hasn't been rehabilitated."

"It's where we shared our first kiss," he said, and she remembered what Lisa had actually said: he was a genuine romantic.

It didn't annoy Nanao the way that it had annoyed Lisa; instead she felt a wave of warm emotion wash over her. "Yes, I'll come with you."

He took her hand, leading her through the looping, disguised path in the hedge to the untended garden. The broken fountain, dirty stone bench, and torn-up path were the same as before. He'd picked up the damaged fish tail from the ground before they'd left during the first match meeting and set it on the rim of the fountain. She wasn't sure why, but it made her feel better to see it there, to remember that he'd taken a moment to care for this place.

Shunsui laid his haori down on the bench and Nanao sat gingerly, folding her hands against her obi. Her stomach was roiling, her nerves tingling in her fingertips.

He sat close to her, turning to face her, his leg pressing against hers. "So here we are, Nanao-chan."

She took a deep breath and met his eyes, holding his gaze steadily. "Here we are. I am considering a marriage arranged by a matchmaker. Why are you here, Shunsui?"

"I want you to choose me for your husband." He echoed his words from the first match meeting seriously, matching her tone, and then smiled. "It's not war, Nanao-chan. You don't need that much steel."

"You can't be sure of that," she said, but her body relaxed slightly.

"Marriage could be a lot of different paths for us, but I hope that it's never war." He reached out and peeled one of her hands away from her obi, rubbing her palm with his thumb.

"Lisa-san said marriage is a big party followed by the monotony of eternity with one person."

"Lisa-chan prefers loose, casual relationships, if I recall. There's nothing wrong with that. But it's not the kind of relationship that you and I will have. We'll have a close and intimate marriage, one that's a partnership."

"That's what we talked about here during the first match meeting." Her eyes slipped down to their joined hands, but she pushed herself to hold his gaze again. She would not be ruled by her nerves, not when this was so important to both of them.

"Yes. When we were here before and I asked you to marry me, you couldn't picture what our lives would be like if we were married. The marriage practice gave us a glimpse of our lives together. Can you imagine being married to me now, Nanao-chan?" His voice was strong, but there was a small glint of worry in his eyes. It steadied her a little to see that; he wasn't immune to the weight of this meeting, either.

She glanced at the fish tail on the fountain rim. It was just a small gesture, but it meant something to her. "The marriage practice has been challenging, but it's also been illuminating. You've acquired a list of twelve or fourteen points over the men in the file."

"Twelve or fourteen?" He tilted his head, bemused.

"There were a few points that weren't entirely finalized or that I wasn't certain should be credited to you, so it's twelve or fourteen points, depending on the interpretation." She adjusted her glasses, more comfortable talking about organizational choices than closeness and intimacy.

He chuckled. "I'm curious about what made it onto your list."

"I have a copy in the house," she said, half-rising. It would be a relief to be alone for a moment, to try and ease the tension tightening her back and stiffening her neck. This meeting had been planned for days, but she thought it must be too important and rare of an occasion for advanced planning to make it any easier.

He held her hand and tugged her back down. "Show me later. Were those reasons on your list enough, Nanao-chan? Can you imagine being married to me now?"

Nanao closed her eyes for focus, considering the marriage practice, the list of points, the kisses and the bickering. She'd felt so much for him, with him, during the marriage practice that it was difficult to name and measure those emotions. For now she would stick with what was rational and clear, the solid and tangible reasons she had to choose him. She opened her eyes. "Yes, I can. The points vary in importance, but together they're a list of logical reasons to marry you. The Ise estate will be restored, and that's the most important thing."

"Is it?" His voice was even and curious, but his eyes were watching her closely.

She nodded. "How could it not be the most important thing? There are so many people living and working on the estate, and they should be taken care of. The Ise family's noble status will be retained for my niece and nephew, so that they can grow up with many opportunities that would otherwise be lost to them."

"Certainly the people on the estate are important and your family is important, but Nanao-chan is important, too. What do you want, Nanao-chan?"

She wanted to get this moment right, but wasn't sure what the right words were. "There are good reasons to believe that we can form a solid partnership together. I believe that we should proceed forward with a marriage," she said, stiff and careful.

"You're right, Nanao-chan." His voice and eyes were warm, but she felt a surprising pang of disappointment. She'd wanted to make a reasoned, considered choice, but she felt a little cold now that it'd happened.

Maybe she had wanted his romantic proposal, his persuasive kiss. Maybe she'd wanted to tell him yes and dance in the decayed garden. Maybe she'd wanted to feel that rush of emotion in her veins she'd felt the first time they were here and he'd kissed her with the weight of a promise. She pressed her lips together. "That's settled, then," she said, adjusting her glasses and turning her face away to hide her dismay.

"Nanao-chan." He touched her jaw with his fingers, gently turning her back to him. He smiled, but it was more rueful than triumphant.

Had he changed his mind? "Shunsui?"

"I know that I should say, 'that's settled' and be happy that you'll marry me, but I can't accept an answer like, 'that's settled' for marrying you."

Her brows drew together. "You can't accept it?"

"No. I know that the situation matters to you, that this is an arranged marriage for the sake of your family, and that you have logical, sensible reasons for wanting to marry me. But forget those."

Her eyes widened. "What?"

"I want to ask you to marry me in my own way and have you answer me with your heart."

But that made no sense. She blinked rapidly. "What? You don't win what you've been chasing after and then throw away the victory. You'd never do that in battle."

"I know, Nanao-chan. But this isn't war. This is you and me, and our marriage. I know you have compelling motivations to pursue an arranged marriage. But I want you to choose to marry me without thinking about the money or the Ise estate or your other reasons. It matters to me how we start our lives together. That's why I want to ask in my own way, even if there are consequences."

"But you'd gotten what you wanted already. You're so—" She shook her head but curled her fingers around his large hand. Her throat was dry. She swallowed, her tongue darting out to wet her lips. He was a real romantic; he had to go this far, even if it might cost him dearly. "Ask," she said softly.

"I want you to choose to marry me because you think we'll fit together, because you want to wake up with me and fall asleep with me and laugh with me every day." His hand cradled her cheek, his eyes intense and brilliant. "I want to marry you because I want us to be together for all of the time that we can be, and I want you to choose to marry me because you share that same desire. Will you marry me, Nanao-chan?"

Her hand wavered in his and he squeezed it gently. "Shunsui—" He watched her intently, waiting for her answer. That rush of hot, sweet emotions she'd wanted ran through her, overwhelming her hesitation. He was here with her now, and he would always be here with her if she gave him one word. "Yes," she said, one strong word followed by a shuddering breath.

"Nanao-chan." He leaned in to kiss her and her eyes slipped closed. His lips were soft on hers, his kiss light. She felt an electric tingle down her spine at the brush of his tongue against her lower lip. This was good, this was right. Her mouth opened on a sigh of relief and he deepened the kiss, his hands shifting to pull her closer.

She raised her hands to his neck, leaning into him. A bubbly mix of nerves and elation made her a little light-headed, but that was fine; he'd hold her up. She pressed closer to him and he made a sound of pleasure. She threaded her fingers into his hair, the silk of her kimono sliding smoothly against the silk of his clothes.

There was a rustling in the hedges that she heard dimly, but ignored. He pulled back from her lips slightly. "We're probably not alone, Nanao-chan."

"It could be birds," she murmured, seeking his lips again.

He kissed her for another long moment, but broke off at further rustling in the hedges. "It's not birds, sweetheart," he said into her ear.

She sighed, resting her forehead against his shoulder. He smelled of cedar and soap. "We're not going to have any privacy for months."

"I'm sure it won't be that bad, Nanao-chan. Right now your great-aunt and everyone else here has a strong interest in the outcome of this meeting, but we'll have a lot of time alone before the wedding."

Nanao shook her head. "You don't understand. Kasumi- bāchan wants the wedding to happen as soon as we can manage it. There are invitations and location scouting and food selection and seating charts and transportation and so much more—I don't have a big enough notebook for the lists." She pulled away from him, rising to pace the path in front of the bench as she ticked items off on her fingers. "It's so many things," she said, light-headed again, more than before. She bent over slightly to steady herself.

"Deep breaths, Nanao-chan." Shunsui rose and rubbed her back soothingly.

She let him tug her up into an embrace. His heartbeat was steady under her ear, and that helped to ease her own racing heart. "This is so embarrassing. I should have eaten more breakfast. A wedding is just specialized event planning. I plan events frequently for the SWA and for the Eighth Division."

"Don't worry, Nanao-chan. There are a lot of people who would say that panic is the right reaction to agreeing to marry me." She could hear the grin in his voice.

She laughed a little, and that helped too. Maybe it was too much, marriage, and then wedding itself—but if it was with him, it might be alright. She looked up at him. His smile reached all the way to his eyes. "You shouldn't look so happy. A wedding is a tremendous amount of work."

"I'm happy that you said yes, Nanao-chan. That's why I'm smiling." He took one of her hands and slid his other to her back in a dancing posture. She moved with him when he led her into an easy waltz. "Don't worry about the wedding. I'm sure your great-aunt and my mother will help a lot."

"That's part of what will make it so much work," she said, raising her brows. But the mention of Kasumi reminded her of the concession her great-aunt wanted. It was awkward to ask, but Kasumi thought it was important. "Kasumi- bāchan wanted me to ask you if you could have the papers prepared for my access to your financial accounts for the wedding day. I know it might be unseemly to ask now, but—"

"It's fine to ask, Nanao-chan," he interrupted, his voice easy and relaxed. "I'll have the papers drawn up tomorrow." He leaned close to murmur in her ear. "I want to come back here when it's restored. I want dance with you when the air is sweet with the perfume of flowers and the path is fine stone under Nanao-chan's lovely feet."

Tenderness washed over her. He didn't care about the money, he never had. This had always been about her happiness and their future to him. She raised her hand from his shoulder to trace his jaw. He stopped dancing, nearly stopped breathing. His beard was soft under her fingers. "I'm glad that you came to the first match meeting. And I'm glad that you're here now." She kissed him, fitting her lips to his carefully, feeling the weight of the promise between them.

He returned her kiss with equal care. "I'm glad too, Nanao-chan." He pressed his lips to hers again, but broke the kiss too soon, leaning his forehead against hers. "We're not alone."

"If there's a telescope over there, I will deliver my strongest reprimands."

He laughed, kissing her quickly and then stepping away to stand beside her, his arm around her waist. "Let's go back to the house before they can't restrain their curiosity anymore and they fall out of the hedge trying to get a clear view. We'll be alone soon, Nanao-chan. Within a few hours, I'm sure."

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
songsparrw1
May. 7th, 2013 05:39 am (UTC)
"""OHHHhhhhhh {faints}..So beautiful, so rich and satisfying like one's favorite dessert! I love how different settings bring out their romantic imaginings. Little by little Nanao is coming to trust Shunsui, and he is gradually persuaded that Nanao really has come to love him with her whole heart.

VERY nice, your're a treasure of a writer, Miss Dahlia!
r_dahlia
May. 19th, 2013 06:54 pm (UTC)
Oh thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed this chapter, especially after the long wait. ^_^; Yes, Shunsui and Nanao are coming closer and closer together, slowly. ;)

Thanks for your comment, and for reading!
(Anonymous)
May. 21st, 2013 07:59 am (UTC)
You're baaaaaack! Yay!! Hey don't feel bad for taking some time off, we your readers are truly privileged to read your stories. The wait made our reunion with this story even better. Loved the imagery in this, and the graceful way you orchestrate the scenes: I got a real sense of fantastical, dreamlike moments. So good. Welcome back! And thank you :) :)
r_dahlia
Jun. 23rd, 2013 06:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the imagery and the chapter! Sorry for the late reply, I hope you enjoy the remaining chapters as well!
meroko26
May. 31st, 2013 06:49 pm (UTC)
So happy to see new chap and she said yes after Shun wisely held out for a romantic propasal. *breathes in* Need to calm down. Such a great fanfic as always. Can't wait to get the wedding. And honeymoon. ;)
r_dahlia
Jun. 23rd, 2013 06:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the late reply! Of course Shunsui had to go for the romantic proposal. ;) I hope you enjoy the last few chapters as well!
(Anonymous)
Jun. 24th, 2013 04:00 am (UTC)
Soooooooooooo Good!
Oh I just about died from this last chapter. This is by far THE best ShunsuiXNanao fanfic I've ever read. I've even drew some fanart for it bc the imagery is so inspiring. Cannot wait for the next chapter!!!!!!!!! I PM'd you on fanfiction.net with my email if you are interested in the fanart :)
r_dahlia
Sep. 22nd, 2013 10:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Soooooooooooo Good!
I'm so sorry for the late reply, this comment was flagged as spam by LJ. I'm glad you're enjoying this fanfic and that you've found it inspiring!

Unfortunately I don't have any PMs from around this time on fanfiction.net, so please get in touch with me again if you can, I am interested in seeing your fanart, of course! ^_^
summers_showers
Jul. 29th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
Oh please, oh please, update the newest chapter soon! I'm hooked! You have done a marvelous job in capturing both of their personalities in such an event. Bravo!
r_dahlia
Sep. 22nd, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC)
Sorry for the late reply, but I've just updated the newest chapters, pretty late. ^_^; I'm glad you like Shunsui and Nanao's portrayals here!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )