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Title: Midnight Garden
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: T
Status: Ongoing, Chapter 1 of 7
Contains: Spoilers through Bleach manga chapter 520, canon-typical violence.
Summary: When a relaxing vacation goes wrong, Nanao must confront the danger within.
Notes: This is my first entry for the Week of Love giveaway happening July 6th - July 12th at the shunsui_nanao community at Livejournal. My pieces are written as chapters for this story, and I'll be posting chapters each day, finishing on Friday, seven chapters in all.
Prompts for the whole story: Romantic getaway, vacation, travel, and resorts




"Run away with me, Nanao-chan." Captain Kyōraku leaned his hip against the side of her desk, grinning. He didn't have his hat, but he still managed to look jaunty, if tired. His opportunity for naps had diminished greatly since he'd been promoted to Captain Commander.

"It would be a very short trip, as you have a Captains' meeting at two this afternoon," Nanao said, glancing up from her paperwork. Captain Kyōraku did not look discouraged by her reply; instead his grin widened, which undoubtedly meant mischief. She hadn't seen that look since they'd moved to the First Division. She was surprised to realize she'd missed it.

"Then run away with me tomorrow, Nanao-chan. We'll go to a hot spring resort in the Lakes District. It'll be a relaxing, romantic retreat in a beautiful, cool place."

She leaned back in her chair, abandoning the paperwork. It'd be easier to finish when he was in his meeting later, anyway. "We have work tomorrow, as well. Even if we didn't, Captains do not take their Vice Captains on romantic retreats. It would be highly inappropriate."

"I can see why you might think so, Nanao-chan, but the Central 46 disagrees." Amusement flowed into his voice at the mention of Soul Society's ruling body of nobles and sages.

"The Central 46?"

He nodded. "If you won't run away with me as far as the Lakes District, perhaps you'd go as far as the dango vendor in front of the division?" He rose, opening the office door for her with a flourish.

So he didn't want to discuss the Central 46 in the office, where they might be overheard. "Dango would be a nice treat, thank you." Nanao followed him out of the First. Their pace was slow, as he greeted everyone. He wasn't yet as familiar with all of the division members here as he'd been at the Eighth, but Nanao was certain it was only a matter of time.

The air outside was stifling, like a hot blanket thrown over her shoulders.

"Did I mention that the Lakes District is quite cool at this time of year? The higher elevation and the mountains keep the temperature comfortable," Captain Kyōraku said as he strolled through the courtyard, Nanao walking crisply just beside him.

"Is that so?" A mountain resort did sound pleasant, with the summer sun beating down on her. "I'll have to consider it as a possible destination for the SWA's next retreat."

"It's lucky that you'll have the opportunity to visit the area now, with me, and decide if it's suitable for you and your friends." He paid the dango vendor, handing her a stick with four cheerful pink treats.

"Is it luck, or is it the Central 46? I confess that I can't imagine why they would want us to vacation together, Captain." He led her into the park, spreading his haori under the shade of a huge tree. Nanao sat neatly as he sprawled out beside her.

"It was a surprise to me, too." He widened his eye in mock shock. "I looked up the records for Yama-jii's travel in the database at the First, to see if he'd ever taken a vacation, and I promptly received an invitation to visit the Central 46 at my earliest convenience."

"When did you look up the records?"

"Yesterday."

And he'd met with the Central 46 this morning. Nanao had escorted him to the building and waited outside for him to finish. She hadn't known the purpose of the visit, but that wasn't unusual. "Their efficiency is remarkable."

He smiled, but it didn't reach his eye. "It's easy to be efficient when you have the Second Division ninjas and the Twelfth Division scientists working for you."

Spying for the Central 46, he meant. "The Gotei 13 is under your direct command. The Central 46 has no right to utilize our soldiers without your approval," she snapped.

He chuckled. "You're so lovely when you get heated on my behalf. I like to see that passion, Nanao-chan, although I'd prefer it were under different circumstances." His voice dipped suggestively.

She knew he intended to distract her with his innuendo and ignored it. He might not be bothered by the Central 46, but she was. She pushed her anger back, not speaking until she could be cool. "What did they say?"

He finished his dango, leaning back on his hands. "They said that of course they could understand why a man with my responsibilities might desire a vacation, but that it would be necessary for Okikiba-san to accompany me. They need him to send frequent updates about my status and condition, so that they can be assured that I'm well, you see."

"As if the Central 46 cares about your health." She frowned at her untouched dango.

"I'm certain that some members of the Central 46 care very much about my health," he said dryly, and she pressed her lips together tightly. There was nothing funny about members of the Central 46 hoping to see him gone from his position.

"Who do they imagine could take your place? They could appoint a figurehead, now that the war is over, but what would they do when they needed someone to lead us into battle again? Anyone that they can control easily isn't worth of being the Captain Commander."

"Relax, Nanao-chan." He tipped up her dango stick, which had dipped perilously close to dropping her treats on the ground. "There are always those that seek greater control and power, and some of those people have always been in the Central 46."

She looked away, at the shinigami scurrying down the distant street. "How far would they go?" she asked softly.

He sat up, brushing her cheek with his knuckles. "Don't worry, Nanao-chan."

She shook her head.

"I'm not an easy target, sweetheart."

That didn't mean that he couldn't be hurt or killed. "Don't call me that."

He grinned, which made her shake her head again.

"You're not taking this seriously." It bothered her that he could be so careless about his life, when he meant so much to so many people.

When he meant so much to her.

"Something like this situation with the Central 46 is a war of attrition, Nanao-chan. It takes a long time, and can only be won skirmish by skirmish."

"They could decide to take drastic measures to be rid of you."

"They won't," he said, his voice strong and firm.

She didn't have anything to say to that dubious assertion, and took a small bite of dango instead. The treat felt like sand in her mouth.

"I won the skirmish with them today, Nanao-chan."

"You won?" she asked, turning towards him.

"Yes. When the Central 46 insisted that I take Okikiba-san on my vacation, I said that I could certainly understand their wish to be apprised of my status, and that I appreciated their concern for my health, so of course I would be willing to take my Vice Captain with me."

"Of course?" Nanao echoed, surprised.

"Yes. But Okikiba-san is so important to the function of the First Division, that it wouldn't make sense to pull him away from his duties there when I already have another Vice Captain acting as my escort. So I told them that sweet Nanao-chan and I will be going on vacation together. You can send whatever reports they find necessary."

She bit her lip, thinking. The Central 46 wanted Okikiba to go with Kyōraku because they believed Okikiba's loyalty would be to them over Kyōraku. Nanao couldn't say for certain whether that was true or not—she hadn't known Okikiba long enough and there hadn't yet been a situation that would test his loyalty.

Clearly the Central 46 believed Nanao's loyalty was to Captain Kyōraku above any other person or institution. Yet they couldn't deny Kyōraku's choice to take her with him over Okikiba without bringing that into the open and entering a more direct confrontation with Kyōraku.

"How much of the Central 46 is concerned for your health?" She narrowed her eyes, watching his expression closely.

He scratched his chin as if considering her question, but she knew he was only considering how much to tell her. He didn't like her to worry over serious things, only over small things that he could make light of and flirt shamelessly over.

"Captain, if I am to accompany you during your vacation, I would very much like to know how much interest there is in your health." Will they try to hurt you, away from the eyes of the Gotei 13?

"Don't worry, cute Nanao-chan. My health is excellent, as always." His voice was bright. She glanced away from him, annoyed at his evasion, and he touched her hand, the one holding the dango stick. "You haven't eaten your dango."

"I don't want it now." How could she get him to speak to her more seriously? Perhaps a change of tactics was needed. She shifted on the pink haori, facing him squarely. Her hand held out the dango to him. "As your Vice Captain, I should know these things. Sasakibe-san would have known them about Captain Yamamoto."

His eye flickered between the dango and her face. What she was asking for was an intimacy he'd carefully denied her, undoubtedly intending to protect her. What she offered was an intimacy she'd carefully denied him, intending to maintain some propriety in their relationship.

He accepted the dango stick, keeping his eye on her as he ate the half of a dango ball with the marks of her teeth on it. He chewed slowly, enjoying the treat, and then handed her the stick. She took a neat bite out of the second dango ball and held it out, waiting.

He took the stick, lingering over the touch of their hands and then rolling the dango bite over his tongue, savoring the sweet and the indirect contact with Nanao's mouth. He swallowed the dango and leaned in closer to her, his weight on one hand. He bit deliberately into the third dango, leaving half, and held it out to her when he spoke. "Several members of the Central 46 are keenly interested in my health."

She licked her lips, hesitating, but finally took the dango and ate the treat he'd bitten. He watched her mouth with an intensity that sent heat through her body in tingling sparks. She refused to blush, although it took an effort to push the blush back. "Several? How patriotic of them, to be so concerned for the wellbeing of their Captain Commander."

"Isn't it? But even so, lovely Nanao-chan shouldn't worry." His eye was riveted to her lips.

"Why not?" He was close enough that she could feel the warmth of his body through his clothes.

"The Kuchiki and Shihōin families support me fully, and they have a strong presence in the Central 46 and the Gotei 13. As long as that's true, none of the interest in my health matters. The small skirmishes are as far as things will go for now."

"You're confident of that?" Nanao tugged the last piece of dango off the stick and held it out to him.

"Very confident." His voice dropped to a deep rumble. "Taste it for me, Nanao-chan."

She brought the dango to her mouth, biting half of it away. She held the remaining treat out to him and he dipped his head to eat it out of her hand, swirling his tongue around her fingertips with a sound of pleasure. The blush did rise to her cheeks this time, but she said nothing. How could she scold him for an intimacy she'd offered to him? She'd have to acknowledge that the exchange was about more than a shared sweet. And he'd kept the unspoken pact, telling her about the threats within the Central 46. That was more important than his tongue caressing her fingers for a single moment.

His body brushed her arm and she tensed, but he only lay back with a sigh, looking up at the sky through the tree branches. "Relaxing in the park and eating dango with my lovely Nanao-chan is like a dream come true today. It'll get even better when we go on a romantic retreat together. I can hardly imagine it. What about you, Nanao-chan?" He grinned.

"It does seem like a dream of yours," she said, raising an eyebrow and shifting back on the haori to see his face. "Do you really want to go on a vacation?"

He closed his eye. "I was wondering, the other day, how anyone could do this job without taking breaks, but I couldn't remember Yama-jii ever going on a vacation. I looked it up in the database. He never took a vacation. All those years, he worked every single day. I don't know how he did that."

Nanao bent closer to him, studying his face. His eye patch covered his empty eye socket and much of the scarred area around it, but she could see shadows under his other eye. The lines around his mouth and eyes had deepened in the war and never returned to normal. But normal was different now, wasn't it? Now he carried the scars of another war and the weariness of a man holding up a great weight without relief. He'd probably never intended to go on vacation at all when he'd looked up Yama-jii's records, but Nanao thought it might be good for him. "If Captain Yamamoto had ever gone on vacation, Sasakibe-san would definitely have gone with him."

"Oh?" Captain Kyōraku opened his eye to look at her, curious.

"I'm certain. Sasakibe-san had a very strong sense of duty, and would never have left the Captain Commander unattended, regardless of the circumstances." She adjusted her glasses. "I will accompany you on your vacation in my professional capacity as your Vice Captain, sir."

His eye widened, a smile breaking across his face. "Nanao-chan is so sweet, so lovely—"

"I will be accompanying you in a strictly professional role."

"Of course," he said easily. "But as this is a vacation, Nanao-chan will be accompanying me to the resort, the scenic mountains, the hot springs—"

"If I accompany you to a hot spring, we will go into separate bathing areas, as is appropriate." He nodded, but his smile didn't dim. Apparently the pleasure he felt at the prospect of vacationing with her couldn't be dampened easily. She felt her lips turning up, and hurried on. "But surely you don't intend to spend all your time in a hot spring? Isn't that for elderly men, Captain?"

He sat up a bit, pressing a hand over his heart with dramatic flair. "You wound me, Nanao-chan! Of course I won't spend all my time at the hot springs, when there are so many things to do with you. It's been a long time since I was in the Lakes District, but they have a few excellent troupes doing traditional theatre forms. I think you'd really enjoy it."

"Theatre? What else?" She might enjoy the theatre, he was right about that.

He shifted closer, both of them leaning towards each other. "It seems obvious, but the Lakes District has some beautiful lakes. We can relax on the shores, go swimming in the clear water, and have a romantic picnic. You can wear a cute little swimsuit—do you have one, Nanao-chan?"

"The SWA goes to beach now and then, you know that. I do have appropriate attire for swimming." He was much too close, but he looked genuinely happy, and she hadn't seen that in a long time. Vacation was the right thing to do for him. He needed the break, and she would be there to make sure that no one interfered or interrupted his rest.

His fingers barely brushed the nape of her neck. "Is it a little swimsuit in purple, perhaps with bows? I saw one in that magazine you brought back from Lisa-chan's store."

She pulled back from his touch. "No. And why are you reading my magazines?"

"The Living World is very fashionable now, isn't it? And I thought if you were looking at those things in a magazine, I should look too, so I could prepare myself for the experience of seeing Nanao-chan in those outfits. Just the thought makes my knees weak." He made a kissy face, bending closer to her mouth.

She gave him a stinging tap on the lips with her fan. "If you feel faint, you should go to the Fourth Division, Captain."

"Nanao-chan is so cruel." He rubbed his lips.

"We should get back to the office, sir. You have that meeting at two." She stood, straightening her uniform.

He pouted at her when she turned to him, which made her lips turn up. She stepped off his haori, her eyes on the street. "But you could have me on my knees so easily if you wanted, Nanao-chan," he murmured near her ear.

There was nothing she could say to that without wading deeper into dangerous waters. It would be better to ignore it entirely. "We have to get back. There's a lot to do if we're leaving tomorrow." She started off through the park.

He caught her easily, swinging his pink haori up on his shoulders. "We'll have to pack. Don't forget your swimsuit, Nanao-chan," he sing-songed happily, as if he hadn't been sensually teasing her moments ago. But he was always good at reading her and reacting accordingly.

"I pack very thoroughly." He probably hadn't really expected her to go away with him, but after what the Central 46 had done, she wanted to snub them, and to give him the opportunity to get some much needed rest. She led him to the meeting room. "Captain Kyōraku?" she called before he could enter.

He crossed back to her. "Yes, Nanao-chan?"

She glanced around to make sure the hallway was empty. There was no one around, so she rose on her toes and positioned her lips close to his ear. "It's a bikini," she said quietly, and then pivoted crisply, marching away.

His laugh followed her down the hallway. Her secretive smile lasted all the way back to their office. Sometimes it felt good to be the one doing the teasing, and it would make the grim meeting about the final versions of the casualty reports for the war more bearable for him. It wasn't very professional of her, but her Captain's wellbeing was important to her, and she would sacrifice her professional standards to make his responsibilities less painful without much hesitation. And if he gave her speculative looks and questions later in the afternoon while he stamped the casualty reports, she would use only small fan slaps, when he really went too far.

Nanao's softness for him always had a sharp edge waiting nearby.

On to Chapter 2.