?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Title: An Unfortunate Incident at the Eighth Division
Characters: Shunsui & Nanao
Genre: Gen
Rating: PG
Status: One shot.
Contains: Spoilers through Soul Society Arc, mild foul language.
Summary: An Unfortunate Incident at the Eighth Division, or the Tuesday that Nanao destroyed a building, drenched Captain Kyōraku, and got a promotion.
Notes: This is my gift fic for the Lovely Winter contest.

The explosion rocked the Eighth Division just as Shunsui sat down, spilling tea all over him. He righted the tea cup on the desk, rising and grabbing his swords in one motion. Fat plumes of smoke rose from the complex of training rooms at the south end of the compound, but there was no visible fire. The morning bell hadn't rung yet and the training rooms should be empty.

He took one flash step, landing in front of the training building, and was immediately drenched. His hat normally provided decent cover from rain, but it was useless against the wall of water pouring over the smoldering building and over him. The rush of water stopped abruptly. He ran a hand down his face, wiping the water away.

"Captain Kyōraku! My apologies, I didn't see you there." It was a woman's voice, pretty and worried, and after he blinked to clear his eyes he could see that the voice matched the woman, who looked even more pretty and worried than her voice suggested.

"Nanao-chan?" His Sixth Seat had light burns on the palms of her hands, which were facing out from directing the water kidō. Her cheeks and forehead were reddened from heat exposure. She was completely dry, despite the deluge she'd unleashed on the training building. A book peeked out from under one arm. "Is there any danger?"

"No—no, sir. It was an accident." She bit her lovely lower lip. "It was entirely my fault, Captain."

He glanced back at the training building, now reduced down to blackened framing and a collapsed roof. Originally the building held six large training rooms, complete with the latest in kidō dampening emitters and other safety devices meant to allow for kidō practice in close quarters. It would have taken a very large bomb to destroy the building so completely. "Yare, yare."

"I'm very sorry, Captain. My new kidō was much more potent than my calculations estimated." She shifted to drop into seiza but stilled when he caught her elbow.

"The ground is very wet, Nanao-chan." He lifted his other hand, signaling for a hell butterfly. "Was anyone else here with you?" He didn't sense any other reiatsu signatures, but he wanted to be sure.

"No, sir, I was the only one here. I prefer to practice kidō early, so that I can use a training room alone." Her eyes darted to his hand on her elbow and back to his face. "Please allow me to apologize properly, Captain."

"In a minute, when we're somewhere dry. First I need to send a message." A hell butterfly finally fluttered down to his finger. "Hello, my little beauty. You're going to spread this message through the Eighth Division and also give it to all of the head officers of the other divisions. Tell as many of the other butterflies as needed to spread it quickly. The message is: There's been an accident at the training rooms of the Eighth Division. No one was injured and the fire has been put out. No assistance is needed at this time. All classes for the day are cancelled."

Nanao made a protesting sound. He let the butterfly go, and gave her an inquiring look. Her hand reached for the edge of her book, bringing it to her chest, but her gaze was steady when she spoke. "The classes could have been held in the courtyard, sir. The weather will be clear and warm."

"But an unexpected day off is much more fun." He grinned, tipping his hat back. Although he was soaking wet and part of his division had been reduced to smoking charcoal, he was in a good mood. He was going to spend the morning with a pretty girl instead of the mountains of paperwork in his office and Yama-jii couldn't scold him for it. Maintaining law and order were important duties for a Captain, too. "Let's go to my office, Nanao-chan."

"Yes, sir." She turned in the direction of the office and then back to him. "Perhaps it would be best to speak outside? You are currently quite wet, sir. It could damage the floors in the office. I can wait for you there if you'd like to go home and change now."

She was still a worrier, despite her years in the easy-going Eighth Division. "I have a spare uniform in the office. You'd be surprised how frequently a change of clothes is useful." He swung his pink kimono and Captain's haori off of his shoulders and wrung them out thoroughly before throwing them over one shoulder.

"That's very prudent, sir."

"Captain?" someone called from a small crowd of division members arriving for the morning classes.

"The classes are all cancelled today," he said cheerfully. The morning bell rang to signal the start of the workday. He saw Nanao's shoulders tip down from the corner of his eye. "What's wrong, Nanao-chan?"

She straightened immediately. "Nothing is wrong, Captain."

"It's not nice to keep secrets from your Captain, Nanao-chan." He was only teasing, but she stiffened so much he thought he could hear her spine creak under the strain. She was taking him much too seriously. He'd have to work on that.

He hadn't spent much time with her in the last few years. She'd always been self-possessed, since she was a child coming into his division with a stack of kidō books taller than her, and that trait had only grown more pronounced over time. Shunsui checked in with her regularly, as he did with all his division members, but he didn't like to spotlight her with his focus when it was clear that she was embarrassed by his attentions. She was a rare introvert in the outgoing Eighth Division. So he spoke to Nanao a few times a week in the main offices and left her to her own devices otherwise. Perhaps that was a mistake. He didn't know Nanao as well as he would like to now, and she didn't know him as well as she should.

"I wasn't keeping secrets, sir. I teach an intermediate kidō class on Tuesday afternoons, and I was looking forward to it, that's all."

"Sorry, Nanao-chan, but under the circumstances it's best to wait until we get some kidō dampeners from the Twelfth and we can set up safe training spaces in the courtyard." He started back towards his office, waving for her to come with him.

"Captain, when you said it was more fun to cancel classes, you actually had safety concerns about holding classes in an unprepared space?" She was following a few steps behind him and to the side, discreetly avoiding his trail of water.

"They're both true, aren't they? But talking about fun is more interesting than talking about routine safety measures."

"But safety is much more important than fun," she protested.

He stopped walking until she pulled up short beside him. "It's just too sad to hear my cute Nanao-chan say something like that. Why don't we go to my office so that I can change, and then we'll go out together and have some drinks. It'll be a lot of fun, I promise."

"It's nine in the morning, Captain." Her eyes went wide.

He pressed a hand over his heart, leaning down to her. "I hope you'll forgive me." The crease between her brows eased. "I've clearly neglected my Nanao-chan terribly, since you've developed this lack of esteem for fun. I'll work hard to help you discover all of the fun that there is in this world."

He could see outrage ratcheting higher and higher in her eyes, but she spoke coolly. "Please refrain from referring to me as 'your Nanao-chan,' Captain. It's unprofessional. And there is nothing wrong with my perspective on fun. Fun is something that happens outside of working hours. Additionally, The Official Officer's Handbook of the Gotei 13 states that seated officers should be available to division members during working hours. That precludes any drinking trips during the day. These regulations apply to Captains, too, sir."

"The Official Officer's Handbook? That sounds very serious, indeed. We have something like that?"

"Vice Captain Sasakibe puts out a revision every year." She adjusted her glasses.

"Does he?" He scratched his chin. "I've never read it."

"That much is obvious, sir." She crossed her arms over the book she held to her chest. He raised his eyebrows. Creeping mortification crowded out the lovely sparking outrage in her eyes. "I apologize, Captain. I overstepped my boundaries. It was inappropriate for me to lecture my superior officer on workplace guidelines."

He grinned. "Don't say that, Nanao-chan. Lectures in your sweet voice are like music to me."

She gave him a flat look. "Sir."

Oh, but she'd grown up to be so much more fun than he'd expected. "Really, Nanao-chan. Most of my lectures come from Yama-jii, who does not, by any measure, have a sweet voice."

"I have only heard Captain Commander Yamamoto speak when he has addressed large groups, but his voice conveys a great deal of authority. The amount of sweetness in his voice would be too small for scientific measurement, I believe." She followed him as he began to walk again.

"I'm so glad that we can agree on these important questions, Nanao-chan."

When they reached the office he bent to wring out the ends of his hakama a bit to at least reduce the amount of water he tracked inside. Nanao looked away politely, walking a few steps away to avoid the new puddle. He took a small flash step up to the balcony. "Come on, Nanao-chan."

She landed softly beside him. "Please give me your wet clothes, sir. I'll hang them out here for you."

He handed her the kimono and his haori. "Thank you, Nanao-chan. I'll get changed." He winked at her. "Feel free to peek."

"That would be unprofessional, sir." She put her back to the office, shaking out his kimono as he stripped quickly by his desk.

"Is it against the rules in your handbook?" he asked, curious. He tossed the wet clothes in the direction of the open doors to the balcony and wiped himself down with a skimpy towel he kept in the office for spilled drinks.

"No, but I'm sure that's only because Vice Captain Sasakibe didn't think he needed to explicitly forbid it."

Shunsui laughed. "He should know better than that." He changed quickly, removing his hair ties and rubbing his head down with the towel.

"I'll submit a recommendation to him for next year's revision," Nanao said primly.

When he came to the balcony he saw that she'd hung all of his wet clothes already. He wondered if she'd taken a peek at him despite her words, but couldn't tell if she was blushing or not when she turned to him—her cheeks were still red from the explosion at the training building. Unfortunately he wasn't familiar enough with her to know all of the revealing little tells that she might have, which was a situation he would definitely rectify soon. The spark between them was too bright for him to leave her alone again after this morning. "Come and sit down, Nanao-chan." He sat on the sofa and gestured to the spot beside him, but she dropped into seiza in front of him instead.

"Please allow me to apologize for the unfortunate incident at the training rooms, Captain. I am deeply sorry for my actions. I severely underestimated the force of my firestorm kidō in my calculations, and I should never have attempted the kidō without being certain of the results. I will accept any punishment that you deem appropriate."

"Nanao-chan, there's no need for that kind of severe apology. Come and sit on the sofa with me, please." He patted the cushion next to him.

She rose and sat next to him, folding her hands neatly over her book on her lap. He reached for her hand and she pulled it away immediately. "Captain?"

"Let me look at your burns, Nanao-chan."

"Yes, sir." She flipped up the palms of her hands, holding them out for his inspection. The burns were slight, likely from close blowback exposure to the kidō and not from contact with the fire itself. He started a healing kidō, pressing one of her hands between his to apply it.

"You said that you miscalculated the kidō. Which kidō were you attempting, Nanao-chan?" Her eyes were downcast, focused on their hands. He wanted her to look at him again. She had striking eyes, flashing between frozen blue and burning violet with her mood.

"It was a kidō of my own invention. I was trying to multiply the effect of a fire kidō by using a windstorm to increase the range of the fire. I've been working on it for a few weeks." She bit her lower lip. Her lips were a deep rose that would be quietly striking against her pale skin. Right now the effect was marred by her reddened skin from the fire, but nothing could ever mar the elegance inherent in her delicate features and slender body. She was a beautiful woman, a refined flower that some men might not notice among the plusher hothouse blooms in the Gotei 13, but Shunsui's eyes would always find her.

"You create your own kidō? Is this the first, or have you done this before?" He switched to her other hand.

"Thank you, Captain." She flipped her healed hand over, looking at the clean skin. "I've been creating my own kidō for years. Mostly I've focused on barriers and walls, but lately I've been working on my offensive kidō. The calculations are in my book." She laid her hand on the volume in her lap.

"I see." Maybe Yama-jii was right, and he hadn't been paying enough attention to his work and his division lately. Apparently Nanao had been developing experimental kidō in his division without attracting any notice, even from him. "I'd be interested to see them."

She nodded, opening the book and flipping through the pages with one hand. "Let me find the pages for you."

He finished her other hand, releasing it. She handed him the book, open to a series of elaborate calculations and diagrams. He skimmed the pages, but even at a glance he could see that this was high-level work, the kind of kidō development that got people locked away in the Kidō Corps, rarely to be seen again. "Does it work?"

She shook her head. "As I destroyed a building the first time I attempted it, I would say it does not work as currently formulated." She ran her finger down a row of calculations. "I think the adjustments need to be made here. I underestimated how much the wind would multiply the fire effects. The placement of the fires was acceptable, but the wind itself needs to be reduced by half, if not more."

"Hmm. I want to see you do the kidō." It wasn't that he didn't believe her—she had destroyed the training building somehow—but he hated to think that he'd overlooked this kind of talent in his own officer. She'd always been brilliant—she'd come from the Academy as a child prodigy—but it was a quiet sort of brilliance that didn't manifest itself immediately in any obvious combat talent. At least, that was his assessment until this morning.

"Yes, Captain. Where would you like me to demonstrate, as the training rooms are currently—ah, unavailable?"

He smiled. "We'll go out to one of the offsite training fields." They were remote enough to avoid damage to any buildings. He browsed through the book curiously. She'd done a lot of strong work on specialized barriers. Her kidō was precise and power-intensive enough that he thought the number of kidō users that could duplicate her work could likely be counted on his hands, with fingers to spare. "When do you have time to do all this, Nanao-chan?"

She shrugged, adjusting her glasses again. "It's not as much time as you might think. Most of the calculations are rudimentary, and the choices of targets for the barrier kidō spells are based on the lists of difficult Hollows in the First Division's weekly reports. I have plenty of time to work on this during the workday. Not that I neglect my work, sir, I always complete all of my assignments first," she said, rushing at the end.

"The work of a Sixth Seat is well below your capabilities." He closed the book, handing it back to her. "I've neglected your training terribly, too. I'm sorry, Nanao-chan."

"Captain?"

"Talent like yours has to be nurtured and monitored. The Kidō Corps would say it has to be directed and controlled, but that's not really my style." He lit a healing kidō and raised his hands to her face.

"Please don't make me go to the Kidō Corps," she blurted out. "That is, I understand if you find it necessary to demote me or—or even to stop my work on kidō, but I would prefer strongly to remain in the Eighth Division, sir."

He cradled her face, his kidō lighting up her skin. Worry darkened her eyes. "You must understand that staying on as a Sixth Seat isn't a good fit for you, Nanao-chan."

"Please, Captain. Although I know that the unfortunate incident at the training rooms does not give you a positive impression of me, I promise that I am a capable officer and that my work is always completed to the highest standards of our division. I can take on additional assignments for you if you'd like. It's clear there is a large quantity of work that needs to be done from the state of your office. I could be a valuable asset to you and to the Eighth, Captain." He was close enough to see the glimmer of tears at the corners of her eyes, but if he hadn't been next to her he wouldn't have seen her distress. Her composure was remarkable, especially given her youth.

He brushed his thumbs over her cheeks comfortingly before pulling his hands away as the kidō ended. "I'm sure that you're already a valuable asset here, Nanao-chan. But that's not the only issue. Are you ready to demonstrate your kidō? We can go to the training field now."

"Yes, sir." She rose, straightening her uniform and tucking her kidō book under her arm.

He led the way to a distant practice field, entirely empty and far enough away that the division buildings were specks on the horizon. "Show me the kidō, just as you did it this morning," he said over her shoulder.

She nodded, taking a deep breath. Her hands lifted in front of her, but she formed no symbols and said no incantations before fire exploded several yards in front of them, swirling up and out in a devastating attack.

The kidō roared, swallowing the tall trees at the far edge of the practice field. The kidō dampeners in the training rooms were probably the only reason he still had any buildings left in the southern half of the division. "That's enough, Nanao-chan."

She wordlessly brought down a deluge on the fire, breaking it under the weight of the water. The drowning kidō was nearly as impressive as the firestorm had been.

"Yare, yare."

"Captain Kyōraku?" She turned to face him, drawing her book up to her chest like a shield.

"I can't keep you as my Sixth Seat." She drew a sharp breath. "So I'm going to promote you to Vice Captain."

She blinked rapidly, tipping her head to the side. "What?" He would wager good sake that she'd only worn that cute baffled expression a few times in her life.

But soon she'd be having a lot of unexpected experiences and plenty of opportunities to make new faces at him. Shunsui was looking forward to it. "You don't have to accept the position, but you should be aware that talent like yours gets recruited quickly and forcibly into the Kidō Corps."

"I am aware of that," she said quietly. Perhaps it wasn't on accident that he'd never realized the depth of her talent before.

"Clever Nanao-chan," he murmured. She watched his face closely, her eyes intense and violet. Nanao was still quite young to take on a position as difficult as this one, and a man as difficult as he could be, but he wanted her. He'd make sure she got the position regardless of any obstacles.

If she wanted it.

"I won't lie to you. It's not an easy job. You'll need to spend a lot of time and energy on the work. There are meetings to attend, budgets to write, subordinates to supervise and discipline. There are a hundred other things to manage that I haven't mentioned." He paused for her reaction.

Her gaze was steady on his. "Undoubtedly a large portion of the job would be handling you, Captain."

He grinned. "You can handle me as much as you like, Nanao-chan. I don't mind if you want to be a little rough with me, either." He winked.

She blushed gratifyingly, her cheeks a charming pink. "I will refer to The Official Officer's Handbook for recommended guidelines."

"Is there a chapter on Captain handling?"

"No, I think it would get too long and overwhelm the rest of the book. But Vice Captain Sasakibe writes that he is available for consultation in specific cases." Her eyes sparked with amusement.

"There's no need for that. I'll give you tips on handling me right now. First, short skirts are my favorite." He wagged his eyebrows at her.

She opened her book, whipping out a pen and hovering it over a blank page. "That's good to know. What size do you wear in short skirts, Captain?"

"I'm not sure, but I'm willing to try some on if you do, too."

"I'm sorry, Captain, but that would be a violation of the uniform regulations, and short skirts on men are not my favorite."

He laughed. "How can you be sure of that, when you haven't seen me in one? I can't be easily grouped in with all the men you've see in skirts."

She tapped her pen against her book, narrowing her eyes. "Why not?"

"I have better legs."

Her serious demeanor cracked with a laugh she tried to cover with a cough, but he'd seen it. He fisted his hakama in his hands, ready to lift them up and show off his fine legs. "Don't do that!" she hissed, and then caught herself. "My apologies, Captain, I meant to say that there is no need for you to display your legs to me. Sir."

He let his hakama drop from his hands, grinning. "You'll be happier if you relax your professional standards when you're with me. It must be exhausting to try to keep them up."

"Maintaining a professional standard is a requirement for all officers of the Gotei 13. That does include Captains, if you were wondering, sir."

"I wasn't," he said cheerfully, and she started to sigh, but stopped herself. He thought he could get her all the way to sighing freely at him within the week. It was only Tuesday, and there were plenty of chances to introduce her to his unique perspective on work. "We're going to have a lot of fun, Nanao-chan."

She closed her book, tucking the pen back into the spine. "When will you schedule the Vice Captain's exam, sir? What kind of preparation should I do?"

"Oh, that. Let's do it this afternoon."

"This afternoon? What?" She nearly squeaked.

"Yes. It's just shikai, don't worry. I know you have one, so it should be easy." He turned back toward the offices. He'd have to get the form ready quickly and dig up two other Captains to witness and sign off on her exam.

"But that's so soon." She hurried up to him. "Captain, although I do have shikai, my zanpakutō is—well—"

"What is it, Nanao-chan?" He stopped walking. She'd wound herself up even more tightly now than she had after destroying the training building this morning.

"My zanpakutō isn't speaking to me at the moment. If I call shikai, she might not come." The toe of her sandal prodded the earth.

"She's not speaking to you?"

"She's difficult," Nanao snapped, and then straightened. "My apologies, Captain, I meant to say that my shikai is currently not entirely reliable when called."

He chuckled. "I understand your frustration with your zanpakutō, Nanao-chan, believe me. But the exam has to be this afternoon. Once word gets out that it was your kidō that destroyed the training rooms, we will be facing that forcible Kidō Corps recruitment."

She glanced down at her kidō notebook, her hands gripping the edges tightly. "You said we." Her voice was so quiet he hardly heard her.

"Nanao-chan?"

"Thank you for this opportunity, Captain. I'll stay here and begin meditation immediately." She bowed her head to him.

Her determination pleased him, not that he would take any chances with something so important. "I'll be back in a couple of hours, with the necessary witnesses to sign off on the exam. Don't worry, Nanao-chan. You'll be my Vice Captain by the time the morning bell rings tomorrow."

"Yes, sir." She moved off of the wet field to sit neatly under a fat tree. Her hand dipped into her sleeve for a tantō—her zanpakutō—and she laid it on her lap. He took one look back at her. She was graceful even in stillness, her face smooth and her lips parted. He could have watched her for hours, but there was no time now. Instead he stepped into shunpo.


"Good morning, Captain Kurotsuchi!" Shunsui called cheerfully as he strolled into the laboratory of the Twelfth Division.

"How did you get in here?" Mayuri Kurotsuchi scowled, bending the triangles painted on his face out of shape.

Shunsui blinked, pretending innocence. "Was it locked? Sorry, I didn't notice."

"What do you want? I'm doing very important work today." Kurotsuchi turned back to the computer panel, punching in some numbers.

"I'm sure that you are. But as it happens, I need witnesses for a Vice Captain's exam today, and you're on the list." Shunsui shrugged his shoulders.

"Impossible. I can't leave in the middle of these tests just to witness some dull shikai. Find someone else," Kurotsuchi said.

"Yare, yare. There's an order to these things, Captain Kurotsuchi. Duties like these have to be spread around between the Captains. Hmm. It's just witnessing the shikai of one of my officers, Nanao Ise. Does the Twelfth still keep records of everyone's shikai?"

"Of course." Kurotsuchi pressed a few keys. "Nanao Ise. An ordinary shikai at best. Hardly worth witnessing. Find someone else."

"That would be difficult. Yama-jii might not appreciate you shifting your Captain's duties onto someone else, you know? It would only appear that way, of course, but it's the kind of appearance he frowns on. But there might be an agreeable solution for both of us." Shunsui reached into his sleeve for a paper, unfolding it and placing it near Kurotsuchi's hand. "As the Vice Captain's exam is only a shikai demonstration, and you can verify from your records that Nanao Ise has shikai, you can simply sign off now."

Kurotsuchi made an annoyed sound. "Fine." He brought the paper to a table, stamping it once. "Now will you leave? I have a lot of work to do."

Shunsui took the paper, tipping his hat to Kurotsuchi. "Thank you very much, Captain Kurotsuchi. Have a nice day." He left the Twelfth Division, humming a tune.

At the Thirteenth Division he went to the Captain's office without waiting to be introduced. Kaien Shiba sat at the Vice Captain's desk in the office, stamping papers. "Hey, Captain Kyōraku. You're here early."

"There was an—" What had Nanao called it? She'd used an understatement that had made him smile. "—an unfortunate incident at my division this morning, so I need to make some arrangements." Shunsui dropped into a fat chair facing Kaien in a seating area between the Captain's and Vice Captain's desks.

Ukitake entered the room carrying a tray of steaming tea. It was his medicinal blend; Shunsui was very familiar with the tangy, herbal scent. "Oh, Kyōraku! You're up early. Do you want anything to drink?"

Kyōraku waved the offer away. "No thanks."

"I would have gotten your tea for you, Captain," Kaien said.

"I was over there anyway, so it was no trouble. I heard you had an accident at the Eighth this morning," Ukitake said, sitting in a chair in the seating area where he could see both Shunsui and Kaien.

"An unfortunate incident. One of my Sixth Seats blew up the training building, so I need to arrange a Vice Captain's exam today. Can you witness it this afternoon, Ukitake?"

"I know that I always quickly promote the officers that destroy large pieces of my division, too." Ukitake raised his eyebrows, pouring a cup of tea.

"She blew up the training building with a kidō."

"Kidō? But surely you have the standard kidō dampeners?" Ukitake asked.

"Yes. She used a firestorm kidō of her own invention. She showed it to me out at one of the offsite training fields. It's impressive. The only reason there are any buildings left at that end of the division is her rapid application of an equally excellent waterfall kidō."

"A kidō of her own invention? You didn't tell me you had a budding kidō master at the Eighth, Kyōraku." Ukitake shook his head.

"I didn't know," Kyōraku said, scratching the back of his neck.

"Wait a minute—Sixth Seat, a woman, a kidō user—it's Nanao Ise, isn't it?" Kaien asked, grinning.

"You know her, Kaien-kun?" Shunsui asked.

"A little bit. Even though you don't have a Vice Captain right now, every division still needs a representative at the weekly Vice Captains' meeting. A rotating group had been attending from the Eighth for a while, but eventually it was always Nanao Ise. She's easily the most responsible member of your division. Promote her before she jumps ship." Kaien waved his stamp for emphasis.

"Nanao-chan has no interest in leaving the Eighth. That's why I need witnesses for the Vice Captain's exam today," Shunsui said.

"It's easy for the Kidō Corps to steal a Sixth Seat, but impossible to take a Vice Captain," Ukitake said, sipping his tea.

"That's right."

"Who's the other witness?" Ukitake asked.

"Captain Kurotsuchi. He already signed off. Apparently he can't leave the laboratory today, and they keep records of all shikais at the Twelfth, so—"

"It's against the spirit, if not the letter of the rules, but as long as your officer actually has shikai, it won't matter. Did you tell Yamamoto-sensei that you're considering a candidate for Vice Captain?" Ukitake obviously expected an affirmative answer, but he was going to be disappointed.

"No. I'll give him the paperwork for Nanao-chan's confirmation after the exam."

Ukitake sighed. "He probably wouldn't delay the exam for more than a day or two while he pre-approves your candidate."

"Pre-approval of Vice Captain candidates is entirely optional. The power to appoint lies with the Captain."

"Kyōraku—"

"I won't risk losing Nanao-chan so that Yama-jii can scold me in advance. If he wants to scold me, he can do it after she's safely promoted out of the Kidō Corps' reach," Shunsui said.

Ukitake sighed. "I take it your meeting with Yamamoto-sensei did not go so well this morning."

"He accused me of neglecting my division and my officers, failing to complete required paperwork on time, and general irresponsibility. He suggested that if I could not correct these issues in a timely fashion, he would consider appointing a Vice Captain at least temporarily, over my objections."

Ukitake winced. "Well, it could have been worse."

"I suppose. But appointing Nanao-chan will solve some of these problems, so it should make Yama-jii relax a little," Shunsui said.

"I don't think you should set your expectations for her too high, Kyōraku. A new Vice Captain can't be expected to tackle a huge backlog of work while learning the job."

"I think she can do it," Kaien said. "She's very organized and responsible. Always remembers when it's her turn to bring snacks, but never brings sweets. She's very strict about work, Captain Kyōraku, maybe enough to make you sorry that you chose her later on." Kaien grinned.

Shunsui shook his head. "No, Yama-jii is right. I've neglected my division, and that needs to change. I will be there more, and give my officers more attention, so that no one can secretly develop new explosive kidō without attracting my notice. But for day-to-day work, I need a reliable Vice Captain."

"Reliable and strict would be good for you and your division, I agree," Ukitake said. "And if Kaien thinks she can do the job, then I'm sure she's capable. I'll meet you for the Vice Captain's exam this afternoon."

"Nanao-chan's shikai might not look like anything much. She's a kidō user, not a swordsman." Shunsui didn't want to say outright that she'd fail at shikai, but Ukitake would be able to read enough from Shunsui getting Mayuri to sign off sight unseen.

"Don't worry, I'll applaud regardless." Ukitake smiled and Shunsui nodded.

"Great, thanks. Come by the offsite training fields in an hour, the one that used to have pine trees." Shunsui stood, stretching.

"Used to have pine trees?" Ukitake echoed, surprised.

"There was an unfortunate incident with the pine trees this morning," Shunsui said.

"People that can make their own kidō are dangerous. But they're usually good at math, so they don't blow so many things up," Kaien said.

"Nanao-chan is still developing her talent. Her firestorm kidō calculations need some tweaking. But rest assured that I'll be monitoring her experimental work much more closely in the future." Shunsui smiled, pausing at the door.

"That's probably for the best. I'll see you out there, Kyōraku." Ukitake poured a fresh cup of tea.

Shunsui waved over his shoulder as he left.


"You want me to lie to Captain Ukitake, sir?" Nanao asked, disbelief on her face.

"No, it's not a lie. I just want you to act as if your shikai went off properly even if you can't call it. Then do the firestorm kidō for Ukitake immediately." Shunsui took a bite of his onigiri.

"Captain Ukitake has a reputation of the highest integrity. Surely he won't sign off on my promotion unless he actually witnesses my shikai." She drank from her bamboo water container.

"Ukitake knows you have shikai. It's on file at the Twelfth Division."

She fidgeted with the water container without speaking.

"A reputation of the highest integrity? Really?" he murmured.

"Yes. He's known for his integrity." She pushed up her glasses.

"And I'm not?"

"Your reputation is not focused on your integrity as much, sir," Nanao said diplomatically.

"I see. My manly handsomeness must overwhelm my reputation for integrity," he said, finishing his onigiri and leaning back on his hands.

"That's one possible interpretation. A rather generous one," she added quietly.

He laughed.

"My apologies, Captain. That was an inappropriate comment for me to make." She blushed. He wondered if he brought out the sharpness of her tongue; he hoped so. He liked the thought that he brought out the best of her character, but imagined that she thought of it as the worst of her character. She was too focused on professionalism and still calling him sir too much, but that would change with time.

"Nanao-chan, most of my favorite comments are inappropriate ones. Feel free to make as many to me as you'd like." He smiled at her. She sat primly on her heels on his pink kimono, under the shade of one of the few trees left standing at the distant training field. The onigiri he'd brought her was untouched. "Eat your lunch, clever Nanao-chan. Ukitake will be here soon."

"I'm not hungry." She dropped the rice neatly in the bento. "Is it really ethical for me to become a Vice Captain if I can't do shikai on demand? Captain Ukitake signing off on my exam if my shikai doesn't appear would mean my promotion was based on a lie."

"No, it wouldn't. The Vice Captain's exam uses a single and entirely arbitrary criteria to determine if someone is at a Vice Captain's level. But simply calling a shikai is no indication that someone has the talent or skills necessary to be a Vice Captain. It's one very small piece of what a Vice Captain does. I want you to be my Vice Captain because I believe you have all the skills and talent to do the job, and do it well."

She looked up at him, her brows drawn together. "I understand what you're saying, Captain, but if shikai is the fundamental basis of the Vice Captain position, how can I have all the necessary skills for the position if my shikai is unreliable?"

"Nanao-chan, my shikai is unreliable."

Her mouth formed a cute O of surprise. "Your shikai is unreliable?" she asked, as scandalized as she'd be if he'd stripped off all of his clothes suddenly.

"Yes. Katen Kyōkotsu likes to play games. It's an annoyance, but it's the way my sword has always been." Katen Kyōkotsu would probably make him pay—perhaps in blood—for disclosing this to someone else, but he thought it would be persuasive to Nanao in a way that reassurances were not.

"But you're a Captain."

He shifted to face her directly. "Yes, I am a Captain, because my skills and talents merit the position. My swordsmanship is only one part of why I became a Captain. It's not simply about bankai, any more than the Vice Captain position is about shikai."

He could see her quick mind turning that over, processing it until her eyes lit up with understanding and relief. "I'll work hard to improve my swordsmanship as your Vice Captain, sir."

"I'll help you with it. But I'm not promoting you for your swordsmanship. You should have no doubt that your kidō is well above the usual level for a Vice Captain. If you want to focus on kidō as your offensive skill for battle, that would be fine, too. But I'd like to supervise your kidō work more closely from now on."

"I would appreciate your input very much, sir." She reached for her kidō workbook and ran her hand over the cover.

"Would you?" Kidō masters tended to be secretive—it was no coincidence that people talked about disappearing into the Kidō Corps—and Nanao's concealment of her talent and her work made him believe that she'd be reluctant to have him closely involved in her kidō development.

"Yes. You do have a reputation for a brilliant mind, Captain." She tipped her head, as if embarrassed to compliment him, adding, "Although your reputation suggests that you prefer not to apply yourself to many things."

"Nanao-chan, I promise that I will apply myself to you very diligently." He touched her hand on her book briefly, surprising her.

"You mean you'll apply yourself to supervising my kidō studies," she corrected.

"I'll support you in whatever you want to pursue. I'll be here for you in whatever way you need, I promise you." He smiled.

She nodded, and he knew she took his promise as limited. He'd allow that. Eventually she would need more from him, and he would give her whatever she needed, without hesitation. Nanao was still quite young, but he wasn't. He knew himself, and whatever his reputation might be, he was deeply reliable for those important to him. Nanao would be his Vice Captain, someone very important to him, someone he needed to trust. She could become important to him in time for other reasons; he wouldn't resist that if it happened. A connection like the one between them was rare, and not to be squandered.

He would set no limits on his promise.

"Thank you, Captain." She smiled, and it hit him harder than he'd expected to see her serious expression lighten, her teeth gleaming white and her eyes glimmering. She was beautiful.

"You're welcome." His eyes caught movement in the distance. "There's Ukitake. It looks like Kaien-kun came with him."

Nanao stood, straightening her uniform and tucking her book under her arm. "I'm ready."

Shunsui rose, raising his hand in greeting. "Thanks for coming out. You remember my Sixth Seat, Nanao Ise?" Shunsui wasn't sure when they'd first met, but Nanao had been in the Eighth long enough that she must have met Ukitake a few times.

"Of course." Ukitake smiled.

"Thank you for witnessing my Vice Captain's exam, sir," Nanao said, her posture formal and her voice stiff.

"You're very welcome. It's always a pleasure to see young officers show their talents and strive for improvement," Ukitake said.

Shunsui nodded and Nanao marched out into the field.

"I hope it's okay that I tagged along," Kaien said. "I was curious. She's so contained whenever I see her, I just couldn't picture her blowing up a building."

Nanao stood in profile to them, calling her shikai quickly. The words were too low for Shunsui to hear and her tantō didn't visibly change, but he could feel the crackle of energy that accompanied a shikai. Ukitake started to clap for her, as promised, but he'd only pressed his hands together once when the firestorm kidō erupted across the field, ravaging the remaining trees. Nanao doused it just as suddenly with the waterfall kidō and turned to face them, her eyes glowing with reiatsu but her face composed. She bowed neatly.

"Used to be pine trees," Kaien murmured. "Who would have guessed? It's always the quiet ones."

Ukitake resumed his clapping. "You didn't say that she was going to demonstrate her kidō, Kyōraku."

"I wanted you to see why she's a good candidate, shikai aside. Do you think that you can sign off on the exam in good conscience? Nanao-chan informed me that you have a reputation for the highest integrity."

"The highest integrity? That's an exaggeration. But there are worse reputations to have, I suppose." Ukitake took the paper from Shunsui and flattened it against his leg, taking his stamp from Kaien and pressing it down firmly. "She's a very good choice for Vice Captain, Kyōraku."

Shunsui accepted the paper, rising to meet Nanao as she came back to their group. "That was impressive, Nanao-chan. You set my heart aflame with your burning kidō!"

"Thank you, Captain," she said, her cheeks a bit pink, but if it was from his compliment or the fire, he couldn't be sure.

"Thank you for showing us your kidō skills, Ise-san. I'm sure you'll be excellent in your new role, but if you have any questions, the Thirteenth Division is always open to you. Kaien has a lot of experience in the job." Ukitake stood and smiled.

"That's right, you can come to me for any help," Kaien said. "Don't forget, the regular Vice Captains' meeting is Thursday this week, and it's your turn to bring snacks. Bring something sweet!" He grinned and waved as he started back to the buildings beside Ukitake.

"Something sweet?" Nanao asked, but they were already gone.

"Kaien-kun likes sweet snacks, but you don't have to bring those to the meeting. The snacks are optional." Shunsui sighed. "We never get any snacks at the Captains' meetings."

"Your meetings are more formal than the Vice Captains' meetings. We sit at a table and have tea and snacks."

"Maybe we should trade meetings."

"The Vice Captains' meetings are also three hours long and include budget discussions."

"Never mind, then. At least Yama-jii's meetings are short." Shunsui tapped the paper in his hand. "Speaking of Yama-jii, I wanted to get your promotion through today, so I should go and see him now."

"Captain? Are you sure that someone like me should be your Vice Captain?" There was an uncertainty in her voice that stopped him before he could step into shunpo. Nanao had been surprised and tipped off-balance by him at times today, but she'd also been confident in herself and her abilities, even when she'd told him about her shikai. That issue had only been a minor annoyance to her; she knew her real power was in kidō.

"Someone like you, Nanao-chan?" he asked, keeping his voice even and curious. He turned around slowly.

She was clutching her book against her chest again. "Your previous Vice Captains have been physical fighters. As a kidō user, will I be able to support you properly in battle?"

"My previous Vice Captains? Hmm. Lisa-chan was a very physical fighter, it's true. She's probably the one you remember most, right?"

She nodded.

"I didn't recruit her or promote her for that reason. But that was where her best talents were, so I did encourage her to develop her physical combat skills and her sword work. Your talents and interests are in kidō, primarily, so that's what I'll help you develop the most. It won't make a difference to me what you specialize in, Nanao-chan."

"But if you find it easier to work with a physical fighter in a battle situation, I may not be a good fit as your Vice Captain." She adjusted her glasses, averting her gaze.

"It's not easier for me. I don't want to go to battle, and when I do, I don't want to bring my subordinates into it if I can avoid it."

She took a small step towards him, her eyes returning to his. "But if the battle is very serious, you'll need more help with you. You'll need your Vice Captain at your back, won't you?"

"If the battle is very serious, no one should be around me at all." He smiled without amusement.

Her brows drew together. She took another step towards him, tipping her face up to keep her eyes on him. "You have a difficult sword, Captain?"

"I have a difficult sword," he said. He lightened his tone immediately. "If you understand that, then you know why I'd prefer to leave my cute Nanao-chan safely at the office."

"I understand." Her expression cleared, her words lacking the anger he'd expected.

He raised an eyebrow. "You're taking this very well."

She tucked her book under her arm. "This is hardly the first time I've been told that I would be held back. At the Shinigami Academy, when I applied for a seated officer's position, and again now, I have been held back for my own good, according to my superiors. But I have discovered that the answer to this problem is not to sulk or shout about the obvious injustice. The answer is to become stronger and smarter, until it is impossible to be held back anymore. I'll work hard, Captain." She bowed and started back towards the offices.

"It's not a question of strength, Nanao-chan." He fell into step beside her.

"Respectfully, sir, it is. There are two possibilities: I will become strong enough that holding me back from the battlefield is an obvious fallacy, or eventually a battle will be so dire that everyone of a certain level must fight. Either way, the choice will not be yours at that moment. That's why I'll work hard. When the time comes, I will not disappoint you, sir."

"Yare, yare. You're a clever girl, Nanao-chan. But there's a third possibility: I go to battle alone and return, ruggedly handsome and heroic, and you fall into my arms, overwhelmed. I like that scenario best."

She tapped her lips. "In this scenario, is the floor particularly wet?"

"Only with your tears of joy."

"Have I been struck very hard in the head?"

"No, you're completely uninjured. I have a few minor injuries that you'll insist on tending yourself, with trembling hands." He pressed a hand to his heart, chuckling.

"That scenario is absolutely impossible, sir."

"You must believe in the infinite possibilities of romance, Nanao-chan."

She glanced at him, and his grin widened when he saw the spark of amusement in her eyes. "Is there a calculation for that, Captain?"

"Love is a force beyond measurement." He spread his arms out with a flourish.

"If it's beyond measurement, then it's not something reliable, and it shouldn't be trusted."

"That's cold, Nanao-chan! A young woman in the first bloom of life shouldn't have such a hard opinion of love. I'll have to work on that, too."

"I think that may be beyond the scope of your duties as a Captain, sir."

"Don't worry, Nanao-chan, I'll make time for that." He laughed at her sigh. They were going to have a good time together, he was certain. "I need to go see Yama-jii," he said, and pushed into flash step when she nodded.


"Captain Kyōraku?" Sasakibe rose from his desk. "Did you need anything further?"

"Hello again," Shunsui said cheerfully. "Is Yama-jii available? I found a Vice Captain."

Sasakibe's eyes widened. "Please wait one moment." He went into Yama-jii's office, returning a minute later to usher Shunsui in.

"Good afternoon, Yama-jii." Shunsui strolled to the center of the office, in front of Yama-jii's desk.

"I'm told that you have a candidate for Vice Captain already." Yama-jii glanced up from his paperwork.

"It's better than that. I have a Vice Captain."

Yama-jii gave him a steely look. "If you're wasting my time with a foolish trick after our meeting this morning, there will be consequences."

"It's not a trick. I had a qualified candidate at the Eighth already, and I held the Vice Captain's exam for her this afternoon." Shunsui unfolded the signed exam sheet and laid it on Yama-jii's desk.

Yama-jii lifted the paper, reading silently. "Nanao Ise? She's only a Sixth Seat."

"She's very qualified for the job. Her position as Sixth Seat isn't a true reflection of her talents. She was seated when she was still very young."

"Ise—she was in Gin Ichimaru's class, the year we recruited two child prodigies. If her raw talent was properly developed, she should be at a Vice Captain's level, but she's still rather young for the role." Yama-jii set the paper down heavily.

"Ichimaru-kun is already a Vice Captain, and has been for several years," Shunsui said.

"My concern is not her youth specifically, but her ability to manage all of the challenging responsibilities of a Vice Captain."

"She'll be fine. Kaien-kun said that she's the most responsible member of my division, and she already attends the weekly Vice Captain's meeting." Shunsui rubbed the back of his neck. It wasn't easy, but he should say it. "You were right that I've been neglectful lately. I'll be more attentive to my division from now on, but I still need someone to manage the day-to-day operations there."

Yama-jii grunted. "At least you acknowledge what needs to be done. I have no particular objection to Nanao Ise. You're more likely to support a Vice Captain of your own choosing anyway. But if your division doesn't improve, we'll be meeting again very soon." He stamped his approval on the exam page.

"Thanks, Yama-jii." Shunsui smiled and turned to leave.

"There's one more thing," Yama-jii said, halting Shunsui's steps. "That explosion at the Eighth Division—the Twelfth Division has informed me that it was a kidō-based fire, and that the same signature reoccurred twice more today at the offsite training fields. Nanao Ise's specialization is kidō, is it not?"

Shunsui swung back to Yama-jii. "It's true. She's very talented with kidō, and there was an unfortunate incident this morning with one of her new kidō spells. It won't happen again. But you can see why I needed to promote her quickly. I can't lose talent like that to the Kidō Corps."

Yama-jii nodded. "Don't let her use destructive kidō on division grounds."

"I'll be monitoring her kidō work closely, don't worry. I prefer to have my division intact."

"Chujirō will want to meet with her tomorrow. He'll make the arrangements."

"Is that the meeting where he advises Vice Captains on Captain handling techniques?" Shunsui asked.

"It would take more than a single meeting to teach someone to handle you. You're still a pain in my ass, and I've known you since you only came up to my knees."

"Your life would be too dull without me, Yama-jii." Shunsui tipped his hat at him.

Yama-jii grunted, but his eyes had a glimmer of amusement. "Get back to work, Shunsui. I expect your backlog of paperwork to be cleared by the end of the month."

Shunsui waved goodbye, winking at Sasakibe on his way out. Did Yama-jii's Vice Captain really have a list of tips for handling him? Maybe he could get it out of Nanao after her meeting tomorrow. He looked forward to trying, anyway.


His office looked like it had been invaded by paper demons. Stacks of paper lined up on his desk and marched to the wall in waiting piles. His stamp was out and his ink fresh. The towers of paper circled the seating area and looped back around to his desk. "Where did all this come from?" he asked the air.

"The file closet," a tall stack of papers replied. He followed the voice and found Nanao on her hands and knees behind the stack, looking very fetching as she pulled papers out from under a bookcase. "There was also some in the officer's lounge and other locations."

"This can't all be for me," he said.

She sat back on her heels, looking up at him. "Every single piece needs your approval. Vice Captain Sasakibe sent me an urgent hell butterfly about it, and he'll be sending a complete list of missing paperwork tomorrow. We need to get started right away, sir."

"Tomorrow should be soon enough, Nanao-chan." He glanced at the door, considering his escape plan.

"I must insist we begin immediately, Captain. The volume of work may require working on the weekends until the backlog is eliminated." She rose from the floor, gesturing invitingly at his desk.

Perhaps another tactic would work better. "Nanao-chan," he murmured, coming close to her. "How can I work when I'm in the presence of such loveliness?" He leaned down, puckering his lips.

He was stopped short by the cover of her kidō workbook. "Please go to your desk immediately, Captain." He drew back, considering the window. "Please do not attempt to leave the office during working hours when we have such a pressing workload. I know more than a dozen binding kidōs that would render you largely immobile while still permitting you to stamp papers."

"Are you offering to tie me up before we've even had a first date, Nanao-chan? How scandalous. I think I'm in love," he declared, fluttering his hand over his heart.

"If you are experiencing heart palpitations, I will accompany you to the Fourth Division. Otherwise, please go to your desk, sir."

"How can I refuse my new Vice Captain?" He saw her eyes widen out of the corner of his eye as he went to his desk.

"The Captain Commander has already approved my promotion?" she asked.

"Yes. Come here, Nanao-chan." He searched through a desk drawer. "There it is."

She stood beside his chair, her lips curving into a smile when she saw the badge in his hand. He waved her closer and she held out her arm.

He tied the Vice Captain's badge around her biceps. "If you don't like the fabric, feel free to have it changed."

She ran her fingers over the carved wood. "I like it as it is, sir."

"It looks good on you." He leaned back in his chair. "The bell is going to ring for the end of the day soon. We should go out and have dinner and drinks to celebrate your promotion."

"That's out of the question, Captain. The papers on your desk are ones that Vice Captain Sasakibe has requested for tomorrow morning. We need to complete them tonight, sir."

Shunsui sighed. He lifted the top page of the small pile in front of him. "They've sent over the repair estimate for the training building already?"

"Yes, sir. It will be very expensive to replace the building, and we'll need a budget extension. That's what those papers are for." She drew her book in front of her, holding it to her chest. "Captain, are you prepared now to assign my punishment for the unfortunate incident earlier?"

"It wasn't such an unfortunate incident, since it brought us here. No punishment is necessary, Nanao-chan."

"Captain, please. I may not have technically violated any regulations, but the destruction of an entire building should necessarily have consequences," she said earnestly.

He rubbed his chin. "What about a spanking?" He tapped his knee, grinning.

"Please be serious, sir," she snapped.

"Corporal punishment is at the Captain's discretion." He smiled at her scowling face. "No? Spanking is out, then, sadly." He flipped through the papers on the training building repairs. It seemed she wouldn't let this go unless he gave her a punishment that she found appropriate. "It looks like the repairs will be quite involved and expensive. As your punishment, please supervise the rebuilding project and manage the budget."

"Yes, Captain." Her tension eased. He had no doubt that she would throw herself into the repair project with the same enthusiasm she'd brought to the paperwork.

He stamped the repair budget papers with an exaggerated sigh. "How late do you intend for us to work tonight, Nanao-chan?"

"Until the papers on the desk are ready to go to the First Division." She pressed a hand to one towering stack. "They're very important, sir. Would you like me to bring you some tea?"

"Yes, please. My Nanao-chan is so thoughtful."

"I'll be right back." Nanao went to the door. "Have I mentioned yet that I have mastered the five major tracking kidōs and created my own variation on a long-distance binding kidō?"

He laughed. "And Yama-jii was worried that you might not be able to handle me."

"I'll do my best, Captain." He saw a flash of her secretive smile before she left the office.

"Things are looking up," he murmured. The stacks of paper dotted the office like a mountain range. "Well, some things."

Nanao returned with hot tea, leaning over his shoulder to place a cup in front of him. The curve of her slender waist was a distracting temptation, but the spine of her book cracked down on his knuckles before he'd touched her.

"Ouch, Nanao-chan! You're so cruel, and yet so beautiful." He shook the sting out of his fingers. "I only wanted to reach out for the blossoming love between us."

"Do you intend to do much reaching of that kind, sir?" she asked, raising her eyebrow.

"How can I neglect my cute Nanao-chan? The flower of our love must be watered by my romantic attentions."

She drummed her fingers on her book. "I'll have to get something lighter to hit you with," she said absently. "If your fingers are broken, you won't be able to stamp the papers."

"Nanao-chan is so considerate," he said dryly.

"My apologies, Captain, I was thinking out loud. Are you ready to begin?" At his nod she laid the first papers in front of him.

He picked up his stamp as the bell for the end of the day rang. "Let's order some food from the noodle shop in an hour or so. One of the boys on night watch can pick it up for us."

"It's not entirely appropriate to use division members that way, but I suppose this is a special case. I'd like udon, please." She removed the completed papers and dropped them in a box before setting fresh ones in front of him.

"That sounds good. Is udon your favorite food from the noodle shop?" He settled back in his chair, enjoying the graceful play of her hands across the papers. He felt refreshed and intrigued in a way he hadn't for a very long time as she spoke. "Tell me more," he said when her cool voice stopped.

"About udon?"

"About anything. Tell me more, Nanao-chan." The day faded to night around them, but they were in their own world made of papers and conversation and occasional slaps from her book.

~The End~

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
hakaihime_08
Feb. 4th, 2014 06:24 pm (UTC)
Hello! This is Mariana again. I have made an account :). It's great to read about their beggining, I loved it. They're absolutely meant for each other
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )