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Title: The Trials of Nanao Ise
Genre: Romance/Drama
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Spoilers: Through manga chapter 423
Status: Ongoing
Rating: PG-13
Contains: Depictions of violence, foul language, impolite remarks. ;)
Summary: Nanao will face the consequences of her decisions during and after the Arrancar War.  Can she overcome these trials, or will they divide her from Captain Kyōraku forever?  Canon compliant through manga chapter 423. 


Back to Chapter 3.
Chapter 1.

The first day of Nanao's command was easy. She sat at the captain commander's desk at First Division, answering hell butterflies and meeting with officers from various divisions. The Third Seat of the Fourth Division brought by a preliminary triage squads plan that Captain Unohana had drawn up. Nanao found it to be in good shape, but added a few efficiencies to the staging plans to make the entry to false Karakura faster.

In the middle of the afternoon she was called down to the Tenth Division—apparently, the Eleventh Division was undisciplined and antsy without any of their higher ranking officers, and had decided to declare war on the Tenth for unknown reasons.

Nanao cooled their enthusiasm for fighting with the same water wave kidō she'd used at the Eighth's roof-burning summer party. She finished off their enthusiasm entirely by noting that she had the authority to designate them as research subjects for the Twelfth Division if they persisted in their private war.

The Eleventh relented, apparently preferring retreat from a fight to a visit to the Twelfth. Nanao couldn't blame them; the Eleventh might be full of hardened warriors, but the Twelfth was full of twisted scientists. Avoiding any dealings with them was just good sense.

Nanao apologized for soaking the division's courtyard, but the shinigami of the Tenth were surprisingly sanguine about the wetness. Apparently, it frequently snowed at the Tenth when Captain Hitsugaya sparred. "It gets really cold sometimes, too," a cheerful officer told her. "I keep a scarf and extra clothes in my desk, just in case."

After returning to the office at First Division, Nanao approved shinigami patrol schedules for the next month from all divisions except one, and then sent a note to the Eleventh that she had not received their patrol schedule and there was certainly still time for her to contact the Twelfth about some newly volunteered subjects. She received a brief but polite note back from the Sixth Seat that the patrol schedule would be sent along in the morning.

Maybe Captain Kyōraku was right and she hadn't needed any preparation for this set of duties. The thought made her smile a little, but it faded when she wondered what he would be doing right now. Maybe he was eating. It was past time for an evening meal, and Nanao imagined her captain camped out under the stars, talking with Captain Ukitake and Rangiku, eating and drinking and laughing.

The scene stabbed her a little, because she was not in it. She rubbed her chest absently. It was getting late. She left First Division, intending to head home to her quarters at the Eighth, but instead found herself at the gate to Captain Kyōraku's house.

It wasn't breaking in, precisely—Nanao had a standing invitation from her captain to come to his house anytime she wanted—though she rarely came here. She walked through part of his garden, which was much larger and finer than the one they shared at the Eighth. Absently she picked up the discarded sake dish sitting on the portion of his wrap-around porch overlooking his back garden and slid open the door to bring it inside.

His home was like him—warm and somewhat messy. Over his long life he'd collected trinkets, musical instruments, books, art—all manner of things that appealed to his sensibilities—and those items were displayed with varying amounts of care throughout his house. In the same way, he'd collected architectural flourishes and details—he had a particular fondness for windows—from different cultures he'd seen and added them to his home. His house was eclectic, large, and charming, rather like the man himself.

She stood still for a few minutes, breathing in his scent, that mix of the outdoors and his own musk she knew so well. This was his autumn scent. He spent so much time laying in the grass and lounging under trees that he smelled a little differently in each season.

"Heavens forbid he should ever smell of paper and ink," she said, but without heat.

She spent a good hour straightening his house, washing the dishes he hadn't remembered to clean before he left, shelving the books stacked haphazardly in a corner, neatly arranging the piles of papers scattered around the house on his low desk and into categories—Poetry, Novel, Correspondence, Work, and Nanao.

The Work pile was the smallest. Nanao was the largest. She did not read the papers past a glance to see her name and "luscious" "lovely" "sweet" or "breasts." Really, his writing was not the kind of literature she ordinarily enjoyed.

There was a pile forming of stray clothes she'd found in various parts of the house, so she went into his bedroom to put them with the rest of his laundry for pickup by the Fourth Division. His futon was out, the blanket messy, and she wondered if he'd failed to sleep well last night or if he just never bothered to put it away.

She straightened the bed, smoothing the covers to a crisp neatness, centering the pillows neatly. Her hand stroked across the fabric and she snapped it back to her side, glancing around the room guiltily, as if someone would appear and berate her for the action.

The night slipped down slowly over the sky. In the dim and empty room, Nanao felt the yearning of her secret dreams, and in a low voice she said "Shunsui," just once, to taste it on her lips.

*****

The second day of her command saw the battle begin in false Karakura and the shattering of all her secret dreams as nightmares unfolded before her eyes on a monitor in an icy room in Twelfth Division.

"What are your orders, Vice Captain Ise?" The smirking officer of the Kidō Corps was nearly shouting at her now.

Nanao glanced at the main screen and saw Kisuke Urahara engaged with Aizen. "We wait."

"That man is not a member of the Gotei 13. The orders from Central 46 have no contingency for persons unknown entering this battle. So again I will ask you, what are your orders, Vice Captain Ise?"

The tension in the room was thick. Nanao knew she walked on the bare edge of her orders from Central 46, but she could not activate the soul-destroying machines now, not when there was still the chance Aizen would fall. What did it matter if he fell to the shinigami or to Kisuke Urahara?

"We will wait. My orders were very specific. It is not yet necessary to act on them." Nanao kept her voice clipped and cold. She raised one eyebrow, daring the obnoxious little man from the Kidō Corps to contradict her. What was his name? It had faded into a faint buzzing as she'd focused on more critical matters.

He scowled but said nothing.

She turned back to the viewing monitor and stopped breathing when Aizen cut through the three outsiders fighting him.

"Vice Captain Ise! You must give the order now!" The vice captain of the Kidō Corps shouted at her from across the room. He was red-faced and breathing heavily. Nanao thought absently that he could really benefit from some courses in the tea ceremony or flower arrangement to help him develop patience.

She glanced at the monitor again. "Ichigo Kurosaki is still standing. We will wait."

"You don't have the authority to wait! The order is from the Central 46! There is no latitude for your personal judgment," the small man yelled. He strode across the room, his finger pointed rudely at Nanao. "You must give this order. There is no choice!"

Aizen stepped into a gate on the large screen, and the room broke out in fearful whispers, dozens of eyes flickering between Nanao and the screen.

"I will not give the order while the Kurosaki boy is still standing," Nanao said.

"If you will not do your duty, then I will! Aizen must be stopped!" He grabbed for one of the microphones linked to the machine operators waiting on the outskirts of Soul Society just outside Karakura town.

"Bakudō number 61: Rikujōkōrō!"

The vice captain of the Kidō Corps was so shocked by Nanao's attack he just gaped at her from inside the light bars of the binding kidō. "What the hell are you doing?"

Nanao ignored him; she was already whispering the words for a stronger binding, and as he began to struggle against the kidō on him, she shouted the final words: "Bakudō number 99: Kin!"

The rods of light broke off the small man as his arms snapped behind his back, wrapped in thick ribbon bindings. He fell to the floor and writhed against the kidō, but Nanao was certain that it would hold. She glanced around the room to see if there would be any further challenges.

The shinigami appeared stunned by this turn of events; Nanao knew that only she and the Kidō Corps officer were aware of the orders from Central 46. Captain Yamamoto had informed the Kidō Corps officers of the orders so that they could be mobilized to operate the soul-killing machines, if needed.

No one else in the room seemed inclined to argue with her, so she turned her head back to watch the monitor. Ichigo Kurosaki and the older man with him stepped through a gate to Soul Society.

"You'll be brought up on treason charges for this!" The vice captain of the Kidō Corps continued to shout threats from his position on the floor.

"Do you have cameras in the real Karakura town?" Nanao asked the large-headed technician.

"We don't."

"Send a message to the Secret Remote Squad to get some observation squads on Aizen and Ichigo Kurosaki. I want to know what's happening out there."

"You won't get away with this, you bitch! Everyone knows you only have your position because you're sleeping with your captain! You don't deserve to be in command of anything!"

Nanao leaned down over the shouting man. Her right hand was lit up with crackling lightning kidō and her left hand pulled off her glasses. When she spoke it was in a cool, even tone. "Perhaps you have not noticed, but we are still in the middle of combat operations. I am still in command of the Gotei 13. And whatever may happen after these events are over, that does not concern me presently. It is my duty to the Gotei 13 to do my best to support their battle from this position. It is my duty as a shinigami to protect the human souls in Karakura town. Whatever the Central 46 has demanded of me, I will not act on their orders until there are no other choices left. Now, you are interfering with the operations of this command post. You will cease immediately."

She lifted her right hand, letting the lightning snap. The vice captain of the Kidō Corps opened and closed his mouth several times, but he did not speak again.

"If you wish to file a formal complaint against me later, you are welcome to do so," Nanao said, letting the kidō in her hand burn out and replacing her glasses on her nose. "Has the Secret Remote Squad checked in yet?"

The technician in front of her had his eyeball cranked out again. "They report that Ichigo Kurosaki has engaged Aizen in battle. Aizen appears to have taken another form."

"I see. Please keep me updated." Nanao stood with her hands clasped behind her back. She was taking an enormous risk, pinning so much hope on one young boy, but she remembered what Captain Yamamoto had told her on the day he relayed the orders from Central 46: "In fact, I am sending a contingent of shinigami to Hueco Mundo tomorrow… Their mission is to weaken the Espada, gather information, and secure the return of Ichigo Kurosaki to the battlefield." There must be something unique about Ichigo Kurosaki for the captain commander to specifically mention the boy. Nanao was certain there was some intent behind the words.

Those captains who had not appeared in the battle against Aizen: Kuchiki, Zaraki, and Kurotsuchi, would they have made a difference? If it was so important that the Kurosaki boy come to the battlefield over these three powerful captains there must be a reason.

"Deploy the triage teams from the Fourth Division into the false Karakura town." Nanao's order was conveyed through both Secret Remote Squad messengers and hell butterflies. It was a risk, sending healing squads out before the battle was over, but Nanao was confident that Aizen would not return to the fake Karakura; he had no reason to do so.

She turned to the half-dozen shinigami officers in the back of the room. "If you wish to go to the gate with the triage teams to assist your division members to the Fourth, you may do so. Please remember that all conversations and events that occurred inside this command post are to be kept confidential and discussed only in your formal reports to First Division."

Kiyone nodded to her, tears shimmering in her eyes. "Thank you, Nanao-san," she said, and then she and Kotsubaki were out of the room, running to the gate for Captain Ukitake.

Nanao watched them go, envious. She wanted to run to Captain Kyōraku, but she had her duty here, and Nanao did not neglect duty. Even if she would probably be thrown out of the Gotei 13 for her actions today, she must do her best to fulfill her responsibilities. Now is not the time, she thought, and leaned over the technician. He looked up at her with his cranked-out eye.

"What is the status of the battle?"

"It appears Ichigo Kurosaki may have won. The Secret Remote Squad is unable to get close, due to an extremely powerful attack that Kurosaki-san released."

Nanao curled her hands around the monitor console. She felt that hope in her chest rising higher and pressing against her reason, allowing her to believe that maybe the Kurosaki boy could defeat Aizen, that all of the sacrifices by the shinigami in false Karakura would not be in vain, and that Nanao would not have to destroy the souls of one hundred thousand people.

She tried to think of what Captain Kyōraku would do in this situation, but all she could picture was his face in the Karakura battle, with that ruthless darkness radiating from his eyes. Nanao did not want to know what he would have done.

She could only move forward with what she had done, whatever the consequences might be.

"Aizen is down! Aizen is down! Kisuke Urahara has appeared on the site! The battle is over!" The technician's eyeball flopped up and down on its crank as the room exploded into shouts.

Nanao felt a surge of relief. Suddenly her hands were shaking, her whole body was shaking, and she slid, boneless, to the floor. She clasped her hands together. "Send out word to all divisions and the Rukongai, as well as to the triage teams in false Karakura. Tell them that Aizen has been defeated by Ichigo Kurosaki. Tell them that the war is over."

On to Chapter 5.