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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: Partially nude Kyōraku.
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 6.
Chapter 1.

Nanao walked between his bathroom and the guest room, bringing a few of her things in and a few towels out. Captain Kyōraku had followed her into his bedroom and now sat on the floor watching her.

"Take off your yukata," she said from the bathroom.

"Anything for my Nanao-chan—" Whatever further reply he made was drowned out when she started the water for the bath. Although his house must have begun as a traditional style, over the years he'd added flourishes and architectural features he'd seen and liked. Nearly every room in the house had at least one window, his baths no exception. He'd also added all sorts of newer conveniences to his home; his bath was modernized with imported comforts from the Living World. It was tiled in soft green with lots of wood—a scheme that would blend into the background when sitting in the tub and looking out the large windows at the garden. Nanao imagined he'd wanted the feeling of bathing outdoors without the inconveniences of actually bathing outdoors all the time.

When she came into the bedroom he had untied and opened the yukata but hadn't gotten it completely off. She made to scold him for making her undress him on purpose, but realized that without the use of his right arm, with low mobility in his left arm and with the wounds on his back, his reach was genuinely limited.

She pulled the yukata off his right arm and freed his chest. Carefully she moved his right hand to rest on his leg and put his left hand on top of it. "Hold your arms there so I can unwrap this."

"Yare, yare, Nanao-chan. This really is like one of my dreams, with you here in my bedroom, undressing me and giving me commands." There was a wicked undertone to the amusement in his voice.

"Be quiet."

"The resemblance is staggering, actually."

Nanao ignored him, a skill she'd developed years ago to finish her work while he read poor poetry about her aloud in their office. She unwound the bandages on his left arm first. Much of the skin on his forearm had been scraped off when he tried to break his fall in Karakura. Fresh skin was spread across the area, pink and puckered. His arm and hand were bruised dark purple up to and including his shoulder. The best she could say about it was that he hadn't broken any bones.

The bandages on his back peeled off easily. He wasn't bleeding through them, though she still winced and made a small noise in her throat when she fully exposed the extent of his injuries. A round wound marked where the Espada's cero had hit him; it was scabbed over and new skin was only just forming around the edges. A slash from the Espada's sword cut a straight line across her captain's back. The mark of Aizen's attack was the worst. It spanned from four inches up his chest and around to eight inches down his back between his neck and shoulder. Aizen had sliced deep through Captain Kyōraku's muscles and bones. Surveying the damage, it was really no mystery that his right arm wasn't functional yet. It was more of a surprise that he was alive at all.

"Nanao-chan?" he asked, turning his head to try to see her face. She kept her head down and her face away from his eyes.

"You idiot," she said. Her voice was low and venomous.

"Nanao-chan." He twisted his waist to reach for her, but she stood and walked into the bathroom. He didn't follow. She spent a minute leaning against the wall, breathing deeply.

"Take off your pants and put one of the towels on," she called. She checked the temperature of the bath.

"I need your help," he said loudly.

"I am not helping you take your pants off, captain. You'll have to manage it yourself." Irritation rose in her, crowding out the sadness and pain she'd felt moments before.

"I don't need your help to take off my pants. I need your help with something in my pants, darling Nanao-chan!"

The irritation bubbled over at his cheerful reply and she stormed out of the bathroom. "Why are you provoking me? I have been trying to be considerate of your condition and the fact that you have a major head injury all day. I am not taking your pants off, I am not reaching into your pants, and if you say anything else about it I am going to hit you with The Unabridged Encyclopedia of Kidō Incantations and have our drunken Third Seat haul you back to the Fourth unconscious. Am I making myself clear to you?"

Captain Kyōraku nodded slowly. "I'm not trying to provoke you, Nanao-chan. You see, I was worried about losing your precious gift box during the battle at Karakura, so I wrapped it up and tied it into my pants."

Nanao exhaled and rubbed her hands over her temples. "You tied it to your pants?"

"To my sash, actually. There's a black cord wrapped around it. On the left side."

She glared at him skeptically, but his expression was sincere. He stayed very still when she approached him and sat in front of him. There was a black cord wound into his sash. Nanao began to untie it, avoiding contact with his abdomen.

"You were mad enough for the Unabridged version? That's the most painful one." He watched her work at the cord.

"You would know," she said. Then, feeling guilty even though she hadn't actually hit him with it, she added: "It's been a difficult week."

"It has been, hasn't it?" He smiled at her. "But it's better now."

She freed the cord and pulled a small package wrapped in a piece of blue tarp out of his pants. She looked up at him in surprise.

"I didn't want it to get wet."

Nanao smiled a little and opened the piece of tarp. It had been wound around the package several times, and inside of that there was a piece of cloth protecting the hairpin case. The pale silk and the cherry blossoms embroidered delicately across the case were undamaged; it was in exactly the same condition as it had been when it first left Nanao's hands for her captain's.

"You were careful with it," she said, a question in her voice. She raised her head to look at him.

"I can be careful when something is important, Nanao-chan."

His eyes were warm and welcoming and Nanao could only meet his gaze for a few moments before she looked away, afraid he would see too much of her. She felt raw and exposed, as if all her dreams and fears were just inside her lips, and at any moment they might come spilling out into the room.

"Change into the towel and call me when you're ready." She took the case and set it softly on a bookcase shelf, not sure where he would want it. In the bathroom she stared at her face in the mirror. There were dark smudges under her indigo eyes and her hair was untidy. She brushed her hair out and tucked it back into her hairclip. The sleeves of her uniform she tied up; her captain would need help with at least some of his washing. She'd helped him in different situations when he wasn't well, although he'd had more clothes at those times. But surely a professional attitude could carry her through this circumstance.

He didn't call for her, instead looming in the door of the bathroom when she turned away from straightening the things she'd brought with her into the room. "You should get larger towels," she said, and could have hit herself when he grinned. But the towel was inadequate. It rode low on his hips and reached only to mid-thigh, with his left hand holding it together well below his waist.

Her eyes darted across his broad chest and the bands of muscle in his abdomen. The brown hair darkening his chest trailed down his stomach and into that small towel. Her throat was dry and she swallowed once. It simply wasn't fair that a man who slept and drank as much as he did should look so good.

The grin on his face widened and Nanao realized he'd caught her staring. She waved towards the bath stool and fussed with the soaps and buckets, refusing to look at him.

"Anytime my Nanao-chan wants to go shopping and pick out new towels with me, I'd be happy to make the trip. I wouldn't want you to find anything of mine lacking," he said, teasing as he sat on the bath stool.

"I'm sure what you have already is adequate, captain," she murmured, looking at his hair.

He chuckled. "I'd like to think so, anyway."

"I'm going to have to cut out this hair tie." It was even more tangled in his hair than it had been yesterday.

"Did I lose my hairpins?" he asked.

Nanao reached into her shirt and pulled out his hairpins. "I have them here. I took them out last night. They need to be cleaned." She set them down on the shelf with the soaps and moved back to his hair, cutting out the hair tie carefully.

"Thank you, Nanao-chan, those ones are my favorites."

They were silent as she worked on the hair tie, cutting it into three pieces before she could free it from his hair. His bucket she set aside; the shower wand would be easier to use, since she was doing the washing. If she was careful enough, she would avoid getting very wet. She turned on the shower wand and checked the temperature before tipping his head back and wetting down his hair thoroughly. His eyes were closed while she worked shampoo into his hair.

The crisp bite of lemons filled the air of the bathroom, and her captain's face softened with the enjoyment of having his hair washed. "This is your shampoo, isn't it? I recognize the scent," he said.

"Your soap was not going to work on a mess like this."

"No, this is much better, Nanao-chan."

She rinsed his hair and watched the water running out of it turn dark with mud and blood. She decided to give it another wash with the shampoo.

"Nanao-chan, where did you get these soaps?"

Her fingers rubbed the shampoo into his hair slowly. It was really more pleasant to do this for him than she'd expected. "When Rangiku-san and I went shopping a few months ago, I got these. They're imported from the Living World. I bought a few different kinds, but the lemon ones are my favorite."

"Was that the time you taught Toshiro-kun the tracking kidō?" His eyes were still closed and his lips turned up in a smile. The atmosphere in the warm bathroom was intimate but not uncomfortable, and Nanao also smiled as she remembered the incident with Rangiku.

She rinsed his hair again and the water washed out cleanly, with only soap in it. "When we came back from our shopping trip, we went to my quarters to have some take-out food. While I was getting drinks, she stole a few of my clothes out of my closet and replaced them with things she'd bought that day, things that I wouldn't have chosen myself. I was annoyed when I realized what she'd done after she'd left."

"But Nanao-chan, were the things she put into your closet nice?"

She began to work conditioner into the roots of his hair, her fingers rubbing across his scalp. He made a low sound of pleasure in his throat. "That's not the point, captain. Even if I liked the clothes she bought, she shouldn't have taken my things without permission. And she really shouldn't have gone so far as to destroy them so I couldn't take them back."

"So you helped Toshiro-kun hunt her down?" His voice was amused.

"What she did was not acceptable to me, and I wanted her to understand that. If I don't set firm boundaries with people, who knows what might happen?" She scowled at him fiercely but her hands delicately worked knots out of his hair.

"Have you ever considered that having such firm boundaries just makes the prospect of crossing them even more appealing?" His eyes opened slowly and took in her frowning face.

"Only to Rangiku-san and to you. Other people respect my wishes," she said, arching her brows at his tilted face.

"But Nanao-chan, without Rangiku-san and I to push your boundaries, your life would be very dull." His eyes drifted closed again.

She made a harrumph noise, but didn't say anything. He was right, after all, though she would never tell him that.

They didn't speak as she rinsed the conditioner out of his hair. It would still need to be brushed out well, but it was much improved from the gnarly mess it was when she started. She set down the shower wand. Nervousness rose in her as she rubbed a damp cloth against his bar of soap. "Tell me if I'm hurting you."

She swept his long hair aside to hang against his chest, so she could access his back. Again the damage there made her wince. She washed his skin, brushing the cloth around his wounds as lightly as she could. His breathing was even and smooth against her hand. As she leaned down to clean his lower back under the sword slash from the Espada, she propped a hand lightly on his right shoulder.

"Nanao-chan?"

"Yes?" She straightened from her bend and began to wash down his right arm, starting from the neck. His muscles tightened beneath her hands. The sun-touched skin of his body glistened in the light of the bathroom. Nanao had a fleeting desire to bite at his shoulder and see what he would do, but she repressed that thought as soon as it rose. A curl of heat warmed her belly. She tried to repress that, too, and she tensed slightly with the effort.

"When did you come to my house?"

Nanao hesitated, but he sounded only idly interested. "The day after you left for false Karakura. Two days ago." She grasped his right hand with one of hers to lift his heavy arm for access to the underside.

He watched her wash him, his dark eyes following her strokes on his skin. She moved away to freshen the washcloth and was rubbing the soap bar across the fabric when he spoke again. "Why did you come to my house, Nanao-chan?"

Again there was only idle curiosity in his voice, but his eyes were still on her. "I cleaned." She began to wash his left arm, mindful of the heavy bruising. "Does this hurt?"

"No."

She lifted his left hand with one of hers and continued to sweep the cloth over him, but she was beginning to feel more tension.

"But why did you come, Nanao-chan?" He kept his tone light but the intensity of his interest was breaking through. He really wanted to know this. Nanao couldn't tell him the truth—I missed you and wanted to be in your space with your smell and your things—so she didn't speak for a long time.

"I don't know," she said finally. She released his hand and grabbed the shower wand, drowning out any possible response with the rinsing of his back and arms. After she turned the water off, she moved his hair to swing heavily down his back and began to wash his neck and upper chest. The position was only raising her tension. He'd tipped his head up to give her access to his front. It placed his face only whispers away from hers as she leaned down to soap his skin.

"Why did you come to my house?"

Nanao focused intently on the part of his chest she was washing. "I said I don't know."

"It's not nice to lie, Nanao-chan," he drawled, capturing her washing hand with his left.

The cloth slipped from her hand to plop in his lap. "I'm not—"

"You can tell me the truth, sweetheart," he said, and his voice was gentle, so she looked up and saw his whole face was gentle.

She pulled her eyes away from his face before that gentleness could steal words from her lips. The tension in her was unbearable and her anger stirred that he was pushing her like this, after she'd been so worried about him and then so relieved that he was alive. Nanao couldn't tell him that she'd missed him, because if she gave him that small piece, all the rest of the truth would follow after it, and she couldn't make herself so vulnerable to him. He could break her with a word then.

Nanao tugged her wrist free of his loose hold. "This is ridiculous, sir. You can finish the rest on your own," she said. She looked back at his face when she reached the door and saw disappointment but no surprise. That almost pulled her back into the room, but she shut the door with a sharp sound instead.

On to Chapter 8.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
darkmystcompel
Jul. 20th, 2011 05:48 am (UTC)
Oh, Nanao-chan... a half-naked Kyouraku-Taicho and you still hold strong? IRON self-control! (But don't you see? He could break you with a word, but he never would...)

Loving this! I look forward to the next chapter :)

Edited at 2011-07-20 05:48 am (UTC)
r_dahlia
Jul. 20th, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
Nanao has years of practice at resisting him, but still, her willpower exceeds normal levels. ;)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )