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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 and death.
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 11.
Chapter 1.

Nanao stood in Karakura town, watching Aizen's sword rip through Captain Kyōraku. Everything seemed to happen very slowly, just as it had when she'd seen it in the Twelfth Division, but now she stood on the ground and watched the events above her.

Aizen smiled, a malicious little smirk, as his sword carved into her captain's muscle and bone. Captain Kyōraku's eyes widened, a moment of shock that hung in the air with his body, which finally fell, blood streaking up to the sky in a crimson ribbon.

She ran towards the spot where he had fallen, frantic. The street was littered with debris and dust clouds, and she fought through several twisted steel beams. "Captain Kyōraku!" she shouted, over and over.

No matter how deep into the wreckage of Karakura she went, she could not find him. No answer came to her calls. "Shunsui!" she shouted, desperate for an answer.

There was only silence.

She fell suddenly through the street, landing after minutes or hours of unrelenting darkness.

She landed in Karakura town, pristine and untouched. She searched the skies for the shinigami, for her captain, and could not find anyone up there.

But the streets were littered with the bodies of people. At first she thought they might be dead, but a closer look told her they were sleeping, chests rising and falling with each breath.

Nanao walked the streets slowly. In the distance she could see the barrier separating the town from the rest of Soul Society. There were hundreds of small figures dressed in black, and she knew them to be members of the Kidō Corps. They milled around aimlessly, rows of neat machines nesting between them.

Suddenly they all came to attention and each ran to a specific machine, taking up a ready position. Realization hit Nanao and she began to run for the barrier, shouting. "No! Stop! I didn't give the order! I never gave the order!"

But they did not stop.

All around her the bodies of the sleeping humans began to writhe. Choking noises and cut–off screams surrounded her. The souls were wretched from the bodies by an invisible force and began to disintegrate, flaking away into ash as they screamed at the pain of the decay and the knowledge of their own deaths.

Nanao ran for the barrier, ran, but halted suddenly as she realized the sounds had stopped. She turned around. Behind her lay a street of corpses. The stillness was absolute and she wondered how she could have ever mistaken sleep for death before.

Death had a silence that could not be imitated.

Nanao came awake suddenly, the blanket twisted around her. She fought free of them, surprised to see her hands shake. Her breath came in small pants, and she felt wetness on her cheeks. Tears?

She stumbled up from her bed, nearly falling to her knees in her haste. It hadn't happened—none of it had happened like that, and her captain was alive and Karakura town was restored to the Living World, populated by a cheerfully ignorant humanity.

These were the facts, but they gave her no comfort. If she could just see him alive, and hear him breathe, then she would be able to believe what she knew to be true. She opened the door to his room but hesitated at the threshold.

She heard his breathing, and that calmed her a little, but not fully. A few steps into the dark room she stopped again.

"Nanao-chan? Come here, sweetheart." His voice was full of sleep but alive. He opened his arms for her, and she stumbled down into them with a small sob.

He was warm and solid and she rubbed her face into his chest, her hands climbing to cling to his shoulders.

"Nanao-chan. It's alright now, Nanao-chan." He whispered soothing words and held her close. His hand stroked her back in long movements.

Her breathing eased and her heart steadied. Tomorrow there would still be problems, swords hanging over her head, but right now, she was with him, and it was enough.
Nanao's internal clock woke her at the time she usually rose for work. She glanced at the early morning light out the window and then at the man beside her. The air was crisp with a bite that spoke of autumn. She considered rising, but she was not going to work today, and Captain Unohana would send a hell butterfly when she had time to see Captain Kyōraku.

Shunsui, she thought, and it put a secret smile on her face. Instead of starting her day she pulled up the blanket around her waist and snuggled back against Shunsui until she was cocooned in warmth. The arm he already had around her tightened and one of his heavy legs shifted between hers to anchor her in the bed.

She slid back into sleep with the thought that he was playing havoc with her set routines.
The hell butterfly came after another late breakfast. Nanao sat at Shunsui's desk working on her manual for running the Eighth Division and Shunsui lounged nearby on a pile of cushions, occasionally looking through the piles of documents she'd made when she cleaned, but mostly just watching her.

Nanao was used to being the object of his regard and did not bother to try and stop him. He'd been thoughtful to her this morning, not mentioning her nightmare and not embarrassing her when she left the bed. He had dropped a kiss on the back of her neck when she began to rise up from the futon, but she'd let that go by without mention since he'd let the events of the night go without discussion.

She found herself glancing at him more than usual. They were both dressed in the black shinigami uniform, Nanao's neat and pressed, Shunsui's gaping open in the front. He'd produced from a chest an exact match for the pink haori he'd lost in battle. She'd made a sound of disbelief when she saw it, and he'd asked if she was relieved that he had a spare. A raised brow was his only answer.

Since he didn't have an extra of the captain's haori, he was wearing only black and pink. Seeing him in black was a rare experience for Nanao. She allowed herself to think pleasantly about how attractively it framed him while she drafted characters on her document.

Nanao was an expert at multitasking.

The butterfly flitted down to rest on Shunsui's hand. "Retsu-san has time to see me, if I could please present myself to Fourth Division."

Nanao nodded and set down her brush. "Let me get my present for Rangiku-san," she said, and retrieved it from the guest room.

Outside Shunsui wrapped an arm around her waist. At her cold look he grinned. "I'm faster with shunpo, Nanao-chan, and we shouldn't keep Retsu-san waiting."

She narrowed her eyes but nodded stiffly. "You will release me immediately when we arrive."

"Of course, lovely Nanao-chan."

She felt the disorientation that always came with being carried through a shunpo by someone else. In only two steps they arrived at the gates of the Fourth. He really was superior with flash step. True to his word he released her as soon as he was certain she had the ground securely under her feet, and she straightened her uniform unnecessarily.

"Remember what we talked about. Discretion," she whispered as they entered the hospital.

"Telling Ukitake about us is not included in that, though, is it, Nanao-chan? Telling him is hardly the same as telling everyone."

"Of course you should tell him. I anticipated that. Ah, if you could wait until I leave, I would prefer that." A faint flush ran up her neck to her cheeks.

He chuckled lightly and bent to put his lips near her ear. "Nanao-chan is so beautiful with that sweet blush."

The pink on her cheeks deepened at his words. They were walking up a crowded hallway. He brushed his fingers lightly over her neck and she elbowed him hard in the ribs as an automatic response. "Sorry, it was a reflex."

"Yare, Nanao-chan, I don't mind if you want to be physical with me, but perhaps there could be fewer elbows involved and more kissing." He was still hovering close to her ear so that he could keep his words private for her.

"Certainly not in the Fourth Division, although I will consider the possibility for other situations," she said primly, enjoying the surprised pleasure on his face, and then they were at the examination room Captain Unohana had specified in her message.

Captain Unohana greeted them with a smile, but she had dark shadows under her eyes. "How are you, Retsu-san?" Shunsui asked.

"I am well enough, Kyōraku-san. It's been a challenging week." She gestured for him to sit on the examining table. "Vice Captain Ise, I wanted to thank you for showing such consideration for my staff in arranging for meals to be brought to our common rooms. It was very useful and I've continued the practice for the whole week. There is still so much treatment occurring that my staff is very busy."

"Thank you, Captain Unohana. I hope I didn't overstep my bounds." Nanao was relieved the Fourth Division captain was not displeased with what she had done; Unohana was truly a frightening woman at times.

"I couldn't consider it an overreach when it was done with the health of my staff in mind." Unohana glanced at the table and saw that Shunsui had removed his top. "Shall I begin my examination?" she asked him, glancing at Nanao, asking without words if it was alright for her to be in the room.

"Please go ahead, Retsu-san," Shunsui said with a smile.

Unohana crossed the room and examined each of his wounds thoroughly, both visually and with a hand lit with kidō Nanao recognized as diagnostic. "This is very fine work, Vice Captain Ise. How many healing sessions are you doing a day?"

"Two." Nanao felt a small bubble of pride at the recognition of Captain Unohana.

"Only the finer healers among my ranked officers could achieve this with so few sessions. Most would take twice as much time for these results."

"Now, Retsu-san, you can't have my Nanao-chan. I'd be lost without her. Our whole division would be lost without her." He smiled at Nanao.

"Of course, Kyōraku-san. I was simply admiring Ise-san's excellent skill with kidō." Unohana moved around the table to face Shunsui. "I think you are fine to continue at home with two healing sessions a day. I'll want to see you in another week for a checkup, but your injuries are healing very well and I don't foresee any complications. Do you have any questions?"

"Can we visit with Ukitake and Rangiku-san today?" There was worry in his eyes, though the smile didn't slip from his face.

"Ukitake-san can have visitors, provided he doesn't speak much and doesn't tire himself. Matsumoto-san is doing quite well. At this point she is primarily staying in the hospital to be near to Captain Hitsugaya, who is recovering from serious limb reattachment surgeries."

"That's good news. Don't worry about Ukitake, I'll do all the talking," Shunsui said.

Captain Unohana gave them the room assignments for Captain Ukitake and Rangiku. They thanked her and left for visiting, after Nanao reminded Shunsui to put his clothes back on.

"Sorry, Nanao-chan, I forgot to get dressed, since you've been trying so hard to keep clothes off me lately," he murmured near her ear.

She gave him a repressive look but her lips turned up slightly. At Captain Ukitake's room they paused at the door and then Shunsui opened it a little to glance in. Finding his friend alone and in bed, he entered with a wide grin and a flourish that was unique to him. Nanao followed after and closed the door.

Captain Ukitake sat up slightly against his pillows at their arrival. His skin was pale, his lips colorless, and there were deep smudges under his eyes. Still, he smiled readily as they entered. "Kyōraku, Ise-san, how kind of you to visit."

"How are you feeling, Ukitake?" Shunsui pulled a chair over next to the bed and offered it to Nanao with a wave, but she shook her head.

"I'm feeling much better now. Retsu-san has been caring for me personally." His smile never drooped, although he looked far from recovered.

Nanao flinched internally at the memory of that boy Espada punching a hole in Captain Ukitake's chest. She set the image aside. "I'm glad that you are doing well, Captain Ukitake."

Captain Ukitake smiled. "Thank you, Ise-san. Kyōraku, I heard you don't have to be in the hospital. How are you?"

"I'm feeling wonderful. It's all due to my Nanao-chan's tender care." He smiled widely at her.

Nanao glanced out the window to prevent herself from blushing. Shunsui almost radiated satisfaction with his situation, to her embarrassment. "If you will excuse me, I will leave you to your visit. I hope your recovery goes well, Captain Ukitake."

"Have a good afternoon, Ise-san," Captain Ukitake said warmly.

"Wait, Nanao-chan!" Shunsui stopped her before she could open the door. "Where should I meet you after our visits?"

"You don't have to leave when I'm finished visiting Rangiku-san. Stay as long as you like, I can find my own way to your house." Nanao was deeply conscious of Shunsui leaning in close to her and of Captain Ukitake's interested gaze.

"But lovely Nanao-chan, I'm courting you, remember? Escorting you home is my privilege." He kept his voice low and leaned over her shoulder, close to her ear.

"Fine, although this is completely unnecessary. What would you like to do?" She hoped they weren't being overheard, which was irrational since Shunsui intended to tell Captain Ukitake about their new relationship as soon as she left.

"I'll stay here with Ukitake. Come and find me when you're ready." His lips tapped a light kiss against the shell of her ear.

Nanao flushed and made a quick escape through the door.

*****

Shunsui strolled back to the chair next to the bed with a grin on his face.

"That looked interesting. She didn't even tap you with a fan for that." Ukitake reached for a cup of water on the end table, wincing with effort.

Shunsui handed it to him. "It's been an interesting week for me."

Ukitake drank the water in small, careful sips. "Tell me about it. I'm curious, and it's obvious you want to talk about it. And it isn't as if I have a lot of pressing matters to attend to at the moment." He gestured to the empty room with its barren white walls.

"They should paint these rooms blue or a green. Put up some nice artwork. This is not a soothing environment."

"I don't think their budget extends to painting. Perhaps Ise-san could help them with a persuasive requisition or some budgetary juggling."

Shunsui rubbed his chin. "My Nanao-chan is a marvel, isn't she?" He sprawled his legs out from the chair more comfortably. "But how are you really, Ukitake?"

His friend sighed. "Bored. Moving between pain and discomfort. It's actually quite similar to my usual stays here, but with less coughing. Let's not talk about my condition, though. What about you? You look well."

Shunsui grinned. "Never better. If I tell you what happened this week, I don't think you'll believe me."

"Oh? Now you have to tell me." Ukitake fumbled with the pillows at his back, trying to sit up more. Shunsui reached over and adjusted them to a higher position. "Thanks."

"Nanao's been staying at my house, healing me. Last night, she stayed up to have a drink with me and asked me if I would be interested in having a trial period courtship."

"Courtship? Really?" Ukitake's eyes were wide with surprise.

"Courtship. It was such a surprise I was speechless. She started to get angry at me." He grinned. "This being Nanao-chan, she had conditions, though fewer than I might have expected. Obviously she doesn't want me to see other women. And she doesn't want me to tell everyone in Seireitei, but it isn't as if something like this can really be kept secret for very long. I didn't tell her that."

"She would likely not appreciate hearing that, no, but that's definitely true. I'd give it a week of secrecy at the outer limits, given how fast news travels."

Shunsui nodded. "How fast gossip moves, you mean. But the last condition is that she wants to do this for two weeks, and then decide if we should continue the relationship."

"That's odd." Ukitake considered it for another moment. "But it is very like Ise-san, when I think about it. She's a cautious woman, and this allows her to still maintain some protection for herself even if she gets involved personally with you. If you can't meet her conditions, or if it doesn't work out, she can save face by saying it was only a trial, and not a real relationship."

"I can meet her conditions. And it's going to be a real relationship."

Ukitake gazed at the ceiling for a long moment. "But this is rather sudden, isn't it? You said you were surprised. Why would she do this now?"

"Now that is a question." Shunsui sighed. "Did you know that the Twelfth had cameras in the Karakura town they built? And naturally the command post for the battle was in the Twelfth. She saw the whole thing, Ukitake."

"Cameras? I wonder who else was in the room." He winced. "I hope Kiyone and Sentarō weren't there. Was Ise-san upset about your injuries?"

"She let me hold her. All night. She slept in my bed with me."

"Then there's no question that Ise-san is serious. What about you, Kyōraku? If you don't tread carefully here, you could lose your chance with her. Not to mention losing your vice captain." Ukitake looked at Shunsui with some concern.

Shunsui knew his friend was worried for his happiness, and that warmed him. "I'm serious about courting Nanao-chan."

"I'll wish you good luck, then. Ise-san doesn't seem like the type to give an endless stream of chances. This may be the only time she is open to a relationship with you."

"Thanks. I'll probably need that luck." He smiled. "Nanao-chan can be a challenge." But he found that invigorating. She'd even teased him a little earlier, hadn't she? After she'd hit him in the ribs? He rubbed the spot on his chest absently. "There is one other thing. I don't know how serious it is yet."

"What's that?"

"The vice captain of the Kidō Corps filed a complaint against her for something she did in the command post. There was no blood involved, but the whole thing is still sealed under confidentiality, and Nanao-chan won't break it to tell me what happened."

Ukitake frowned. "Ise-san takes her duty as a shinigami very seriously. I'm sure she wouldn't act rashly during her command."

"I agree with you. Since I don't know what the complaint is, I'm not sure what Yama-jii might decide to do. It's a little frustrating, though I don't believe it could be too serious without bloodshed," Shunsui said, keeping his tone even. He wasn't frustrated with Nanao for not telling him—she took her responsibilities seriously and expecting her to break protocol on a complaint involving her was asking too much. For small things, she would bend regulations and rules for him without a word, but this was a bigger issue, and she was the accused. Still, not knowing anything made it hard for him to protect her, and that did frustrate him.

"If Kiyone and Sentarō were there, I may be able to get some information from them, though I don't know how much. I don't want to force them to break confidentiality. They just tend to talk a great deal, so it might slip out." Ukitake smiled. "Whatever it is, I'm with you, Kyōraku."

"It's always better to face Yama-jii with you," Shunsui said, grinning. He would protect Nanao, even if he didn't know exactly what happened yet. Yama-jii would probably be easy on her anyway, since there was no blood involved and she'd been in a stressful command situation. "Now, should I tell you about the trading cards of you the Shinigami Women's Association is going to put out? I was surprised to see that you agreed to pose in so few clothes, Ukitake!"

"What?"

*****

Nanao stopped in front of a door in a quieter part of the hospital. There were only a few patient rooms in this section, most of the wing being surgical suites. She knocked at the door and entered when she heard Rangiku invite her in.

The blonde was sitting up in bed, using a lap desk to write on papers. She looked healthy and normal, but there was heaviness to her movements that Nanao identified with grief. Nanao approached with a smile. "Rangiku-san, it's good to see you."

"I'm glad you came to see me, Nanao-san! It's been so dull here!"

Nanao found herself buried in one of Rangiku's trademark cleavage-heavy hugs. Engulfed, she returned the hug as best she could and took a deep breath when Rangiku released her, sitting in a chair beside the bed. "Dull enough that you are working on requisitions for next quarter?"

"Well, you know they're due soon. I'm sure you already turned the Eighth's in, but my captain hadn't finished them, between our stay in the Living World on the advance team and the build-up to the war. I wouldn't want the Tenth to be without money for food and sake next quarter."

Nanao smiled. "Captain Hitsugaya will be so pleased that you finished these. Let me know if you need any help with the forms."

"Thanks, Nanao-san. I'm hoping it'll be one small thing that he won't be worried about when he wakes up."

They fell silent for a minute. "Hinamori-san can't have visitors now. She's at the Twelfth for organ regeneration."

"That poor girl," Rangiku said with sadness in her tone. She looked away from Nanao, at the window.

"I brought you something. It's not much," Nanao cautioned as she handed over the gift.

Rangiku smiled and untied the ribbon holding the package closed. Her face softened and her eyes glistened when she saw the bright pink silk embroidered with the flower of Tenth Division. "Oh, Nanao-san, this is so beautiful. Did you do this work yourself?"

"Yes. I made it for the SWA gift exchange, but I thought that it's always nice to receive a present while in the hospital."

"Thank you, Nanao-san. I can't wait to wear it." Rangiku smiled, but there was still a heaviness hanging over it.

Nanao wondered how difficult it would be to overcome the loss of a love. She knew she didn't have the right words, but she wanted to say something anyway. "If you ever want to talk to me about anything, I'll listen. I can't promise to understand completely, or give good advice or anything like that, but I'll listen."

"Thank you, Nanao-san." Rangiku's smile was smaller but lighter on her face.

Nanao nodded and spent a minute cleaning off her glasses. "I also brought you proofs of the new SWA trading card set to look over. They should be good for some entertainment later." She set a box of the cards on the bed next to the lap desk.

"Oh great! These should be a lot of fun. When are we going to have a meeting?"

"Well, it's a bit difficult right now, but I was hoping we could try sometime next week, when most of our members might be out of the hospital and not working crazy hours, as Isane-san and Captain Unohana have been." Nanao tried to think of when she could schedule an SWA meeting and have it well attended. "Perhaps it should be a dinner, or a party, actually. Something for our members to enjoy."

"That sounds like a great idea. We could get a private room at a restaurant and really have a good time! We'll all dress up in Living World clothes, because of that resolution we passed lately. It'll be such a fun party. I'm already looking forward to it." Rangiku sorted through the trading cards. "Oh Nanao-san, you put in the picture I took of you and your captain."

"It was a good picture of us, and you were right when you said all the other SWA members were on a card, so I should have one, too."

"You agree I was right then? I have good opinions. People should listen to me more," Rangiku said with a wink.

Nanao hesitated. Did she want to talk to Rangiku about her problems? It seemed petty in the face of what her friend had recently suffered. But Nanao could really use her advice on some things. "Can I tell you about something? It's not important, so please don't worry if you don't want to talk now."

"Of course I want to talk now, especially if it's something interesting. All I have planned for the day are these requisitions and a visit to my unconscious captain. It won't exactly fill the hours." Rangiku's face darkened a bit at the thought of unfilled time. Nanao wondered what her friend thought about in those hours, and decided it was probably best not to ask.

"Well, it's also sort of a secret, at least for now. So please don't tell anyone about this."

"A secret? That's even more interesting! What is it? I won't tell anyone, I promise."

"Captain Kyōraku and I are—that is, we have started—only on a trial basis, but—we're dating." A blush lit across Nanao's cheeks. If it was this hard for her to tell her good friend, she could only imagine what she would feel like when all of Seireitei knew.

"What? How did he get you to agree?" Rangiku's eyes were wide and a trading card fell from her hand, unnoticed.

"I asked him."

"You're kidding!" Rangiku stared hard at Nanao for a moment, and then said, "You're not kidding! You really did ask him. That's great, Nanao-san."

"Do you think so?"

Rangiku smiled. "Reaching out for what you want is important, even if it hurts later. Even if it ends badly, at least you won't have to wonder about what could have been. And you'll always have your memories." Her eyes clouded and her smile slipped.

They sat silently for few minutes. Nanao did not want to disturb her friend and rouse her from her reverie, so she picked up some of the requisitions and skimmed through the numbers, making sure the figures added up and the amounts looked proper for a quarter of expenses.

"This is a good thing with you and your captain, Nanao-san. I really think so."

"Thank you, Rangiku-san." Nanao smiled slightly and adjusted her glasses. "I was also wondering—well, you know I don't have a lot of experience with this kind of thing, so if you had any advice—"

"Advice about men?" She turned the lap desk so Nanao could access it easily and piled some fresh paper on top of the requisitions. Rangiku grinned. "This could get long; you might want to take some notes."

Nanao nodded. Taking notes was always prudent, no matter the subject.

"Firstly, about sex—"

Nanao interrupted immediately. "Wait, why is that first?"

"Because we're talking about men."

On to Chapter 13.
***

Finally!  I've been trying to post this for days.  I think some of the section breaks are broken/wrong, but I'll repair them later when LJ is working better. :P

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
darkmystcompel
Jul. 31st, 2011 09:04 am (UTC)
No problem, I'm loving the story! And I feel your pain - I read chapters 10 and 11 days ago, and had to keep checking back to post my comments!

Isn't Ukitake such a dear? And Rangiku too. It feels like we're gearing up for some serious drama!

But when Shunsui "radiated satisfaction" and Ukitake watched them with an "interested gaze", I had to laugh. I can just see the smug expression on the one, and the curious one on the other!

Thanks for posting!
r_dahlia
Aug. 1st, 2011 10:24 pm (UTC)
Ukitake is one of those characters I wish I had a better grip on, so that I could write longer pieces with him.

I hope LiveJournal can stay up and functional from now on, it was really difficult to post this chapter and the next one. ^_^;

Thanks for your comments!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )