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Title: The Trials of Nanao Ise
Genre: Romance/Drama
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Spoilers: Through manga chapter 423
Status: Ongoing
Rating: R
Contains: Language.
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 20.
Chapter 1.

"We're friends, aren't we?"

Shunsui tipped his straw hat back enough to see a large bust and a head of long blonde hair but still avoid the bite of the sun. "We've been buddies for years, sure."

"We must be good friends if I got up this early just to come and see you, when I could still be sleeping." Rangiku sat down on a cushion on his porch, helping herself to some cucumber slices from a tray near his feet.

"Why would you get up at this hour on a Saturday?" Shunsui glanced over at the sun and gauged it to be mid-morning. He'd never gone to bed last night, instead sitting out on the porch and drinking.

"Firstly, because Nanao-san was up and she needed to have some breakfast, and secondly, so I could come and scold you." Rangiku ate a cucumber slice and gave the sun an unhappy glare.

"Nanao-chan was with you?"

"Yes, she was, though I think you knew that already."

Shunsui said nothing. He'd scanned for Nanao's reiatsu last night, in case she'd gone somewhere unwise in her anger, but she'd been safely ensconced in the Tenth Division all night. He knew better, anyway—Nanao didn't act foolishly, and she certainly wouldn't hand him an excuse to come and save her from a bad situation, so that she would be overcome with gratitude and forget their fight. Other women might do things like that, but not Nanao.

"I'd expected that you and Nanao-san would have issues, of course, because, although I love her dearly and she's the smartest girl, she's not the best with emotional things. And of course you're you, so there were always going to be some problems, but I didn't think they'd be so serious so soon."

"She was angry?"

"Hmm. I'd say more upset, like if she wasn't Nanao-san she would have cried. Though she did get angrier after a few glasses of plum wine."

He winced. He'd expected her to be angry, but he didn't like to hear that she'd been upset to the point of tears. "You got her drunk?"

"No. But she's a bit of a lightweight, and it was a very nice wine." Rangiku sighed at the tray after she'd eaten all the cucumber slices.

"Did she tell you about the complaint?" Shunsui sat up slowly, leaning back on his hands. He watched Rangiku's face with eyes shadowed by his hat.

She made a tsk-tsk sound. "Nanao-san was quite clear that the complaint and all the events around it are still confidential."

"That doesn't mean she didn't tell you." He narrowed his eyes, considering the best way to get the information from Rangiku.

"Don't look at me like that. Whatever I know, I'm not going to tell you. I respect confidentiality—" she paused as he laughed, low and amused. "But more importantly, I respect Nanao-san."

"You really aren't going to tell me."

"If I knew anything, I wouldn't tell you. I will give you some free advice, though. Nanao-san is a very proud woman. She takes pride in her work, in her position as a vice captain, and in her division. You trampled that pride by trying to treat her differently than you would another officer." Rangiku gave him a sharp look.

"I understand Nanao-chan's pride, but she isn't just another officer to me."

"That doesn't matter. You're trying to baby her—"

"I'm not—"

"That's crap. You are. Don't try to pretend otherwise. You want to use your position for her sake. Frankly, I can understand that. I don't even necessarily think there's anything wrong with it. But you're going about it the wrong way." She drummed her fingers on the tray.

"Do you think so?" he asked.

"I like that, the way you can tell someone off without raising your voice or saying the words." She grinned. "Seriously though, in your working relationship, you are her boss, her leader, her captain. But in the relationship between the two of you, both of you must be equals. You aren't treating her that way now."

"I've always respected Nanao-chan," he said.

"Then respect her now. Separate your working relationship and your personal one more. Treat her with the respect that you have for her. Stop digging about the complaint." There was a hard thread running through Rangiku's voice. He liked her for her fun side, but he knew there was a core of iron inside of her that rarely showed.

"That's difficult."

"Then this won't end well. Her pride won't break for your peace of mind."

"How can I let this go without knowing how serious it is?" Shunsui wondered if it was possible to pull information out of Rangiku if he used the right angle. Somehow he doubted it.

"You have to trust Nanao-san as a vice captain. You have to believe that whatever she did, she did it because she believed it was the best course of action. You have to believe that she grew up with the values of your division and followed them. If you believe those things, then you can let this go for now, and act when you have all the information in hand, after confidentiality is lifted."

He stared off into the garden for a long minute. "I do believe in her. And it's not as if I have a lot of choices in this. If I don't let it go, she won't continue our relationship."

"If you treat her like a little girl, it's hard to see how you could be together as equals," Rangiku said, raising one well-arched brow.

"Protecting Nanao-chan is not the same as treating her like a child. Asking me not to protect her is asking too much."

Rangiku shrugged. "I didn't say that it was easy, I just said that it was necessary." She stood, stretching. "I think I'm going to go and take a nap. It really is too early for me to be out on a Saturday. If I were more diligent, I'd go back into the office and get right to work on our backlog. Actually I have a feeling there won't be as much work left tomorrow as there was last night."

Shunsui reached for and found Nanao's reiatsu in the Tenth Division offices. "She's doing your paperwork?"

"It seems so. I'd try to stop her, but if she feels like she owes a favor she likes to repay it quickly, and frankly, she's a lot better at that kind of work than I am. Of course, now that you know where she is you could go and make up with her." She smiled at him.

"Maybe I will." He smiled back at Rangiku, but he was still bothered by dropping the complaint. Still, he didn't see a good path around it for now.

Rangiku moved as if to jump into shunpo, but stopped. "I know what it feels like to be close to someone with secrets." She looked back at him, her eyes full of shadows.

Shunsui only nodded. He didn't need to ask who she was talking about, and she likely wouldn't want to talk about Gin with him.

"So I will tell you one thing. I have a feeling that when everything comes out, she's going to need us to stand for her."

He nodded slowly at Rangiku's solemn face. "That's a promise I can easily keep."

************************

Shunsui stood in the door to the captain's office at the Tenth. He saw the moment Nanao realized he was there—her back stiffened and her hand tightened on the papers she was reading—but she did not look up. His feet were quiet on the wood floors but the tension in Nanao ratcheted up visibly with each step he took. He walked around the desk and knelt beside her chair.

"Nanao-chan," he said, and she finally dropped the brush and the papers and turned her head to look at him. His heart contracted painfully at her pale face, at the dark shadows under her eyes, but mostly at the emotions in her eyes. She was afraid of him, of what he might say to her, and also so vulnerable that he wanted more than ever to protect her, even from himself. He clasped her icy hands between his and considered which words would be the right ones.

He remembered another day she'd looked at him with eyes like these, waiting for his words. It was a day that altered the course of his life.

Twelve Years After Nanao Became Vice Captain

The sun blazed mercilessly overhead. Days like this—when the air was still and stifling like a wool blanket and the sun stood like a cheerless spectator in the sky—were rare in Soul Society even in the heart of summer. In concession to the weather Shunsui had shed his pink and white outer layers and then dropped his arms out of his top layers, leaving the sleeves to wave like mad flags when he flashed in and out of the fight.

He felt a moment of pity for Nanao, trapped in the full black uniform as she was—he'd suggested that she too could strip down, but she'd refused with a crisp comment on professionalism and a raised eyebrow. She was slower today than she'd been last week. Her tantō came up to block his wakizashi, almost too late. She was struggling, sweat beads running down her face and neck, her breathing harsh, her kidō called up in bare whispers. He dodged a shakkahō fireball—a weak one, unusual for Nanao—and decided that their session wasn't going to be very productive today, so ending it early might be for the best.

Shunsui flashed behind her, but she'd anticipated that and threw up a kidō shield. He broke through it with three strikes and occupied her tantō with his wakizashi while his other sword came up to her neck. She conceded after a few moments—Nanao had too much pride to instantly accept a loss—and he pulled his swords away to sheathe them. Suddenly Nanao slid to her knees on the hard earth of the practice field. He reached for her, trying to scoop her up and carry her off the field.

"Please stop that, captain. I'm fine. I can walk on my own," she said, but the words were rough whispers of sound. He ignored her protests and wrapped his arm around her waist as they walked off the field. Since she tolerated the support without further complaint he knew that the sparring match had overtaxed her.

He dropped her lightly on his pink haori under the shade of a large tree and handed her a water container without further comment on her condition. Nanao did not like admitting to weaknesses, reasonable or otherwise. He sprawled out on the haori beside her. She fumbled with the water, finally bringing it up to her mouth for small sips. Her face was flushed red and sweat still ran down her skin. He sipped from his own water container and then held it over her head, pouring for a few seconds.

Her shriek of indignation made him smile, and he leaned back, sipping his water. She pulled off her glasses and hairpin and they fell on the haori unheeded. "Captain! That was very inappropriate behavior," she scolded, brushing at her soaked hair as it fell over her eyes.

"You looked hot, Nanao-chan." He smiled wider as she turned to face him, her eyes narrowed and very violet without her glasses. Anger was one of his favorite emotions on Nanao. It seemed to be the one she found easiest to express, and he'd cultivated a relationship with her that allowed her to express her anger with him as much as she liked without any real consequences. He hoped that eventually it would lead to her feeling comfortable expressing other emotions with him.

Anger was going well, though, he thought as her water container hit his chest squarely and snapped in half. Rivulets of icy water ran down his bare chest and into his pants, pooling in his lap. "You looked hot, captain," she said, frosty and triumphant. She was beautiful wrapped in her pride and anger.

"I like to hear you say that you think I'm hot, Nanao-chan." He let his voice dip into suggestive territory.

She didn't flush deeper, probably because her skin was already as red as it could get. "That's not what I meant."

"Yare, yare. Now my Nanao-chan doesn't have any water. Don't worry, though, I will share my water with sweet Nanao-chan." He wiggled the water in his hand, pleased when she snatched it away. She was thinking about throwing it at him, he could read it in her face; but it seemed she was too thirsty, because she drank from the container instead.

"Thank you," she said primly.

"Maybe we shouldn't have come out to spar today." He reclined further, leaning against the tree.

Nanao darted a glance at him. She was trying very hard not to look at his naked chest, and that made him grin. "We always train with swords on Friday. And it isn't as if in an actual combat situation we could stop and wait for nicer weather."

"It's true. Isn't that a shame?" They'd been privately training Nanao's sword skills for nearly ten years now, since the first time they'd sparred at an interdivisional training early in her vice captaincy. The training was at his insistence, and that it was always on a Friday was at Nanao's insistence—it was the one thing she was certain he would never blow off, so it was the way she made sure he was in the office on Friday for at least part of the day. It was a fair rebuke for his habit of making Fridays part of the weekend early, and he gave her credit for finding the right leverage to stop behaviors she didn't like.

She glanced down at the tantō in her sash. "It isn't as if I've made any notable progress, despite training with you every week. Perhaps your time could be better used teaching an advanced swords course for other division members."

"Don't say that. You've made good progress, Nanao-chan. You can reliably call your shikai now. That's important."

She looked up at him, her eyes sad under her disheveled hair. They were bluer now with the heat of her anger gone. "That could be described as progress, considering the circumstances when these sessions started. But the fact remains that my shikai is still all but useless. The mere ability to summon it is not so important in that light."

He sighed at her. "You have a challenging sword, Nanao-chan. That doesn't mean it won't someday be a very powerful one. If we didn't practice with it, if you tried to suppress it instead, things would be much, much worse. Believe me, Nanao-chan, it's better to have a sword that will play games than one that won't do anything at all."

She pushed back her hair with one hand. He noticed she hadn't tried to put it back up or dry it off; perhaps the wetness felt good against her hot neck. "I don't want to play games," she said, and he thought she sounded a little sulky, which was rather un-Nanao like.

"Oh?" He decided to try another angle. "Sometimes a weak shikai is a marker for a strong bankai. You could develop a powerful bankai very young and become the captain of your own division."

She looked at his face, her eyes wide with surprise and something else. She was hurt? That didn't make any sense. "I don't know if I would want something like that, captain."

He tilted his head, trying to figure out her reasoning. What had hurt her about his words? She handed him the water container; he accepted it, brushing his hand over her elegant fingers. He took a drink. The opening tasted like her lips would if he kissed her, and he savored that briefly. She wore a type of beeswax lip protection popular in parts of the Rukongai. It was flavored with different fruits, dependent on what was in season. The one she wore today was strawberry. He took another drink. The taste on the water container was strawberry mixed with something else, a flavor belonging only to Nanao.

He'd gone with her before to get the beeswax from the markets in Rukongai. Although Nanao was from the Rukongai, she'd been brought into Seireitei to go to the Academy so young that he didn't believe she really understood how dangerous the Rukongai could be. She went to the markets in the safer districts, but he still preferred to go with her when she was out there alone. Nanao tolerated this behavior from him, though she refused to let him buy her the things she shopped for as gifts. That would be too unprofessional, apparently.

She pulled a packet of papers out of her large book. This week it was The Annotated Guide to Hadō 1-45. He thought it was a shame that a girl as young as Nanao should always read such dry material, but maybe she kept the good stuff in her quarters. "I want to talk to you about the possibility of adding new training courses, captain."

"New training courses? In what?"

She handed him the packet of papers and he glanced at the top one. "Kidō? You want to teach additional kidō classes?"

Nanao frowned. "Although our division has a basic kidō training course, the material is not very useful and not taught in a way that shows practical applications in battle. I think if we split the basic courses into separate courses on hadō and bakudō and added an additional course on medical kidō triage skills, we could increase the capability of our division in battle and reduce casualties."

"That's a good idea, Nanao-chan, but it would take a lot of hours to develop new courses and train instructors, unless you intend to teach all the courses yourself, which would be far too large of a workload on you for me to permit."

Nanao shook her head. Her hands moved as she spoke; her enthusiasm for this subject was obvious. "You are correct that a significant time investment would be required, but I have already created training plans and schedules for the basic courses as well as an intermediate program and an advanced program for the most skilled kidō users in our division. Although I'd have to train some of our seated officers in my programs, once that training was complete the new courses could be integrated into our schedules easily."

"You've already made the programs up in your spare time? Nanao-chan, you're supposed to use your spare time for leisure, not for more work."

She waved that aside and flipped a few pages of the packet for him. "You can see the summaries for the new courses here. It is my intention to personally lead two intermediate courses and the advanced course. At first I'll also have to run one of the basic courses, but only until enough of the seated officers can be trained. But for this schedule to work, I need to drop one of the basic sword training classes you've ordered me to lead."

He studied her over the papers, turning them over until he came to the proposed schedule. She had dropped herself out of the basic sword course she led on Tuesdays. The sword courses were a sore point for her. Because her sword skill needed improvement, and the best way to improve was to work with the sword, he trained with Nanao personally once a week. He didn't make her attend any classes in sword skills, since advanced training intended for a katana would be of questionable value for someone with a tantō and her shikai wouldn't benefit from group exercises.

But he did insist that she lead two of the basic sword courses. He believed it would improve her leadership skills—which it had—and that working with her sword in an instructor's role would benefit her without hurting her pride the way failure in an advanced sword class would. Their personal practices were always private. Nanao tolerated him knocking her on her lovely ass ten or twenty times in a session, but only as long as no one was watching. He knew that she was very sensitive to comments about her worthiness as a vice captain.

"I've asked you to lead those sword courses for specific reasons, Nanao-chan."

"If you are interested in developing my leadership skills, I fail to see how adding a net of two courses to my instructing load could be detrimental. Actually, I will teach a higher caliber of skills that will require I command the absolute attention of my students. If your concern is that I spend time working with my sword, surely the one basic sword skills course I will retain and our time out here would suffice." She reached up to adjust her glasses before remembering she wasn't wearing them.

"Hmm. Those are good reasons. They even have the benefit of being true. But you don't want to drop your sword instruction for those reasons. You want to drop it because you hate it." He smiled at her as she faced him with an icy expression and violet eyes.

"Hating an aspect of my work would be unprofessional. The reasons I've given are accurate, sir." Frost dripped off each syllable.

He scanned the rest of the packet. Nanao's work was impeccable, as it most often was. Her revised kidō courses could be very good for the division. "Admit the truth about why you want to drop the sword class and I will approve your new courses as soon as we go back to the office."

She wrestled with that for a few moments, her desire for the new kidō courses versus the unprofessionalism of admitting to hating something about her work. "I hate teaching basic sword skills. Especially the Tuesday class. It's too early in the morning, so half of the members have hangovers or are still mostly asleep, and no one finds the subject matter compelling, since they've been doing the exercises since their first year in the Academy. Also, being a vice captain teaching two basic sword courses and no higher level sword courses suggests both that I am incompetent with a sword and that my time is so valueless that it can be spent on classes that could be taught by a Twentieth Seat. Unless you are punishing me for some unknown reason, I cannot imagine why it is necessary for me to continue both sword courses."

"There, don't you feel better now?"

She looked up at him balefully.

"Well, since you were so delightfully honest, I agree that you can drop the Tuesday sword course instruction onto one of the lower seats, and implement your new kidō courses as soon as you've trained enough instructors."

She smiled brightly, showing her small white teeth. "This is going to be excellent for our division, captain. With improved kidō skills, our troops will be more successful in battle, and with more of our members capable of using medical kidō for triage, we'll have better survival rates. Regular practice will make using kidō as comfortable for our troops as using their swords. Thank you for approving my idea." She spoke quickly and a rare enthusiasm lit her voice.

He was mesmerized by the sight of happiness on Nanao's face; it elevated her elegant beauty to a level that took his breath away. "Anything for my Nanao-chan," he said. Something about what she'd said struck him—she kept saying our troops, our members, our division. "Nanao-chan, when you said before that you didn't know if you wanted to be a captain, what did you mean? What do you want?"

The happiness on her face didn't fade completely, though her smile disappeared. "The Eighth is my home," she said quietly. She raised her eyes to his, and hers were full of vulnerability.

Shunsui stared into her violet eyes and found the potential for something he hadn't realized that he wanted before this moment. He could see it there in her eyes: the two of them walking together, eating together, working together and sleeping together. They would have one hundred years, two hundred years, a thousand years, but it would always be the two of them. Nanao would never leave the Eighth. Her ambitions were not centered on her own career advancement, but on the advancement of the members of the Eighth.

The picture of them in the future wrapped around a collection of things he'd held in his heart and mind about Nanao. He found her very attractive as a woman—her delicate beauty and innate elegance could not be matched by flashier females. She was sexy to him without ever trying to be, her prim appearance inviting him to dishevel it in the same way her cool voice invited him to warm her. Her personality was a good match for his, compatible in many important ways, but contrasting enough to add interest to their interactions.

She was highly intelligent, which was not something he'd always sought from his female companions if he was being honest, but something that would be important in a long relationship where he would have tens of thousands of conversations with his partner. Nanao invested pride in all her work, and into the members of the Eighth; she was incredibly loyal to the division and to him, something that had surprised and pleased him when she'd become his vice captain. She would never file formal complaints against their division members for minor things that they'd done wrong, both to avoid damaging notes in a shinigami's records and to avoid having punishments selected by the First Division according to regulations.

Property damages, tardiness, fighting and all other small offenses were handled directly by Nanao with his approval. He was pleased by this showing of her loyalty and mercy to their members, although no one who'd received one of Nanao's punishments would call her merciful—she would use offenders to clean the barracks to a spotless state and send them out to clip by hand the grass in the practice fields and an assortment of other similarly unpleasant but harmless tasks. Nanao always asserted that division punishment was a serious matter that should be handled with professionalism, but sometimes he would catch her hiding a smile during her reports.

Nanao had a fine sense of humor, even if she rarely let it show. He remembered with pleasure any instances of her laughter. Actually, he could remember distinctly each exchange with Nanao, their conversations, training sessions and shared meals. She made everything interesting by constantly seeking leverage to use on him in their working relationship. If they became romantically involved, he was sure she would continue to try and find new leverage to get him to work; but that could be a lot of fun, even more enjoyable than her current efforts.

He was certain she was aware that if she asked for a second private sword training session each week he would agree and that it would guarantee his presence in the office on another day, but then she would also have to endure a second training day for her sword, something she didn't seem willing to do. The best leverage asked a lot of Nanao, too.

He smiled. Nanao made his life so much more interesting than it'd been without her. She was the woman he wanted a future with beyond light fun and good times. The images and feelings coalesced into an undefined wave of warm emotions that washed over him, settling into his chest. He understood and accepted easily the new truth of his heart; he'd lived too long to lie to himself.

I love you. You're the woman I want, the woman I need. I love you, Nanao.

But he did not say those words. She was young, too young. Her emotional range was not yet wide or open enough to simply accept what he wanted to give her. Nanao would not believe him, and if she did, she would be afraid of him, of what he wanted, afraid of losing her home and everything she treasured. He would not, could not do that to her. She wanted to be in the Eighth, wanted to be beside him, and for now that would have to be enough.

In the future, he could push her boundaries out slowly, accustom her to different emotions and extend the safety she felt in expressing her anger at him to other things. He would pursue her lightly, flirtatiously, so that she would know that he found her attractive, that he wanted her, but would not be frightened by his interest. It would also have the beneficial effect of scaring off potential suitors. He could mark her as his in front of other men without Nanao ever realizing he'd done so. She found him attractive; he'd noticed it several years ago, at that first interdivisional training, though he'd never mentioned it to her—she would be deeply mortified if she thought he knew.

But it was a foundation for him to start from. Eventually she would understand what he offered her; she was too intelligent and attuned to him to remain ignorant of the truth of his heart forever. Eventually a perfect opportunity would arise for him and he could move them into a new kind of relationship, one where he could tell her that he loved her and have his feelings accepted, perhaps even returned. He'd lived a very long time. He could be incredibly patient when the reward was worthwhile.

Nanao was worth the wait.

He smiled at her, letting her see the warmth and the love that she would not be able to identify in his eyes. "The Eighth will always be your home, Nanao."

He'd accidently hurt her before by suggesting that she'd have to leave the Eighth and become a captain eventually. But now the vulnerability disappeared from her eyes, leaving only happiness. Her smile returned, her white teeth shining in the afternoon's light. They spent another hour outside. They talked about the kidō courses, they talked about their troops, and they talked of nothing at all. It was enough to be together.

On to Chapter 22.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
darkmystcompel
Aug. 26th, 2011 10:36 am (UTC)
Wow. I like that take on their past, from Shunsui's POV. Even more, I like Rangiku being a friend to Nanao :D
r_dahlia
Aug. 27th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC)
Thanks! There are a few more flashback scenes; I'm hoping they enhance the story. ^_^;

I know Hinamori and Nanao are supposed to be good friends in the manga, but Nanao and Rangiku are so close in age; also I can't imagine there were so many female shinigami rising in rank to vice captain that the two of them didn't spend time together and have a lot of common ground to talk about. And Hinamori is unavailable at the time this story takes place, although to be honest I probably would not have written her into this story.

Maybe I just really like Rangiku? ;D
darkmystcompel
Aug. 30th, 2011 07:26 am (UTC)
I do too :D Rangiku is rather adorable!
akai_miko
Aug. 28th, 2011 09:49 pm (UTC)

I know I have already gave you review on ff.net but I can't resist! This fic is so good. I like that you included so much Matsumoto here(I hope that I'm bot repeating myself ^^') and I think they relationship is really interesting.They are truly good friends(I've read it somewhere xd) and have much in common despite first look.

r_dahlia
Aug. 29th, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
Thanks for commenting! I really like Rangiku; she doesn't appear too much more in this story, but I like the times she does appear. ^_^
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )