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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
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 32.
Chapter 1.

Sasakibe came for Nanao in the pre-dawn hours.  She hadn’t slept—couldn’t—and stared out of the barred window, watching the leaves sway on the only tree within her view.  She thought Shunsui might be amused that she was finally spending time meditating on trees without doing anything else, but the thought of Shunsui stung.  She studied the tree and tried to think of nothing at all.
But it was impossible not to think of him.  She needed to see his face.  No matter what Captain Ukitake said, she couldn’t know what Shunsui thought of her without seeing his eyes.  She wished now that she’d looked at him in the meeting room, but she’d barely been holding onto her composure then.  If she’d turned to him and seen disgust or disappointment, she might have broken.
The tree barely moved in the chill wind.  She watched it with perfect focus, counting the leaves on each branch.
Nanao turned without interest at the sound of footsteps in the hall.
“Good morning, Ise-san.  I hope I am not disturbing your rest.”
“Not at all, Sasakibe-san.  Good morning.”  She left the window and came to stand near the bars of the cell.
“Captain Yamamoto would like to see you now, if that is acceptable to you,” he said, unlocking the cell.
Nanao appreciated his courtesy even though there was no actual choice in the matter.  “Certainly, Sasakibe-san.”
He led her through several of the same corridors they’d come down on the way to the cell, but he detoured from the meeting area to take her to the captain commander’s office.  Despite the darkness of the hour, the room was well-lit and warm.  Captain Yamamoto sorted through papers on the desk in front of him.  “Come forward.”
“Yes, sir.”  She walked to wait a few feet in front of his desk.  She wondered if he’d slept at all, or if he no longer needed to take rest.  He ignored her for several minutes, handing papers to Sasakibe with gruff words of instruction.  Sasakibe left the room with a sizeable stack of orders.
“Shunsui and Jūshirō have spent several hours of my time attempting to persuade me not only to assign you no further punishment but also to ignore or set aside the judgment from the Central 46.”  His eyes regarded her as if she were a bug on the end of a pin.  She locked her knees to avoid collapsing to the floor under the stab of his gaze.
“Sir,” she said, forcing her voice out through her closed throat.
“They wish for me to ignore the orders of the Central 46.  Those sages and judges are the lawmakers, Nanao Ise, and without law we can have no order.  Without order there can be only chaos and escalating acts of criminality.  You have committed crimes against our organization, and you have been judged for it by the law.  Disregarding that judgment recklessly would be inviting further acts of lawlessness, not only by you, but by all who are aware of what transpired.  It cannot be done.”
“Yes, sir.  I would never expect such an action for myself, sir.”  Icy sweat slipped down her back.
His eyes sharpened even more.  She couldn’t breathe under the pressure.  He grunted and looked back down at his papers.  “You really wouldn’t, would you?”
She couldn’t speak, gasping for the air she hadn’t been able to draw under his stare.
“Very well then, Nanao Ise.  I have an assignment for you, should you choose to accept it.”
Her eyes widened.  “An assignment, sir?”
Yamamoto looked back at her face, but his gaze was not so weighted as before.  “Yes.  Although you have been stripped of your rank, you are still a shinigami at this time.  Given your years of service to our organization, I have decided to offer you an assignment before deciding on further consequences for your crimes or passing judgment on the matter of the complaint.  If you choose to accept this assignment, I will take your performance into consideration.”
“What is the assignment, sir?”
He pulled up a thin set of pages and held them out.  She came up to take them from him.  “If you accept this assignment, you will enter Hueco Mundo and send reports on the activities of Captain Kurotsuchi.  There is some level of risk with this mission.”
“Sir, do you suspect some untoward activity is occurring?  Is there something in particular that I am to look for, sir?”  Nanao wanted to read the papers, but it would be disrespectful not to give the captain commander her full attention.
“You are to observe and report on the activities of Captain Kurotsuchi.  Those reports are to be sealed with the highest level of kidō you are capable of imparting to a paper.  You are not to share the contents of your reports with any member of the Twelfth Division, including its captain.”
“Sir, if you suspect Captain Kurotsuchi of something—”
“Nanao Ise,” he interrupted.  Nanao’s mouth closed so quickly her teeth made a clack when they came together.  “I have given you the full assignment.  The exact details of the installation at Hueco Mundo and your method of report delivery are in the mission papers.  There is some unspecified risk involved with this assignment.  If you do not wish to accept this mission, if you have no pride in yourself as a shinigami and you are content to let Shunsui and Jūshirō work for your freedom, then that is your choice to make and you may return to your cell now.”
If she had any pride in her work—Nanao’s spine straightened.  “I will accept the mission, sir.”
Yamamoto nodded.  “Good.  My vice captain will give you the necessary supplies and lead you to the Garganta for transport.  You will leave immediately.”  Sasakibe opened the office door, waiting.
“Yes, sir.”  Nanao bowed low and followed Sasakibe out of the office and towards the sands of Hueco Mundo. 
Shunsui stepped out onto Ukitake’s porch.  The sun was rising slowly and seemed to have just pulled back from a kiss with the water.  He sat on the smooth wood, rubbing his eyes.  It’d taken all night to get the various complaints and requests together from the captains and vice captains.
He turned his head at the sound of footsteps.  Rangiku clunked a tray down and then sat next to it.  “It’s tea.  You should have some.”
“This isn’t what we usually drink together.”  He accepted a cup of tea from her hand.
“Nanao-san asked me to take care of you.  She’d be mad if I gave you sake at dawn.”  She sipped from her cup, making a face.  “It’s strong.”
“She asked you to do that?”  He sipped his tea.  “None of this was a surprise to her.”
“I can’t imagine it was.  She’s too smart not to know the consequences of what she’d done.”
“Soul-destroying machines—”
“It’s crap.”  Rangiku flipped her hair.  “A crazy order like that—”
“Yama-jii knew what he was doing.”  Shunsui felt anger curling around his heart like a burning snake.  He pressed it down.
“I’ve been thinking the same thing, though I wish it was otherwise,” Ukitake said.  He stood in the doorway, pale and rumpled.  They were all rumpled, having never gone home or changed clothes.
“He used Nanao-chan to get the outcome he preferred, knowing that she would pay the price for it.”  Shunsui set his cup on the tray carefully.
“What?  What are you two talking about?”  Rangiku looked from one man to the other.
“We’re saying that Ichigo Kurosaki was always the one with the best potential for stopping Aizen, because he had the necessary power, and much more critically, he’d never seen Aizen’s illusion shikai.”  Ukitake moved to sit near the water.
“But there’s no way Captain Yamamoto could know that Nanao-san wouldn’t obey her orders and that Ichigo-kun would have the chance to fight Aizen.”  Rangiku’s brows were drawn together tightly.
“Oh?  There was no way he could know that Nanao-chan, who broke with the law to follow me to battle against Yama-jii—that Nanao-chan who spent nearly the whole of her life in the Eighth Division, which has always been led with the ideal of avoiding war when possible, and protecting innocents when not—that my clever Nanao-chan who would easily pick up on whatever hints Yama-jii dropped about Ichigo Kurosaki in their conversation—that she would not think carefully about orders to kill one hundred thousand human souls?  There was no way that he could know?  No.  She was his backup plan the entire time.  He used her,” and at this the burning snake coiled high in his throat.  “That old bastard—”
“Calm down, Kyōraku.  This doesn’t help.”  Ukitake raised both hands in front of his chest, palms out.
Rangiku’s mouth opened and closed.  “I can’t believe it,” she said, but the tone of her voice was shocked rather than disbelieving.
“He used my Nanao-chan for his goals so that he could spare his own vice captain.”
“We don’t know that.  He might have needed Sasakibe-san for the barrier at false Karakura—we can’t know that he specifically intended for Ise-san to be prosecuted for this.”  Ukitake was earnest about giving the old man the benefit of the doubt, to believe in his sense of justice and fairness—but Ukitake was always doing that.
Shunsui labored under no such delusions about their mentor.  “What he intended can hardly matter now.  What happens to Nanao-chan is what concerns me most.”  He could remember her face in the meeting room, white and frozen and proud—but he could see her underneath, and she had been frightened.  Yama-jii had put her in that position, deliberately.
He wondered if she’d had nightmares in her cell at the First—she’d confided in him when he’d asked, the other night, only a few words—I’m alone, in a dead world, and I can’t find you—but it made him burn again to imagine it.  His eyes closed and he searched for her reiatsu at the First, to reassure himself that she was whole and fine, but there was a blank where Nanao should have been.  He expanded his search for her, to the other divisions, to all of Seireitei, to the whole of Soul Society.  “She’s gone.”  Shunsui stood and prepared to flash to the First.
“What?”  Ukitake stood, placing a bracing hand on Shunsui’s shoulder.  “Ise-san?”
“She’s gone, Ukitake, she’s not anywhere.”
Ukitake’s brows drew together, and Shunsui felt the brush of his reiatsu searching Soul Society.  “It can’t be—he wouldn’t exile her without a word—there has to be some mistake!”
“Let’s go and ask him,” Shunsui said.  He tensed for flash step.
“Be calm, Kyōraku.  He knows where she is.  He’s the only one who can restore her to her proper home.  We can’t risk offending him.”
Ukitake was right—Shunsui knew it—but it was still a bitter taste in his mouth.  “We’ll just ask.  We’re Yama-jii’s favorite students, aren’t we?”  He smiled, but there was no pleasure in it.
Rangiku stood.  “Is there anything I can do?”
“If Toshirō-kun will allow it, could you go to the Eighth and make sure everything is running smoothly?  Nanao-chan will be angry if the division falls apart while she’s away.”  Shunsui tipped his hat over his eyes.
“I’ll make sure it’s going well.  My captain won’t mind.  Everything will be just as Nanao-san would want.  Well, close enough, anyway.”  Rangiku flashed away.
“I know.  I said I was with you, didn’t I?  Your memory must be going, Kyōraku.”  Ukitake grinned, and the burning rage in Shunsui’s throat retreated.  He would be calm now, for his friend’s loyalty and for Nanao’s sake.
“Let’s go and have breakfast with Yama-jii,” he said with an icy smile.

Sasakibe nearly didn’t let them in, but Ukitake worked to smooth over the situation.  “This collection of requests was entrusted to us by the other captains, Vice Captain Sasakibe, and we wish to completely respect the trust they’ve placed in us by hand-delivering the papers to Yamamoto-sensei.”
“I understand, Captain Ukitake, but I can assure you Captain Yamamoto will receive your papers today if delivered through appropriate channels—”
Shunsui took off walking towards Yama-jii’s office.  Ukitake followed him, throwing a quick “Thank you very much for your assistance, Vice Captain Sasakibe,” over his shoulder.  He sighed at Shunsui.  “You could have waited.  I would have gotten through.”
“Yama-jii has to be expecting us this morning.  I don’t see why I should wait through a recitation of rules on document delivery by his vice captain.”
“Because politeness and subtlety would serve your cause better in this situation.  I’m certain you’re aware of that.”  Ukitake laid a hand on his arm.
“I’m saving it all for Yama-jii.”  He smiled and Ukitake dropped his hand.  Shunsui allowed Ukitake to knock and announce them, and waited for Yama-jii’s approval to enter.  He knew how to play this game.  It was just so much harder when Nanao’s fate was at stake.
“Good morning, Yamamoto-sensei.  Thank you for seeing us so early.  We’ve brought requests for the reinstatement of Nanao Ise from all of the divisions.”
Yama-jii grunted and Ukitake brought the pages forward to his desk.  “You may bring as many requests as you like.  It cannot change what must be done in the face of admitted crimes.”
“Yet surely as the matter now rests in your hands, it is possible to exercise some leniency in this case.  Certainly the outcome that was achieved was far better than the destruction of all living souls in Karakura town would have been.”  Ukitake was earnest and Shunsui felt a surge of appreciation for his friend—he was trying so hard for Nanao, and before he was fully recovered from his war injuries.
“On the contrary, in a case like this, the outcome is entirely irrelevant.  The crimes committed could have jeopardized the Soul King and the universe.  We cannot set aside the crimes because the outcome was acceptable to Soul Society.”  Yama-jii focused narrowed eyes on Shunsui.
“Yama-jii, are you saying you didn’t have another plan in place in case Ichigo Kurosaki couldn’t defeat Aizen?  I find that hard to believe, given how carefully you planned your way around the orders of Central 46.  Surely there was some shadowed person waiting in the wings with a hand on the soul-killing switch if Nanao failed to act.  I’m curious.  Did you give that task to Nanao just to spare your vice captain, or did you have some other reason?”  Shunsui smiled.  His voice was only idly interested, though that burning anger still coiled around his throat.
 “Your disrespect towards the justice system is well known, Shunsui, but Nanao Ise admitted her crimes and accepted that she will face punishment for her deeds.  That girl has more respect for her role as a shinigami than you have displayed to date in this matter.”  He slapped his hand on the desk for emphasis.
Shunsui smiled, but it was cold.  “Nanao has always been an excellent officer.  But I’ve noticed that she seems to be missing from First Division this morning.”
Ukitake jumped in, trying to ease the rising tension.  “Indeed, Yamamoto-sensei, we were most concerned to observe that Ise-san is no longer in Soul Society.  It was suggested that you may already taken action on the complaint.  However, I am certain that cannot be the case, since regulations require that Ise-san be permitted a defense from her captain before judgment can be rendered.”
Yama-jii flipped through the requests Ukitake had placed on his desk.  “I have offered Nanao Ise a mission with the understanding I would take the results of this mission into consideration when rendering my judgment.  My decision on further punishment in the matter of her crimes and judgment in the matter of the complaint are both delayed until this mission is completed.  Rest assured that Shunsui will have appropriate time to render whatever defense he wishes for the complaint.”
“Where did you send her?”  Shunsui bit down hard on the curse that rose in his throat when he spoke to Yama-jii.
“The mission’s scope and location are confidential.”
“Unless the regulations have changed recently, even if Nanao was stripped of her rank, she would still belong to the Eighth Division.  Is it the practice of the First to send members of other divisions out on missions now?”  Shunsui’s eyes narrowed.
“Nanao Ise was uniquely suited to this particular mission.  She was given the option of going, and chose to accept.  As I have said, that girl has respect for her position as a shinigami.”  Yama-jii met Shunsui’s hard stare evenly.
“You had no right—”
“Yamamoto-sensei, it is most irregular to send someone of another division on a mission without consulting her captain.”  Ukitake interrupted before Shunsui could say something that might damage Nanao’s prospects.
Shunsui glanced away to the window.  He needed to keep his cool, but his legendary serenity seemed to be in short supply at present.
“Oh?  I gave that girl an opportunity to help herself in a dire situation, and she has accepted.  Did you expect her to sit in a holding cell while you presented character references and pushed the other captains to write out letters for you?”  He grunted.  “Every shinigami should have pride in their work, in their duty.  Nanao Ise has shown a proper measure of that pride.”
He could see it so easily, how Yama-jii would have manipulated her into this mission just as he had originally manipulated her to get the outcome he desired for the war.  Proud, stubborn Nanao-chan, he thought, and cursed himself for not imagining this possibility.
“Although the details of the mission are confidential, perhaps you could give a timeline for Ise-san’s anticipated return?”  Ukitake maintained his diplomatic edge well, but Nanao wasn’t to him what she was to Shunsui.
Shunsui closed his eyes briefly.  When he opened them he focused on Yama-jii and spoke slowly and clearly.  “I know what you did in the war, and I even agree that it was probably the best way to secure a good outcome if we failed in the false Karakura.  But you used Nanao as a tool in your plan, and that is not acceptable to me.  Nanao is my vice captain, and it is improper of you to use my subordinates without my agreement.  More than that, Nanao is mine.  You’ll probably want to weigh that when you make your decisions about Nanao, because whatever you do, I stand with her.”
“You cannot base your decisions on emotion, Shunsui.  It is inappropriate for someone of your rank to act so selfishly.  Captains must act for the good of all Soul Society, and for the greater good of the universe itself.”
He considered that for half a second.  “I’ve acted as you say a captain must for a very, very long time.  I’ve done many terrible things for the greater good.  But this is different for me.  If you pressed the issue, I would still choose Nanao.  As I said, you’ll probably want to consider that.  I’m only trying to provide you with all the information you need to make the best decisions for the good of Soul Society.”  He smiled again, a cold curve of his lips.
“Insolence,” Yama-jii said.  He made a sound of disgust and began to read through the request letters.
“Thank you for your time, Yamamoto-sensei.  I hope we can find an agreeable outcome for all parties involved here.  Please notify us if you can provide any further information on Ise-san or if you require any further documentation for your consideration.”  Ukitake bowed and nudged Shunsui until he inclined his head slightly.
They left immediately.  Shunsui gave the old man one last look, conveying without words what he could not say while Yama-jii held the balance of Nanao’s fate in his hands.
Outside the First, Ukitake leaned against a wall.  “Those eyes.”  He sighed.
“I don’t think I can forgive him for this.”  Shunsui looked up at the cloudless sky.  It was a beautiful day, but everything felt flat without Nanao.
“Don’t say that, not yet.  Give him a chance to make it right.”  Ukitake began to cough.
“You need to rest.”  Shunsui waited until the coughing fit had passed, then followed Ukitake into shunpo.  At Ugendō he bypassed Ukitake’s Third Seats and helped him to his bedroom.
Ukitake waved him away.  “I’m fine, this isn’t that bad.  I just need more sleep.”
Shunsui nodded.  “Thank you, for Yama-jii, and everything else.”
Ukitake waved that away, too.  “We stand together.  It’s what we’ve always done.  Ise-san is important to your happiness, and she’s a worthy individual in her own right.  She deserves all of the effort we can give her.”
Shunsui smiled, small but real.  Ukitake was a good man by every definition, and a good friend.  If there’d been a little longing in his words, it was understandable.  They’d rarely spoken of it, but Shunsui knew Ukitake was a man who’d been born into a large family, who loved family life, who would have headed his own family with love and happiness.  That his illness and his work had taken his opportunities to have what he wanted hadn’t made him bitter; he loved his division, his friends, his work, and if he occasionally showered candy on the younger members of the Gotei 13, it was a minor eccentricity.
Ukitake could and would genuinely celebrate Shunsui’s happiness, but that didn’t mean he didn’t still wish for a similar happiness.  “We’re not old yet, Ukitake.”
Ukitake considered that as he slipped into bed in a white robe.  “We’re pretty old, Kyōraku.”
Shunsui shook his head.  “We’re not too old for the young girls to swoon at us.  I have Nanao-chan, and you should see your ranking in the SWA polls, Ukitake.  I was very jealous.”
“I doubt very much that Ise-san has ever swooned in her life.  They take polls about men in the SWA?”  He settled against a stack of pillows, elevating his head and chest for easier breathing.
“They take polls and votes about everything.  It’s an amazing organization.  But I have it on the best authority that you came in second in their most recent poll of men, directly after Byakuya-kun.”  Shunsui filled a glass of water from a pitcher and set it near the bed.
“That’s a high honor indeed.”  Ukitake smiled and shook his head.
“Get some rest.”
“You should as well, Kyōraku.  Everything will come out alright, you’ll see.  Yamamoto-sensei will make it right.”
Shunsui nodded, though he was far from sharing his friend’s faith.  He closed the door behind him and stared for a long minute at the fish in the pond below.  Nanao was right; there was something odd about some of the fish.  They were positively enormous.  He leaned against a post.
Somewhere in the house, Ukitake’s Third Seats were fighting in whispers about which flowering plants they should have in the main room.  The sun was warm on his face, though the air was crisp.  Winter would come soon.  Would he have Nanao with him by then?  He’d failed her, as a captain and as a man.  That was indisputable, but he would not fail her any further by letting her life be jeopardized.
He watched the fish swim under the water.  Had she deflected his marriage proposal out of misplaced guilt or genuine reluctance?  He’d let it go, not because of what she said, but because of what was in her voice—longing and need—and he’d never been able to refuse her, not when she needed something from him.
Even if she came back healthy and whole—no, when she came back healthy and whole—it was going to be a mess.  He ran a hand over his face.  “Stubborn, proud Nanao-chan.”  He’d thought that they were finally on the same ground, standing in the same spot, reaching for the same things together.  He’d been wrong.

On to Chapter 34.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 4th, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
Can't BElieve no ones commented yet. Well let me be the first. LOVING this even though our Nanao-chan is in a bit of a tight spot. But that is where stories get the most interesting. So totally agree that Yama-jii is a jerk and that Nanao's pride while cute is a bit hindrance in a relationship. Also wanna say I agree what you said in earlier chap about pride and being ALIVE to keep it. I KNOW Ukitake meant well and it was to help the plot and set up other things. But he should've HELPED kaien dammit! Sorry for the rant. Off to the next chap and will comment on that one too. Can't wait for more.
Nov. 5th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading and commenting! I appreciate hearing your thoughts. I know Ukitake believes what he says about pride, and it's important to him as a man and a warrior, but I didn't think that it was really the kind of belief Shunsui would hold, not after what we saw of him in the fake Karakura town fights.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )