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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: Depictions of physical injuries, foul 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 35.
Chapter 1.

Nanao was cold, and it was much too bright.  It was strange to be cold while she slept—Shunsui was always so warm.  She must be alone.  If she couldn’t do anything about the cold, she could at least cover her eyes and block out the cruel light.  She tried to lift a hand to her eyes, but her limbs felt numb and heavy; her hand wouldn’t move.  With a great effort she made her fingers twitch, but that was the most she could do.
“Nanao-chan?  Are you awake, Nanao-chan?”  Shunsui’s voice from beside her, but it was raspy and stilted, instead of honey smooth.
She tried to open her eyes, but the light was so bright she squeezed them shut immediately.  Then there was a shadow over her and those large hands of his she loved cupped her face, shading her eyes.
Her eyelids fluttered and then opened.  Shunsui was leaning over her, his face filling her vision.  Lines carved more deeply around his mouth and eyes than usual, and smudges of weariness marked the area under his eyes.  His brows were drawn together.  “You look tired,” she said, and her voice came out as a cracked croak.  She winced.
“Are you in pain?  I’ll get Retsu-san.”  He straightened and drew his hands back.
She reached for his fingers with her hand, barely brushing them before her hand fell back to the bed.  “Shunsui.”  He bent back over her.  “I’m sorry.”
A flash of something—was that anger?—cut through the worry in his eyes.  “Don’t apologize, Nanao-chan.  I’ll get Retsu-san.”  He turned away and walked to the door.
She closed her eyes against the light and the tingle of tears.  Of course he was angry—why wouldn’t he be, after what she’d done?  That he didn’t even want her apologies hurt, though.  The bit of hope she hadn’t been able to crush had let her hold onto the dream that he would forgive her and still want a future with her.
She forced her face into a calm expression when Shunsui came back through the door with Captain Unohana.  “Good morning, Nanao-san.  I’m pleased to see you’re awake.”
“Good morning, Captain Unohana.  How long have I been sleeping?”
“About a day.  You were sedated for some of that time, since it was necessary to do a procedure on your Saketsu and Hakusui organs.  They should be fine now, but it would be wise to avoid using any power for a few weeks.”  Unohana leaned over the bed.  “I’d like to examine your leg wound,” she said, glancing at Shunsui.
“Please proceed, Captain Unohana.”  Shunsui had seen her legs before, had seen this wound before, and if he’d waited at the Fourth for her to wake up for a full day it hardly seemed fair to send him out now.
Unohana inspected the wound visually and with a diagnostic kidō.  “This is healing more slowly than I’d prefer, but your reiatsu has not quite returned to normal as of yet, so it’s not entirely unexpected.  You’ll need to avoid putting strain on it for a while.”
“How long will I need to stay in the Fourth?”
“That depends on the care you have available at home.”  Unohana looked at Shunsui.  “I’ll have Isane bring by a few treatment plans for you to consider.”  She bandaged Nanao’s leg wound with expert ease.
“Thank you, Captain Unohana.”  Nanao nearly asked her to stay.  She dreaded talking to Shunsui and hearing the words that would destroy her heart.
Silence fell heavy in the room when Unohana left.  Shunsui moved back to the chair beside the bed he’d been sitting in when she woke.  Nanao reached for a glass of water, and he picked it up and held it to her mouth for her as she took small sips.  “Thank you,” she said, shifting in bed to sit up further.  He adjusted the pillows for her.  She clasped her hands in her lap to keep them from reaching for his hand.
“How do you feel, Nanao-chan?”
She glanced at his face.  It was the same as always, but something was changed; his eyes were shuttered.  She realized that she could not detect his feelings in his face.  He’d been so open with her over the days of their trial relationship; it stung that he was closing himself off from her now.  “I’m fine, or I will be soon.”
He nodded.  “That’s good.”
She stared at her hands.  “Are you angry with me?”
“Why would you think that?”
“You won’t let me apologize.”  She watched him with her head turned just enough to see him.
He sighed.  “I don’t want you to apologize, Nanao-chan.”
“But I am sorry.  I want you to know that I’m so sorry for what I did.”  Her nails bit into her palms.
“Don’t tell me that.  You’re sorry for what you did?  For what?  That you let me love you?  That we had a romance?  I don’t want your apologies.”
She flinched, swallowed hard.  He was angry, though he hadn’t raised his voice or even changed his tone.  “Not for those things.  I—I’m not sorry for that.  I’m sorry for failing in my duty as a vice captain, for being such a disappointment to you as an officer.”
“No.  I won’t accept apologies for that, either.  Yama-jii gives you an order to kill a hundred thousand people and you don’t do it, and now you’re apologizing to me for it?  It wasn’t my order you refused.  It wasn’t my command you disobeyed.”
“It was my duty as a vice captain to follow the Central 46—what I did reflects badly on you.  I’m sorry for the shame I’ve brought you.”  Tears burned in her eyes.
“Duty?  An order like that is beyond duty.  You should never have been given a command like that.”  Anger burned his voice now.
She clenched her hands into fists.  “I shouldn’t have been given a command like that?  Why?  Because I’m a woman, I can’t be expected to do what other soldiers would be ordered to do?  Tell me you couldn’t have taken that order.”
“Whether I would have taken it has nothing to do with this.  You shouldn’t have been given that command.  It’s not that you couldn’t handle a command, it’s that this particular command was too much to ask of you.”
“Why?  Why is it unreasonable to expect me to handle an order you would have fulfilled if it was given to you?  Is the slaughter of the innocent something for only men to do?”  She was so cold, burning with icy fury.
“No, damn it, it’s not because I’m a man, it’s because I’m a captain.  It’s my duty to do things that are terrible.  It’s my duty to protect my subordinates from orders like that.  Other captains might expect their vice captains to do anything that they would do themselves, but that’s not who I am.  I have done terrible things in the line of duty.  I expect that I will have to do them again in the future.  But, Nanao-chan, what you don’t seem to understand here is this: I do these things so that no one else will have to do them.  That’s my responsibility as a captain.  Did you think it was just having bankai that makes a captain?”
She couldn’t answer.  Tears fell down onto her clenched hands, and she wiped them away brusquely.  Where were her glasses?  Where was her self-control?
Shunsui sighed and sat down on the bed.  He clasped her face in his hands, wiping at her tears with his thumbs.  “Being a captain for me is about protecting the people I care about.  And I want to protect you most of all, Nanao-chan.  I’m angry at how badly I’ve failed at protecting you from Yama-jii.”
She drew several shuddering breaths.  “But if I—I can’t support you properly, I can’t be a worthy vice captain.  If I’m not strong enough to do what’s necessary in battle—”
He pulled her against his chest, stroking her back in soothing motions.  “Don’t be dense.  It doesn’t suit you.  You wouldn’t be my vice captain if you weren’t capable of it.”
“But—I failed at my command, and then in Hueco Mundo, I nearly died—”
“I don’t want you to have to take an order like that, haven’t I explained that?  Something like that order to destroy souls is strictly captain-level.  It should never come down to a vice captain.  Even some of the captains couldn’t be given an order like that.  It’s not appropriate to force someone into that position when they haven’t been prepared for it, which is exactly why Yama-jii gave it to you.  He never intended for that order to be fulfilled without Ichigo Kurosaki first having a chance at Aizen.  And as to Hueco Mundo, you fought off a huge force of Hollows, many of them Gillians or better, and without your zanpakutō.  That you eventually were wounded, that it was a particularly unlucky cut, that’s not a failure on your part.”
“But still—”
“Nanao-chan, lovely, lovely Nanao-chan—if you weren’t qualified to be my vice captain I would have dropped your luscious ass down to Third or Fourth or Eighth Seat, whatever you were qualified for, and I would still have wanted you just the same.”
She huffed indignantly, but it came out as more of a hiccup.  “It’s inappropriate to talk about my ass in the context of my work as a vice captain.”
He chuckled.  “I like Nanao-chan’s ass in any context.”
She leaned against his chest for several minutes, content to listen to his heartbeat.  Suddenly she brought her head up, clutching at his haori.  “Nemu-san!”
“She’s here, in the Fourth.  Kurotsuchi did some particularly brutal things to her, but she’s very durable, as she explained it.  Ukitake is with her right now.”
“Captain Ukitake?”  She tilted her head.
“I don’t know why either, but yes, he’s with her.  They have some type of odd connection.”
“Hmm.”  She leaned back against him.  “That’s nice, though.  Nemu-san needs more friends.  My zanpakutō—”
“We retrieved yours and Nemu-san’s.  Kurotsuchi never let her use hers, he kept it locked away for years.”  There was some anger in his tone about that, too; but Nanao understood.  Keeping a shinigami separated from their zanpakutō wasn’t just controlling, it was cruel.  The zanpakutō was a piece of their soul, and being separated from it for a long period was like missing an arm.  “Yours is here.”  He drew her tantō out of his sleeve and handed it to her.
It was a relief to hold it again.  “Thank you,” she said, resting against the pillows, studying his face.  “You’re still—” she stopped.  It wasn’t anger, but he was still closed to her.  Regret welled up in her heart.  “I hurt you.”
“Yes.  Don’t apologize again.”  He closed her mouth with a finger to her chin.  “I thought you trusted me enough, that we were close enough that you would have come to me about the orders from Central 46, before or after the battle.  That you didn’t—it does hurt, Nanao-chan.”
She closed her eyes.  “I’m sorry.  I was a coward.  I didn’t want to know what you would think of me after you knew.  I valued your good opinion of me so much.”
His hand cupped her cheek.  “Yare, yare.  Don’t worry so much about me.  I’ll get over it.”  He smiled, but it was short and pained.
She grasped his wrist.  “Will you stay?”  Tears gathered in her eyes again, but she was too weary to either cry again or to fight them back.
He nodded and moved to sit in the chair.
“No, here with me.  Please.  It’s too cold without you.”
Shunsui climbed into the bed with her.  “I’m fairly sure that this is not allowed, Nanao-chan.”
“Forget the rules,” she said, shivering when her chilled body came into contact with his warmth.
He laughed into her hair.  “Look at how I’ve corrupted Nanao-chan.  Openly flouting the rules in another division?  How scandalous.”
She sniffed, but a smile lifted her lips.  Her hand played a little with his hair.  She was still worried about what she and Shunsui would do, but she was too sleepy to try to think about it now.  He smelled like autumn and soap and sunlight, and it was wonderful to be with him like this.  In Hueco Mundo, she’d thought she would die and never rest with him again.  “I missed you.”
His arms tightened around her gently, conscious of her bruised ribs.  She tried to hold sleep off, wanting to hear him say something back, but he didn’t speak and she slipped into darkness without receiving any words from him.

Nanao was alone in the bed when she woke.  It was night outside the window but a lamp burned in the room next to a chair.  “Captain Ukitake?”
He looked up from his book.  “Ise-san, you’re awake.  Retsu-san thought it was best for your recovery if we let you rest for as long as you wanted.”
She blinked the sleep from her eyes, looking at the tables beside the bed for her glasses.  Ukitake handed them to her when she spotted her spare pair and tried to reach for them.  “Thank you.  My other pair is broken?”
“I think they needed some repairs.  Kyōraku had someone drop them off at the shop.”  He pushed the hair back from his face.  His skin was pale and he had bags of weariness under his eyes.
“Captain Ukitake, I appreciate you sitting with me, but it must be quite late—“
He smiled.  “It’s a little after four in the morning.”
“I see.”  She didn’t ask the question that had been hovering in her mind since she woke.
“Kyōraku went to the First Division.  He was here until a little while ago.”
“At four in the morning?  Why—”  She didn’t finish the thought.  The why was obvious; it was about Nanao.
“Captain Yamamoto wishes to see you first thing this morning.  Kyōraku received the message and went in advance of your appointment.”  He didn’t elaborate, but she could imagine the nature of the conversation Shunsui might have with Yamamoto.  “It’s alright, Ise-san.  Both of them will have an opportunity to make their positions clear.  There is tension between them, but that isn’t something for you to worry about.”
She sighed.  “I’ve made a mess of everything.”  She rubbed at her temples with the tips of her fingers.
Ukitake smiled.  “Speaking as someone who has made a mess of things many, many times in my life, it’s rarely as bad as we think.  This may be an obstacle for your career, certainly.  You’ll know more about that after you go to the First.”
She looked away, to the window.  Her career was not her greatest concern at present.
“When you were in holding, Kyōraku collected formal complaints on your demotion and requests for reinstatement from all divisions.  When you disappeared, he looked everywhere for you.  He used favors in the Living World, with Yoruichi Shihōin, with anyone he thought could provide useful information.  Things may be difficult for you with him for a while, but I would urge you not to give up.  He does care deeply, Ise-san.”
Nanao clasped her hands in her lap.  “I know that, Captain Ukitake.   And thank you.”  She swallowed.  It was hard not to despair a bit at her situation, but it could be so much worse.  At least she was alive and in Seireitei.  “Can you tell me about Nemu-san?”
Ukitake leaned back in his chair.  “Kurotsuchi did some terrible things to her.  I won’t enter into the details.  Retsu-san has been doing various treatments and procedures, but it will be some time before Nemu-san is well enough to leave the Fourth, perhaps on the order of months.  Despite the durability of her modified body, she was severely injured.”
“She’s going to be allowed to keep her position, isn’t she?  She saved my life.  And who knows what might have happened if Kurotsuchi had completed his research before she requested aid from the First Division?”
“I don’t know.  It’s difficult because her loyalty will be called into question.  She was created by Kurotsuchi, and no matter how noble her actions of late, some people will always question her true motivations.  Kyōraku and I will petition for her to remain vice captain of the Twelfth, but I do not know if that will be enough.”
“The SWA will assemble further petitions from other divisions.  I anticipate a positive request can be gotten out of every division.”  She adjusted her glasses on her face.  It could be done; between Rangiku, Yachiru, and herself they certainly had enough persuasion.  And if raw fear was necessary, Unohana might be willing to assist.  She was as fond of Nemu as the other SWA members.
Ukitake smiled.  “That’s very good, Ise-san.  It’s wonderful that Nemu-san has such good friends.”
Was Captain Ukitake friends with Nemu?  He used her first name as if he was.  Nanao was curious, but she didn’t want to pry.  “I hope I can visit with her soon.”
“They do a lengthy kidō procedure on her overnight.  She can have visitors during the day, though.”
Nanao nodded.  She watched the night fade away, replaced by the gray light of early morning.  Captain Ukitake resumed reading and she was grateful for that.  She didn’t think she could make polite small talk while she waited to go to the First.  Too much was at stake.
Shunsui entered the room shortly after the sun began to climb the sky.  He carried a black uniform in his hands.  “Thanks, Ukitake.”
Ukitake nodded.  “It was my pleasure.  Have a good day, Ise-san.”  He rose from the chair with his book and stepped outside of the room.  Shunsui followed him into the hall.  The low murmur of their voices reached Nanao, but she couldn’t distinguish any words.
“You’re awake,” Shunsui said when he returned from the hall.  He closed the door behind him.
“I’ve only been up for a little while.  Captain Ukitake kept me company.”  She dropped her eyes to his chest.  It was hard to look at his face when his eyes were still shuttered to her.
“I brought you one of your uniforms.  I didn’t think you’d want to go to the First in just that robe.  Ukitake told you about Yama-jii?”  He set the uniform at the foot of the bed.
“Yes, he told me.  Thank you for bringing me clothes.  The uniform I was wearing in Hueco Mundo was damaged?”  She clutched her biceps with her hands.
“Ruined.  Blood and sand and torn up in places.  It’s a complete loss.”  He stood at the end of the bed, looking out the window.
“That’s too bad.  I borrowed it from Nemu-san.  I’ll have to get her a replacement.”  Nanao cringed internally at the tense conversation.  She wanted things restored as they’d been between them, but she didn’t know how they could get there.
He nodded.  “You should get dressed.  Yama-jii wants to see you as soon as possible.”
She flipped back the blankets and slipped her feet onto the floor.  When she tried to stand her injured leg failed her and she started to fall.  Shunsui caught her immediately and pulled her upright, supporting her weight easily.  “Slowly, Nanao-chan.”
“Will you help me?  I don’t think I can stand alone right now.”  She looked up at his face.  His eyes were shaded and she couldn’t see his heart there anymore.  Why had she never noticed how much of himself he allowed her to see until he’d taken it away?
“Of course, Nanao-chan.  Can you hold onto me?”  When she nodded he pulled her hands up to his shoulders and leaned down to work on the knot in her sash.
He was large and warm and it was so good to be close to him again, to be able to smell him and touch him.  She leaned her head against his chest.  “Shunsui,” she said, her hands coming together behind his neck in an embrace.
His heart sped up under her ear.  He removed her sash and parted her robe at the neckline.  “Let go, Nanao-chan.”
She dropped her hold on him, pulling her head away and keeping it bent.  He supported her with one arm as he removed her robe.  She was wearing a camisole and panties—not something she’d had in Hueco Mundo, so she assumed Rangiku or Shunsui had brought them to the hospital, since the robe was also one of hers.  They were a cherry blossom pink, and even during the trial she’d not wanted to let Shunsui see them—it seemed like too much of an admission, since she’d bought them herself—but now she couldn’t raise any concern.
Her eyes stung as he dressed her in her uniform without any particular assistance from her.  She held her arms in the positions he moved them to, and stepped into her pants when asked.  There was a lump in her throat and she swallowed it down enough to speak.  “How bad is it, when you won’t even joke about my panties?”  She tried to make her voice light, but the tears in her eyes leaked into the words.
He tied the final knot in her outer sash and sighed.  “Don’t cry, Nanao-chan.”  He sat on the bed, holding her up with his hands at her waist.  She blinked rapidly, but couldn’t clear her eyes.  “Since when do you want me to make comments about your panties?”  He was trying to joke too, but there was no laughter in his voice or his eyes.
“I want things to be like they were.  I want what we had before.  What do you want me to do?  I don’t know what to do.”  She raised her eyes to his, and she was surprised again by the wariness there.  The tears overwhelmed her strength then, and began to fall.
“Don’t cry, Nanao-chan.”  Shunsui pulled her into his lap on the bed, tucking her head against his chest.  “I don’t want you to cry.”  He slid her glasses off and brushed at her tears with his thumbs.  “You have to see Yama-jii soon, and you don’t want to go like this.”
She nodded, but her tears still fell.  Her hands slid into his uniform to wrap around his back.  She rested her cheek against his chest and stroked the skin of his back with her hands, feeling the texture of his scars.  “I’m sorry.”
He rubbed soothing circles on her back.  “It’s been hard, hasn’t it?  But you’re safe now, Nanao-chan.”
“Do you know what’s going to happen?”
“It’ll be better if you speak to Yama-jii yourself.  If you want to, you can talk to me after that.”
She nodded again, trying to reassert control over herself.  When her tears stopped, Shunsui lifted her off his lap and stood, setting her back on the bed.  He wet a cloth and gently cleaned the tear tracks from her face.  “Thank you.”
He slipped her tabi onto her feet.  “Are you ready now?  I’ll bring you to the First.”
She held her arms out for him and he picked her up easily, one hand under her thighs, the other supporting her back.  He carried her through the empty corridors of the Fourth and outside into the chill air.  She shivered at the cold.
“Do you want my haori, Nanao-chan?” 
“Not if we’re going to the First Division.  We’ll only be outside for a few minutes, anyway.”  She studied his chin, brushing her fingers over his jaw.  His beard was untrimmed and the rest of his jaw was darkened with stubble.  “You need a shave.”
He glanced down at her.  “I’ve been a bit busy lately.”
She sighed at that, and her hand dropped to her lap.
Shunsui waited a few beats, but she didn’t have any words that weren’t apologies, so she stayed silent.  “Are you ready for shunpo?”
She nodded against his chest.  “I’m ready.”

On to Chapter 37.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 19th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
I'm ready too. Poor Nanao been through so much and so many fences to mend now. But things will work out. Shun is so nice and poor Nemu. But she has Ukitake "for a friend". Would be nice if it was more. A bit sad though since this means we may be nearing the end? But it was SO much fun. If I could draw I would make this a doujin. Until next time.
Nov. 20th, 2011 02:22 am (UTC)
We're very near the end now. ^_^

Nemu and Ukitake, I feel like they have some romantic potential after this story. At least, I think so. XD

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