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Title: Practicing Marriage
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: T
Status: Multi-Chapter, Ongoing
Contains: Spoilers through Bleach manga chapter 515, mild foul language.
Summary: When Nanao's family asks her to consider an arranged marriage, Captain Kyōraku decides to interfere.

Note: The word miai appears in this chapter. This is a custom in which unmarried individuals are introduced to each other, usually through a matchmaker. These meetings may lead to an arranged marriage.

This will be a fairly long story, with chapters posted once a week or so.

The tea was too strong. Nanao made a face at the taste, but brought a cup of it back to her desk anyway. The division was still subdued but coming awake slowly around her; the morning was drifting away.

She drew the file out of the drawer and set it in the middle of her desk. She'd delayed this as long as she could, but the longer she waited the more likely she was to be interrupted by Captain Kyōraku.

And this was something she really did not want to explain to him.

She opened the file without further hesitation. The first dossier had a large photo of a young, serious-looking man. His chin was soft and she doubted that his smooth cheeks required shaving more than once a week. He enjoyed breeding boars for racing and overseeing his family's estate. Gentleman's pursuits, things he probably only dabbled in. There would be managers and trainers and tenants doing all of the actual work. He was a man of leisure.

A soft man with soft hands and a soft life.

Her stomach twisted in knots. Could she really do this?

She was so absorbed in her problem that she didn't notice Captain Kyōraku's arrival until the doors to the porch opened wide and the scent of early summer swept in. He was already in the room when she looked up, closing the file and casually resting her arms on the desk.

"It's a glorious morning, Nanao-chan! The birds are chirping, the sun is sweet, and even the shyest flowers are opening." He leaned his hip against her desk across from her chair. He was smiling, his hat tipped back on his head. His chin was scruffy, the lines of his facial hair blurred; he hadn't shaved. One of his hands was pressed flat on the surface of her desk. It was large and tanned, with small scars visible if she looked closely, the remnants of a lifetime as a soldier. She knew his palm to be the same, scarred and calloused. He was not, for all of his legendary laziness and romantic flourishes, a man of leisure.

"It must be a rare day, since I'm seeing you in the office so early. What did the glorious morning do to rouse you?" She steepled her fingers, her elbows resting on the file she didn't want him to notice. Not that he ordinarily spared any attention for paperwork in the office.

He smiled wryly. "The birds that built a nest under the roof of my porch have had babies. Tiny, hungry babies that cry for food beginning at a very inglorious hour of the morning."

Her lips curved up. "I told you to move the nest," she said. They'd returned from a training exercise and he'd found nesting birds under the roof directly outside of his bedroom.

"I couldn't. They already had eggs. It would have been too cruel, Nanao-chan."

And he wasn't cruel when he could be kind. "Then I'd suggest moving yourself to another bedroom until the babies grow up."

He shook his head, his eyes warm. "I can't do that either, Nanao-chan. It's delightful to be able to watch them from my bedroom. Falling in love, building a home, having babies—it's a lovely picture, isn't it?"

She refused to think about him and love and babies, not when she had a folder like this on her desk. "Apparently it's rather loud, in addition to any loveliness."

He grinned at her. "It's a small price to pay. I can always catch up on my sleep later in the day."

She drummed her fingers together. "And when do you expect to take this nap? There is a great deal of work requiring your review and stamp, and since you're here so early, this is an excellent opportunity to begin." She smiled, certain he would leave now, running away from the threat of work. Then she'd be able to peruse the file in peace and make the necessary decisions before he returned.

But he didn't leave, instead shifting to the side of her desk and leaning in closer to her face. "Nanao-chan," he murmured close to her ear. "Why don't you want me here?"

She swallowed. "I don't know what you mean. Didn't I just tell you that there's a lot of work waiting for you?"

"You said that, but you don't actually want me to do my work now. Why is that, Nanao-chan?" His fingers brushed her cheek and she slapped his hand away with her fan.

"This is a unique approach to avoiding your duties. Trying to convince me that I don't actually want you to complete them is unlikely to succeed, however." She raised an eyebrow at him. He was correct about what she'd wanted, but she could bluff her way out of this situation.

"A unique approach can keep things interesting. What are you hiding, Nanao-chan?"

"Were you bored?" she asked, ignoring his question.

"With paperwork, sure. But it's hard for bonus money forms and ink ordering sheets to stay interesting over hundreds of years. I could never be bored with you, though." He grinned, his hand touching her hair.

She slapped him away. "Whether paperwork is interesting or not is irrelevant. It's your duty to the Gotei 13 to complete your work, and duty must be done." Her tone was harsher than she'd intended, but duty was a concept that was crushing her down as of late.

"Duty is important, certainly. But so are many other things, Nanao-chan. What's bothering you, sweetheart?" His eyes were touched with concern, and she tipped her head away to avoid his gaze.

"Don't call me that. What is bothering me is your refusal to go to your desk and work," she said, giving him an exasperated look.

"Liar," he whispered into her ear.

She wet her lips, swallowing. "But what's bothering me is not about you, so leave it alone, please." Her voice slipped low, asking instead of demanding.

His voice matched hers when he responded. "Nanao-chan, one of my constant goals is to make sure that you have what you really want. How can I quietly go to my desk and stamp things, when something is bothering you so much?"

"You could go because I've asked you too, and because it's your duty." But she'd leaned into him unconsciously. She pulled back from him, and he stopped her with the caress of his knuckles against her cheek.

"That's not what your heart truly desires." He was close enough for his lips to touch the curve of her ear on his last words.

She pushed him away with a hand on his chest. "What my heart truly desires? As if that has anything to do with my work or my life at the moment. Yes, I want you to leave, although I would settle for you stamping things quietly at your desk, if you think you could manage that." She rubbed her temples, already regretting her words. He'd never leave her alone now.

"I don't like to see you so troubled, Nanao-chan. What's worrying you this much?"

"It's personal," she snapped.

"Nanao-chan," he said, and the gentleness of his voice made her shoulders slump. Maybe it would be better to have this conversation now and get it out of the way, so that it would be less shocking to him when the final outcome was public.

"I'm sure you've seen these before." She slipped the folder across the desk, turning her head to the window.

He opened it, flipping through the pages. "These are profiles of men from a matchmaker."

"Yes." She watched the trees outside rustling in the breeze.

"Are you pursuing an arranged marriage, Nanao-chan?" His tone was still gentle and even.

"My family has asked me to consider miai. I will be selecting candidates for some initial meetings. The process will be somewhat condensed due to the demands of my position in the Eighth Division. I will have initial meetings with several candidates and then select one that I would like to continue with in further match meetings." She closed her eyes briefly. Her eyelids felt heavy and her eyes burned a little; she hadn't slept enough last night.

"Your family?" he asked, and she understood his surprise. The Ise family was of the same lower-level nobility as Captain Ukitake's, but unlike his family, they'd had no idea what to do when one of the daughters of the Ise clan developed spiritual powers. When Nanao had accidently set part of the house on fire when her uncontrolled powers reacted to her nightmare with crackles of lightning, the Ise family had trundled Nanao off to the Shinigami Academy.

She didn't blame them for it; she'd been a danger to everyone around her. Without control of her emotions or her powers, she could have killed someone. The Ise family did not often manifest spiritual powers, and when they did, it was usually in weak quantities. Nanao was an anomaly.

She'd rarely returned to the Ise estate. Her parents had died while she was at the Academy of a ravaging fever, and she was not close to her great-aunt or her cousin. She'd sent that cousin a fine glass bowl on the occasion of his marriage and promptly put him and the Ise clan out of her mind.

Until he'd died. "My family asked. My great-aunt, specifically. There were some—some difficulties that arose after my cousin's death. An arranged marriage may resolve some of those difficulties, and I am the only one of an age to enter such an arrangement. My cousin's children are still very young." She glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes, trying to gauge his reaction.

He said nothing, paging back through the dossiers.

"It will not impact my work," she said when the silence stretched.

He raised his eyes from the file. "I'm not concerned about your work. I'm concerned about you, Nanao-chan."

"There's no need for you to be concerned, Captain. These arranged marriages are very common among the nobility of Seireitei." She repeated the reassurance that her great-aunt had given to her and that Nanao had cycled through her mind for weeks.

"These arrangements may be common in Seireitei, but it isn't as if you've actually spent much time with the nobles who favor this system. Marriage is serious, complicated—"

Her eyes narrowed. "Don't treat me like a fool. I have a full understanding of how serious this is, and I am certain I can learn whatever is necessary to be successful at marriage."

He sighed, looking at the back wall. "You're very intelligent, Nanao-chan. I'm not doubting you, I'm doubting whether this is really the best solution for the situation. These difficulties you mentioned, what are they?"

She stiffened. "It would be inappropriate to discuss my family's private situation in detail."

He turned his head back to her, his eyes serious and shadowed by his hat. "If it is some sort of financial problem, it can be resolved without something as drastic as arranged marriage. It would be easy for me to give you the money you need—"

"Stop. It isn't enough for you to condescend to me about marriage when are you are a man that has never been married and whose relationships are normally short-lived. You also have to insult me and my family with your misplaced charity." She stripped the file from his hand with numb fingers.

"It's not intended as an insult, Nanao-chan." His eyes narrowed.

"What are you thinking? You can't give a huge sum of money to your female Vice Captain. Think of how it would look. People would say that I'd accepted the money in exchange for sexual favors, that I am your mistress. My family would be humiliated and their social standing damaged." Her words were hard stabs of sound.

"Yet it's fine for you to exchange yourself for money within an arranged marriage? That's not insulting to you?" His voice was soft, but there was no gentleness; he was upset.

He was upset? He was the one who had demeaned her and her family. "Marriage is a contract. It is a bond. And it is the path that I have chosen to fulfill my duty to my family. Marriage is what's respectable and dignified here. What you have attempted to substitute is neither of those things." She stood, her back so tight it was painful.

"I'm not asking you for anything in exchange, Nanao-chan. I'm not asking you to sleep with me." His voice was still even but sharper at the edges. His eyes were dark and hot with irritation, not lust, but the force of his gaze struck her in the same way, and an answering heat pooled in her belly.

She stepped away from her desk, giving him a wide berth. She stood at the open doors to the porch. Her eyes met his steadily. "But if you ever did ask, how could I say no? How could I refuse you, after what you'd done?" Her eyes stung, but she told herself it was only weariness.

"Nanao-chan." He strode to her, cradling her face in his hands.

"It would taint things between us. Marriage is clean. It's an honorable transaction. It can be a partnership instead of a debt. That's why I've chosen it." She shook her head, pulling back from his touch. "I'll be taking a few days of leave at the end of the week, to go to the Ise estate and have my initial match meetings."

"And if I were to refuse to grant your leave?" he asked, his voice low.

She smiled faintly. "You've already granted it. You stamped the form last week. You don't look closely enough at what you approve."

He shook his head. "I don't remember that."

"I know." She'd distracted him deliberately when he'd been stamping forms, standing next to him and leaning over his desk to 'organize his mess.' He'd barely taken his eyes off of her, certainly not giving any attention to his paperwork. "For an observant man, you miss a lot. You just don't look closely enough," she said, a heavy stone of sadness in her throat.

He was certainly looking closely now, his eyes sharp on her face. "What do you want me to see, Nanao-chan?"

She shook her head. It was too late for that. "I'm going to the Fifth Division to have lunch with Hinamori-san. If you should feel so inclined, there is work on your desk waiting for your stamp." She bowed her head and turned away from him, walking out to the porch.

"Nanao-chan," he said, and she paused, glancing back at him. A tiny hope jumped in her throat.

He did not say anything else, and they stared at each other for a long moment, all of the things unspoken moving between them.

But possibilities were no longer enough; she needed what was tangible. "Goodbye, Captain." She left the Eighth, her shoulders square and her head high.

And if she heard a faint "Nanao-chan," behind her, she ignored it, and ignored the answering whisper in her heart.

Ugendō was quiet beyond a few fish surfacing occasionally in the pond. Shunsui landed silently outside Ukitake's bedroom, and peeked his head in.

Ukitake turned his head over towards the door. "Kyōraku. You're earlier than I expected." He dropped the book he'd been reading on the bed, shifting against the mound of pillows supporting him.

"Baby birds," Shunsui said, entering the room. "Where is everyone?" The house was oddly silent.

"I think there's been a miscommunication. Rukia went to the Living World, but Sentarō and Kiyone must think she's here, because they haven't come yet today. I think I have at least another hour or two before they realize their mistake." He smiled conspiratorially.

"Better make the most of it, then." Shunsui reached for the cup of medicinal tea on the tray by the bed; it was lukewarm. "Do you want another pot of this?"

"If you wouldn't mind."

Shunsui took the tray and went to make new medicinal tea. He gathered the powdered medicines, the sweet additive to disguise the flavor of the bitter powders, and the herbal tea, mixing them with the ease of long familiarity. Little had changed about Ukitake's treatment in centuries. Retsu would occasionally try new things, but they hadn't proven effective, and in the end she always returned to this formulation.

When Shunsui returned to the bedroom with the tea tray, Ukitake had stood and was making his way slowly outside. He lowered himself to a cushion, leaning against a post. A heavy haori was wrapped around his sleeping robe, although the temperature was comfortable to Shunsui.

Ukitake accepted the cup of medicine from the tray. "Thank you."

"Do you want anything else?" Shunsui asked. Ukitake's skin looked sallow against his limp white hair and his eyes were rimmed with shadows like bruises.

"No, I'm fine," he said.

Ukitake wasn't fine, but there wasn't anything Shunsui could do for him, so instead he set the tray near his friend. He sprawled out on the porch and pulled a sake jug out of his belt, filling a sake dish and taking a drink as he stared out over the water.

"It's a bit early for that, isn't it?" Ukitake asked.

It wasn't really the drinking he was asking about, it was the brooding. Shunsui knew that from long experience with his friend. "I messed up with Nanao-chan."

Ukitake sipped from his cup. The concern slipped off of his face. "You do that all the time."

"I really messed up with Nanao-chan."

"Oh? What happened?"

Shunsui dropped his dish next to the jug, leaning back on his hands and turning his head to Ukitake. "Nanao-chan's family has asked her to consider an arranged marriage."

"I know." Ukitake poured more hot tea into his cup.

"You know? What?" Shunsui was genuinely surprised.

"I received a very discreet inquiry from a matchmaker representing the Ise family. She wanted to know if I'd be interested in a match meeting with Ise-san."

"With Nanao Ise? With my Nanao-chan?"

Ukitake nodded. "Yes. I refused, of course, in the politest way. I made it clear that Ise-san would be an excellent choice of wife, if I was looking for one."

"You would have considered marrying Nanao-chan?" Shunsui was simultaneously shocked and annoyed; Nanao wasn't available to Ukitake, he should know that.

Ukitake gave him an exasperated look. "I was paying Ise-san a compliment and making it clear to the matchmaker that my refusal of a match meeting was related only to my work and my health, and not because of any perceived deficiency on Ise-san's part."

"Nanao-chan doesn't have any deficiencies that would make a bad choice for a wife." He was scowling now and he knew he shouldn't be, but he couldn't stop himself.

"I know that. I'm sure that Ise-san would be an excellent choice as a wife, if I were interested in having a wife. Which I am not." Ukitake raised an eyebrow at him.

"How long have you known about the arranged marriage?"

"Three days. Don't even say it. Ise-san deserved to handle her personal family matters in whatever way she felt was best. Telling you would have been a violation of her family's trust." Ukitake sipped from his cup.

"Three days." Shunsui reached for the sake jug, filling his dish.

"Don't use that betrayed tone, Kyōraku. Ise-san is not personally involved with you. She's not your lover or your girlfriend or anything like that. She's your Vice Captain. She's allowed to have privacy in her personal life."

He wanted to protest, to say that Nanao was his, but what Ukitake said was true, technically. He'd enjoyed the slow build of his relationship with Nanao, the pleasure of their closeness growing over the years, but they weren't lovers, not yet. "Why did the matchmaker contact you? Why am I not on the list of men for Nanao-chan?" When he'd seen the file of dossiers, all of the men had been typical young nobles without spiritual powers, raising boars and attending parties. It stung to know that Ukitake could have been in that file if he'd wanted to be.

"Did you want Ise-san to consider you for her husband?" Ukitake's tone was curious.

"That's not the point. Why would you warrant a discreet inquiry while I don't get anything? I'm closer to Nanao-chan than you are." He swallowed the sake in his dish.

Ukitake sighed. "Are you blinded by your nearness to the situation? The answer is obvious. Ise-san and I are of the same social class. Our families know each other. I am a member of the Gotei 13, which shows that the matchmaker is trying to make a good match for Ise-san, and taking her likely wish to continue in the Eighth Division into consideration. You are also in the Gotei 13, but socially you are of a noble class far removed from the one that Ise-san and I were born into. No matchmaker would imagine that you would have serious interest in marrying so far beneath you."

"Nanao-chan isn't beneath me. You aren't beneath me. The idea that the family I was born into would determine my friends, my spouse, my life—I can't accept something like that. It's ridiculous." It grated on him to hear his friend of hundreds of years speak as if there were a huge gulf between the two of them, and between Shunsui and Nanao. He did not, would not believe that.

"I'm not saying that you have to agree, only that it is the obvious perspective for another outsider like the matchmaker to take."

Shunsui leaned back on his hands, staring at the thin sliver of sky over the trees. "I don't like it," he said, weary. Between the baby birds, Nanao's announcement, and Ukitake's being considered by the matchmaker, today was already exhausting.

"I'd noticed." Ukitake's tone was dry. "But if we're talking about the arranged marriage, the real question is, why does it bother you so much? Ise-san is not yours, and you have no legitimate say in her private life."

It was a fair question and the answer wouldn't come to him in clear words. He remembered Nanao-chan as she'd been when she became his Vice Captain, accepting the badge of the Eighth from him with a solemn expression; Nanao-chan, who complained every year that he slacked off too much when the cherry blossoms fell, but still sat out with him often under the trees, making him stamp papers on her lapdesk; Nanao-chan, blushing prettily when she gave him chocolates on Valentine's Day, her eyes defying the 'obligation' written on the candy; Nanao-chan, who grasped his hand unconsciously when he reached for hers during tense scenes of the stage plays some shinigami put on; Nanao-chan, her tears falling on his lips as she leaned over his hospital bed, her small hands on his face, scolding him for his injuries—"Did you have to go that far?"; Nanao-chan, whose cheeks turned pink when he brought her flowers, her hands caressing the petals, even as she denied wanting them.


"She should be. She should be mine." Shunsui narrowed his eyes at Ukitake, who inclined his head.

"I see. But Kyōraku, how far are you willing to go? Please don't interfere with her family's arrangements unless you intend to marry her yourself. The matchmaker made it clear that the Ise estate needs a large infusion of funds to continue. If you ruin her prospects without replacing them, her family will fall into that slow decline that's unfortunately common to the lower nobility."

"I offered her money this morning," Shunsui said.

"You're an ass sometimes." Ukitake shook his head. "Did you think it'd be so easy? You didn't consider the social implications of that."

"I don't care about social implications. I care about Nanao-chan."

"Your heart has the right intention but for a family like Ise-san's and like mine, it's unacceptable. We hold onto our nobility with the edge of our fingertips, and charity would push us into the chasm, ruining our social standing. And no matter the discretion, things like that always come out. Money has a stink that doesn't wash off," Ukitake said.

"I know it. I wouldn't have offered something like that to anyone else. But it was Nanao-chan." He remembered her as she'd been when he came in this morning, her brows drawn together, her shoulders straight but her head bent in resignation, her teeth worrying at her lower lip. "She was so unhappy. I just wanted her to smile. I—" He shook his head. "I'm an ass sometimes," he said finally.

Ukitake smiled. "Sure. But you've been an ass before, and you'll be one again. Ise-san will forgive you for that." He drank the last of his tea. "What do you intend to do about Ise-san's arranged marriage?"

Shunsui sat up. "Do you have the matchmaker's information?"

"Yes, but why? What are you going to do?" Ukitake sounded worried.

"I'm going to interfere."


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 10th, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
Wow! This is a great start of something really cool! :D

Idea with arranged marriage....
Nanao totally wants something more from Shun

I CAN'T WAIT FOR MORE! Jegus, this is something my ShunNao deprived mind really needed..... THANK YOU!

Dec. 13th, 2012 01:37 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad you liked this chapter!

The arranged marriage concept is more popular than I anticipated, it seems. ^_^;

I'll post soon, probably. ^_^
Dec. 11th, 2012 05:33 am (UTC)
You are a great writer, keep it up!
Dec. 13th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC)
Dec. 11th, 2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
You're back!! And this story-- omg. It's going to be so epic. I love the concept and the set-up is very well-done, both funny and emotionally true. I look forward to the miai hijinks!
Dec. 13th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC)
I'm back! I enjoyed writing this story a lot, so I hope people enjoy reading it. ^_^
Dec. 13th, 2012 09:03 am (UTC)
R-dahlia, I know this story will only be canon up to 515 so perhaps not in *this* one, but omgggggg please write something 520-related at some point. (I swear, I pretty much feel like your fic is canon and the manga is the fanfic.)

Avidly looking forward to more chapters! And-- I don't say this lightly -- but you really, really should write professionally. You are damn good.
Dec. 13th, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
To be honest I've already drafted up a little "missing scene" fic that takes place in 520 between the scene with Nanao and Shunsui and Shunsui going in front of the Central 46. I might put it up soon, but it's just a short piece. I will probably work 520 into other, longer works later after I've digested it more - I really enjoyed that scene. (We don't get too much for this pairing, so we have to savor what we do get!)

I'm glad you're looking forward to more of this story, and thank you for the kind words about my writing, I appreciate that. ^_^
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )