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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 adult content.
Summary: When Nanao's family asks her to consider an arranged marriage, Captain Kyōraku decides to interfere.

Notes: This chapter references Lisa's bookstore. This is described in The Death Save the Strawberry novel by Matsubara Makoto & Kubo Tite released in Japan earlier this year. A slightly more detailed spoiler is in the end note of this chapter.

Back to Chapter 7.

Chapter 1.

The ramshackle hut hardly looked like a destination Nanao would frequent, but she slipped inside quickly and waved him in. They were in the First District of West Rukongai, so he didn't have any particular concerns for safety, but it was still very odd. Inside the hut an old woman sat snoring.

Nanao coughed politely. "Excuse me."

The old woman opened one eye. "Eh?" Both her eyes went wide when she saw Shunsui.

"It's all right, we were sent by Rangiku Matsumoto," Nanao said quickly.

The old woman grinned toothlessly. "Welcome, customers!" She rose and shifted a rug, then lifted a panel in the floor. "Please come in."

Nanao hurried forward and entered the opening. Shunsui followed, intrigued. There was a staircase leading down deep into the earth. The space was surprisingly large and well lit, although it was still a barren rocky landscape. Welcome to the Urahara Shop's New Rukongai Store! a banner stretched between two tall poles proclaimed.

"Urahara's shop?" Shunsui asked.

"Not precisely permitted, not expressly forbidden. He only opened this one recently. Rangiku-san has been trying to get me to come out here, but with the matchmaker's meetings and the arranged marriage issues, I haven't felt the inclination to go shopping." Nanao surveyed the area with interest.

There were racks of Living World clothes, display shelves of candies, a few magazines, and other items Shunsui couldn't immediately identify. "An import store? But not many magazines or books."

Nanao nodded. "He doesn't want to compete directly with Yadōmaru-sempai's bookstore, I imagine."

"There's a shop in Seireitei that sells Living World clothes, isn't there?"

She waved that away. "Yes, but that shop makes clothes based on a few old patterns they got from the Twelfth Division's castoffs. This shop has things that were made in the Living World recently. It's impossible to get items this fresh otherwise unless you are on assignment in the Living World."

"Interesting." He followed her as she browsed through the racks of clothes. She paused at a lavender dress with a deep purple velvet cummerbund.

"Would you like to try that dress on? It's a very fine garment for dinner or dancing," the shopkeeper said.

"I don't have much occasion to wear something like this—" Nanao started.

"I think you'd look lovely in it, Nanao-chan. Why don't you try it on?" He pulled the dress from the rack and handed it to her with a flourish.

"We have similar formal garments for gentlemen, too. Would you like to try some?" the shopkeeper asked, keen to make a sale.

"Why not?" Shunsui grinned at Nanao. She shrugged slightly, her lips smiling, willing to play along for now.

There were freestanding dressing rooms, oddly cramped and sparse in the cavernous space. Shunsui dressed in the formal suit, listening to the rustle of fabric in Nanao's space.

"There are shoes out here," the elderly shopkeeper called.

He stepped out and put on the stiff shoes. Nanao emerged a few moments later, stepping into the heels outside of her dressing room. The lavender dress did look lovely, as he'd thought it would. The thin straps left her arms bare, the dress hugged her slender figure to the cummerbund at her waist, and the skirt was cheerfully full and ended above her knees. It was made for dancing. He smiled.

"What? Does it look strange?" she asked. She smoothed her hands against the skirt.

"You look beautiful, Nanao-chan."

She stepped towards him and fussed with his tie. "It's not straight."

"Thank you, Nanao-chan."

She took a step back.

"Do you remember our dancing lessons?" He'd signed up for ballroom dancing lessons offered by the SWA, paying more than a quarter of the SWA budget for the year for the privilege of having Nanao as his somewhat reluctant partner. He'd enjoyed those twice weekly lessons enormously for eight weeks.

Dancing with Nanao in Living World clothes, holding her close, smelling her scent—it'd been a highlight for him. She'd enjoyed herself too, for all that she'd protested initially. Spinning around the ballroom at the Second Division she'd smiled, her eyes bright with pleasure.

"Why does the Second Division have a ballroom?" he'd asked.

"Vice Captain Omaeda paid to have it put in reasons unknown." She'd laughed. "I don't even think he dances." Enchanting, he'd thought. The dress she'd worn for dancing lessons had been black, appropriate but somber.

The purple she wore now was much more fun. He bowed and extended his hand. "Shall we dance?"

She hesitated. "I don't know if it's appropriate to dance in the shop's clothes."

The shopkeeper set a needle to a record on an old-fashioned player. A waltzing rhythm sprung up.

He grinned. "Indulge me."

She accepted his hand with a sidelong glance at the shopkeeper. "I'd accuse you of conspiracy, but I brought you here. I suppose we could dance, just one dance."

"The shopkeeper hopes to sell us these clothes, and I want to dance with sweet Nanao-chan in them. That's a very harmless conspiracy, isn't it?" He drew her in, his other hand resting on her bare skin—the dress dipped lower in the back, to his great pleasure. "A waltz?"

She nodded. He led her through the dance on the floor, incongruous against the rocky backdrop.

"Why don't we have a ballroom at the Eighth? I'd like one." He loved to dance with her. Nanao's natural grace and the delicate precision she moved with were mesmerizing.

Her lips turned up. "A ballroom has very limited utility and is expensive to install. If you want to dance, the common room is large enough, if much less grand."

"Would you dance every dance with me if we had a party there, Nanao-chan?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Absolutely not. Dancing every dance is impractical, no matter who you dance with. We'd want to rest, and chat with friends, and eat."

"Nanao-chan is so practical. And it is selfish of me to want all of your dances." He grinned. "But I told you that I was selfish in the garden the other day."

"Even so, I would engage in a moderate, reasonable number of dances with you, if we had a party." Her cheeks pinked slightly, as if she'd admitted to something that embarrassed her, and perhaps she had.

"You indulge me often, Nanao-chan." He pulled her closer to murmur in her ear. "I think you like to indulge me."

he kept her eyes on his chest. "There is a certain pleasure in doing things that will make someone else happy. Within reasonable limits, of course."

"There is pleasure in it. Do you know all of the ways that I would indulge you, if only you'd let me? There are no limits, Nanao-chan."

She shivered against him and that caught his breath. "It would be deeply inappropriate for me to allow that."

"If we were married, Nanao-chan? What could be inappropriate between us then?"

She lifted her eyes to his, and there was something beautiful and fragile there, something not yet completely formed. "If—if we were married—"

The song ended; the record skipped into static.

She pulled away from him.


"It was only one dance," she said, more to herself than to him. She walked swiftly into the dressing room.

He changed slowly, handing the clothes and shoes to the elderly shopkeeper when he left the dressing room. "I'll take these and her dress and shoes, as well."

Nanao was browsing through the candy, making a few selections. "Do you think I should get the raspberry or the lemon?" she asked, considering two boxes with brightly colored fruit on the front.

He was simultaneously relieved and disappointed that she'd refused to acknowledge the earlier moment between them—relieved because she could have run away and hadn't, and disappointed because she might not be willing to return to that moment any time soon. "Let's get both. I'm indulging you, remember?" He smiled.

"That doesn't mean that you're buying me things. The indulgence was in coming out here in the middle of the workday." She selected the lemon box, turning away from the candy display.

He picked up the raspberry box. "Indulge me in indulging you, Nanao-chan."

She shook her head, smiling. "That doesn't make any sense." But she piled her candy on top of the raspberry box in his hand. "Don't get the idea that conspiracy is an effective strategy against me, or I'll have to make it painfully clear that you were mistaken."

"Nanao-chan conspires far more than I do. The SWA as an organization is always conspiring on one scheme or another, isn't it?"

"The SWA pursues many funding avenues, almost all of them entirely legitimate."

He grinned. "The not-quite-totally-legitimate ones are my favorites, though. Remember the bachelor auction of ranking officers? Nanao-chan paid a very high price for me."

She sniffed. "You were very cheap, actually. And I saved so much time by making you do the budget approvals all at once then, instead of trying to track you down everywhere."

"The budget paperwork wouldn't have been my first choice of a romantic date, but it made me so happy that Nanao-chan didn't want another woman to date me." He brushed a finger over her cheek just to see her eyes narrow and flash at him. "Nanao-chan, you—" he cut off when his eyes caught on a mannequin across the store. The mannequin wore a school uniform in the style of the one Rangiku Matsumoto had worn to Karakura and subsequently been photographed in for Seireitei Bulletin.

He eyes followed the path of his when he stopped talking abruptly. "Submit your offer in writing," she said primly, then walked to the counter, waiting for him.

He chuckled and strolled to the counter, paying for their purchases.

"I'll give you a point over the men in the file," Nanao said when they were outside the hut.

"What?" He turned to her, surprised.

"A point for indulgence. It is unlikely that any of them would be willing to go out to the Rukongai for anything, certainly not a frivolous desire to visit an import candy store."

"Frivolous things are usually the most fun. And it's more than a candy store, but yes, it's true that most nobles will never set foot outside of Seireitei."

"Neither of us truly resembles most nobles, I think. It's fortunate, because I really don't want to have a life filled with conversation about boars." She shook her head.

"That's not what our marriage would be. Our marriage would be full of indulgence." He slid an arm around her waist.

She tugged it off. "Which of us would be doing this indulging?"

"I'd indulge you, Nanao-chan, you know that. But I think you would indulge me if we were married. You already do to a certain extent now." He placed his hand at the small of her back this time, and she allowed it, turning to him slowly.

She shifted closer to him, hesitantly raising her hand to his neck. "I might," she whispered, applying faint pressure on the back of his neck. He bent forward. She rose on her toes. "I might indulge you then." Her words were small drops of sound, sweeter to his ears than anything. She tapped her fingers against his lips. "Maybe." She pulled back from him with mischief in her eyes.

He chuckled. "Are you playing with me, Nanao-chan?"

"Perhaps." Her lips curved up as she walked back toward Seireitei.

"How delightful." He caught up to her, leaning down to her ear. "Are you having fun?"

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "I am. I'm having fun with you." There was a thread of surprised pleasure in her voice. "I don't think the matchmaking process is intended to be fun, though. Perhaps I should apply myself more seriously to the task."

"But this is our marriage practice, and we get to decide what kind of marriage we want, don't we?" His arm slid around her waist again and this time she allowed it. "I'm glad you're having fun, Nanao-chan."

"We should get back to the office." She had a lovely blush on her cheeks.

"Yes. And Nanao-chan—you can play with me any time." He grinned.

She scoffed, but her cheeks stayed pink all the way to the division and his smile never faded.

She was ruthless.

Shunsui blocked the disguised strike to his groin and went for a hold. Nanao shifted out of range. She struck at his neck, drawing attention away from her real intention: breaking his knee.

He danced away from the blow, grinning. He'd taught her this ruthlessness, and he felt pride in seeing her apply it; pride in her skill and icy fierceness, and pride that she didn't feel the need to hold back with him. She'd never use this deadly focus in matches with the troops.

She would be fine if she did step into the dojo with his mother. It was doubtful that Nanao would win against her—his mother had the experience of thousands of years of training and teaching—but Nanao wouldn't disappoint her.

Nanao's skin glistened with the effort of their match, her breath rapid and her eyes narrow. She'd tied her hair back into a ponytail for this session. Her hairclip was much too delicate to risk.

He reached for her and she reversed his hold easily, but he judged the training today to be enough, so he shifted the balance of their weight and brought her down to the wooden floor, leaning over her. "You haven't lost anything since we sparred last, Nanao-chan."

She relaxed on her back. He was nearly certain she had been going for his throat before he spoke, but the tension left her when he ended the match. "I have a very good memory, and I do still practice regularly."

"We should train together more often. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed one-on-one training with you." He bent further over her reclining body, one hand supporting him on the floor next to her head. Would she let him kiss her now? He lifted one hand to her warm neck, tracing down to the dip of her collarbones.

Her lips turned up. "I think we stopped because I had reached the limits of what I could do without extremely devoted training, and because you kept trying to steal kisses, as you are now."

"It's hard to resist. Training gives your skin a lovely vibrancy. You smell like cherry blossoms, Nanao-chan." He leaned closer.

"The vibrancy is sweat and the cherry blossoms are from my soap. I chose it for spring." Her eyes dipped to his chest, exposed by his uniform and gleaming from their exercise.

He smiled. "Spring is my favorite season. Could you blame me if I stole a kiss from you, the very embodiment of my favorite things?"

"Yes," she said promptly.

He chuckled. "What if I asked? Nanao-chan, may I kiss you, please?"

"Anyone might come in." The training room at the division was a public space, used throughout the day. Working hours would be over soon, but that was not a guarantee of privacy.

"I told the boy with the desk nearest to here to tell people this room was occupied, and to use another."

She made a disapproving noise. "What if someone has important training to do?"

"They'll probably do it in the courtyard." He bent closer to her lips.

"What did you think of my hand-to-hand skills? We should review the training." She licked her lips.

"You were excellent. I'm very happy with the training, and I'm very happy to be here with you now." He murmured the last bit in her ear.

"But what about your mother?"

"You'll be fine with her, Nanao-chan. I told you, she'll like you." He shifted his head to see her eyes. "I'll confess that my mother isn't on my mind at the moment." His fingers stroked her collarbone.

"That was the point of the training, wasn't it? Preparation for meeting your mother?"

"That was the point, but now I'm alone with my lovely Nanao-chan, and your scent is sweet cherry blossoms, and I want you to kiss me."

"You are not taking this visit to your family as seriously as I am." She frowned at him.

"I am taking the marriage practice seriously, and I'm being serious with you, Nanao-chan. But my family will not impact what's between you and me, so there's no need to worry about visiting them." He shifted to rest on his side next to her, his head propped up on his hand, his elbow supporting the weight. His other hand still drifted over her throat. He wondered if she'd let him part her uniform just a little, to expose more of her beautiful skin.

She gave him a level look. "Yet it seems probable that your wish to have this training is based on some past experience."

He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Yes, but that was a very long time ago. I was young and in retrospect some of my decisions might have been questionable."

She shifted to her side to face him, mimicking his posture. "You brought women to meet your family who were then forced into sparring with your mother? That is the impression you're giving me."

"Forced is the wrong word." He traced the line of her elegant neck to her shoulder. She permitted his touch, which was a thrill and a pleasure.

She raised an eyebrow. "What word would you prefer? Threatened? Persuaded? Coerced?"

"None of those. Challenged, perhaps. My mother has always been interested in seeing new styles of martial arts, and she was curious about the training that the women might have had." He hoped mentioning his previous lovers didn't make Nanao uncomfortable. Even though she was the one who'd asked, he wasn't certain that she wouldn't be bothered.

Nanao laughed. "Do you really believe your mother challenged those women to see their martial arts style?"

She was always clever, which pleased him. He affected an innocent look. "What are you suggesting, Nanao-chan?"

"Don't give me that face, I don't believe you. You know perfectly well that your mother wanted to take the measure of those women on terrain she'd chosen. So how did it go? Did any of them win?"

He hesitated. "No one ever accepted her challenge."

Nanao's expression grew somber. "I see. They weren't invested enough in you to go that far."

That stung a bit. "You're probably right, Nanao-chan."

She shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said it like that. It's entirely reasonable to refuse challenges from martial arts experts for reasons that could be entirely unrelated to a relationship."

"That may be, but a negative impression was left on both sides." He smiled, but he knew it didn't reach his eyes.

Her brows drew together.

A minute passed in the quiet, the sounds of the division muffled around them.

Nanao tapped his lips with her index finger to regain his attention. "You should give me a point."

"What?" He blinked at her.

"You should give me a point, because I'll accept your mother's challenge." She nodded crisply.

He pretended to consider it. "I haven't been using any sort of points system, Nanao-chan."

"So? If you were using points, you would obviously give one to me for accepting the challenge from your mother."

It was novel to have her pursuing his favor in this way. Shunsui liked it enormously. "I suppose if I were using points, I might give you one for that."

"Might?" She leaned over, poking him in the chest.

He fell easily onto his back, tugging her with him.

She lifted herself off his chest, resting her hands on either side of his head, half-kneeling over him. "I most certainly should be given a point."

Her determined face sent pleasure and pride through him. "Of course, Nanao-chan, you're right. I'll give you the point."

She smiled triumphantly. "Excellent. I accept."

"We should seal our agreement with a kiss."

She tipped her head to the side a little. "You want me to kiss you?"

"Yes. In celebration of the point." He puckered his lips.

She shook her head, amusement in her eyes. "Is it to seal our agreement on the point or to celebrate it?"

"Both. Or only one, if it wins a kiss from you." He grinned.

She gave him a disapproving look, her eyes still laughing. Her hand came up to the side of his face. "Do not imagine that I am condoning your behavior, regarding the training room or the stealing of kisses."

He smiled to hear her scold him in that prim voice while her hand caressed his cheek. "I wouldn't imagine anything like that, Nanao-chan."

Her lips came down on his slowly, her eyelids fluttering down. She kissed him, a little shy, and pulled back almost immediately. But when his mouth followed hers she welcomed his kiss. Her lips were moist and silky and she gasped when he nibbled her lower lip. He wanted to taste more of her, but she'd initiated the kiss and that was precious.

She broke the kiss, breathing shallowly. Distantly he could hear the sounds of the division, but they disappeared when she kissed him again, more boldly than the first time.

He brought his hand to the back of her neck, bringing her closer and shifting the angle of the kiss. She made a sound of pleasure in her throat that he echoed. It felt so good to be with her like this, with their bodies warm and touching in such delightful ways. He deepened the kiss, his tongue playful with hers, and she dug her hands into his hair.

She was still on her knees and he ran one hand down the curve of her spine to one cheek of her very lovely backside. It was too tempting—he squeezed and she made a surprised sound, pulling away from the kiss. "Anyone might come in," she whispered, glancing at the door.

He drew his hand away. "Nanao-chan? I'm sorry, was that too far?" He wanted to touch her, but he didn't want to do anything she wasn't ready to allow him.

She sat neatly on her heels beside him, licking her lips. "Was it too far? I don't think so, it's just that this isn't really the place, and I haven't—" she broke off, staring at her hands in her lap.

He sat up, curling one hand around the hands in her lap. "It's fine, Nanao-chan. This isn't the best place, you're right." They were still very new to the physical side of a romance and if she wanted to go slowly, he could do that. He kissed her forehead softly. "The bell rang for the end of the workday. Let's go home and cleanup. I'll make you dinner, Nanao-chan."

She nodded. "Thank you for the point." She touched his hand fleetingly.

He smiled. Her touches always gave him a spark of pleasure which never seemed to fade. He rose and offered her his hand with a flourish. She accepted his help in standing, and they walked together through the emptying division.

On to Chapter 9.

Note: Spoilers for the Death Save the Strawberry novel:

During the timeskip, Lisa opened a bookstore carrying a lot of adult material in Soul Society.


Jan. 16th, 2013 03:59 pm (UTC)
oh that's certainly a pity....OH PFFF. Why would you worry about changing rating? PFF PFF PFF. I'm sure that majority of your readers will welcome SAID SCENE with great entusiasm. REALLY. IT'S NOT A PROBLEM

That's what I like about your fics. You don't make her look like a wussie, worser than Hanataro and so on.

!! Can't wait for that!