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

Back to Chapter 8.

Chapter 1.

Nanao peeked out of the bathroom door. Shunsui was not in his bedroom. She slipped out of the doorway, carrying a neat bundle of clothes that needed washing.

Shunsui's house had four full baths, a number beyond what one man could need. It was not a particularly high number for nobles—she'd seen the inside of the Kuchiki house—but it was more than Nanao's family home had. At least, she thought it was; to her irritation, she couldn't specifically recall. When she'd been there for the match meetings, only one bath was regularly filled and heated.

She crept through Shunsui's bedroom, feeling like a trespasser, even though he'd insisted she use his private bath.

"It makes the most sense to share, Nanao-chan. If you used the guest bath during our marriage practice, it wouldn't be accurate. I'm sure that we would share a bath if we were married," he'd said.

She'd conceded the argument reluctantly and used his bath after he'd cleaned up from their sparring match.

"Lovely Nanao-chan can relax in the bath while I make dinner. That's very domestic, isn't it?"

"Yes," she'd agreed.

Now footsteps signaled Shunsui's arrival. "Did you have a nice bath, Nanao-chan?" he asked from the doorway of the bedroom.

She shifted the laundry from one arm to the other, uncomfortable. "Yes, thank you. Your bath is very pleasant."

His eyes went to the laundry. "You can put your things in with mine. The Fourth Division picks up from here tomorrow."

"No," she said immediately. "I can't, there's a form that must be filed to change the pickup location for a shinigami's laundry."

"There's paperwork for even such a small thing?" He looked bemused. He wore casual clothes in blue that revealed a wide triangle of chest.

She felt exposed in her yukata with her laundry in her hand. "There is a form for everything, you must know that by now." She brushed against his arm as she left the bedroom. This was much too intimate and ordinary at the same time.

"I prefer not to think about forms that closely." He followed her to the guest bedroom, strolling behind her quick steps. "Nanao-chan."

"Yes?" She stuffed the laundry into a bag in the closet, angling her back to him.

"I think you should move your things into the other bedroom, Nanao-chan. I emptied a closet for you."

She turned around, surprised. "What?"

"If we were married, we would share a bedroom, wouldn't we?" He walked closer until he was only a few steps away.

"Perhaps we would. But many nobles use separate bedrooms."

"That's true. But if we were having the kind of intimate, close marriage that you wanted, we'd share a bedroom, share a bed." He reached for her hand.

She let him take her hand, her heart speeding up. He wanted to share a bed now, during their marriage practice? "I don't think it's necessary to do that now." She pulled away, straightening her things in the closet.

"The marriage practice is the perfect time for taking the measure of our compatibility in many areas, including this one. There are so many important questions that can be answered by sharing a bedroom, Nanao-chan." He smiled at her.

How could he be so relaxed about something like this? Her heart was running as if it would break out of her chest. She'd kissed him twice today, but she'd overreacted when he'd touched her during their kiss. Surely he'd noticed? This was much too fast for her. Maybe he had this type of conversation with women all the time, but Nanao had never been in this position. She scowled, summoning up icy reserve. "There have to be reasonable limits to the marriage practice. Asking me to sleep with you is beyond those limits."

His brows rose. "Was making love the first thing you thought of when you thought of sharing a bedroom with me? Naughty Nanao-chan. I'm a little scandalized. Intrigued, but scandalized." He grinned.

"As if I'd believe I could scandalize you so easily. You know what you were implying with your suggestion. You wanted to sleep together and thought that it would be very informative." She crossed her arms under her breasts.

"It would be. We'd find out if one of us steals the blankets, or tosses and turns, or likes to cuddle in their sleep. Are you a cuddler, Nanao-chan?"

"I am not," she said decisively.

"You might discover unexpected desires for cuddling with me by sharing a bed."

"That is extremely unlikely. I don't believe that it's necessary to measure our ability to share a bed during the marriage practice. We could always have separate beds in the same room, if we aren't capable of sharing."

"Separate beds aren't very close or intimate, Nanao-chan." He closed the distance between them, rubbing her tense shoulders.

She frowned. Sharing a bed seemed like too much. But she did genuinely want a close relationship with him. "Given the circumstances, perhaps we can reach a compromise. If it was a large bed, with a lot of space between us, so that we could each maintain our own comfortable distance, we could share."

He smiled. "As it happens, my bed is very large. I hope you'll be comfortable in it with me."

"You will not attempt to cuddle with me without my consent. If you do that, or if you steal the blankets, I'll correct your behavior swiftly and with any necessary force." She raised her brow.

He laughed. "Any necessary force, Nanao-chan? What kind of force do you like to use in bed?"

"You don't want to find out," she said crisply.

He leaned in, murmuring in her ear. "Fiery Nanao-chan. I'm dying to find out."

"If you find out, you may actually die."

"I think our marriage practice is going remarkably well, don't you?" he asked, grinning widely.

"That is an odd position to take, since one of us may not survive the night." But it was so like him, to savor the dance between them, even when it was laced with knives.

"You have to take some risks to win great rewards."

'She glanced away. Did he think her a great reward? This marriage would cost him—not just in money, but possibly scandal in his social circle, disapproval of his family, sanctions from the Central 46—he could pay a high price for a marriage with Nanao. Was it worth that much to him?

"Nanao-chan." She turned her eyes back at him when he stroked her cheek. He knew the line of her thoughts; she could see it in the unexpected seriousness of his eyes. His voice was gentle when he spoke. "How are you finding the marriage practice, sweetheart?"

She took a relieved breath. He hadn't answered her unspoken question with words, but his question had an answer echoing under it. It's worth that much. I want to go on with you. She took that answer seriously, and she would take his question seriously, too. "I am finding certain aspects of the marriage practice to be challenging."

He kissed her temple tenderly. "I know. Getting closer, especially with the pressure of the match meetings, could be stressful. But I don't want you to worry about our physical relationship."

"What do you mean?"

"Our physical relationship doesn't have to be dictated by the timeline of the matchmaker or the arranged marriage. If we do get engaged and married, I want you to be comfortable with me in bed. I want you to make love with me because it's what you want, not because of an arbitrary deadline imposed on our relationship by your family's financial situation. Do you understand, Nanao-chan?"

"You want to separate the progress of the matchmaking from our physical relationship with each other." She met his eyes and was drawn in by the warmth there. Even when he was the biggest stress in her life, he was also the biggest comfort.

"Yes. The status of our relationship might change to society, but our personal relationship, our closeness—that's between us—and we decide how and when to move forward. You can decide, Nanao-chan."

She liked that. She would have control over some aspects of their relationship, even if they did marry quickly because of the Ise estate's needs. It was a reassuring idea. She wanted to reciprocate for his frankness with some of her own. "I'm going to be difficult for you, in many different aspects of this relationship." She lightened her tone. "And I may yet hit you with a fireball kidō in bed if you steal the blankets."

"That's one way to keep things hot." He laughed, low and rich. "We can be difficult for each other. But you're delightful to me, Nanao-chan. I wouldn't trade any of it."

"Under the circumstances, it would be acceptable to move my things into your bedroom as an exercise in the marriage practice," she said.

He grinned. "I'd love to help move Nanao-chan's delicate undergarments."

She swung the bag of laundry at his chest. "Absolutely not."

They moved her clothes into the empty closet in his bedroom, which smelled strongly of wood, likely from whatever chests he'd stored there before.

"When did you empty this closet?" she asked, after her clothes were arranged to her satisfaction.

"After the match meeting." He'd hesitated, as if he was concerned that she would find that presumptuous.

"That was prudent, making arrangements in advance. It would have been disconcerting to be invited to share, only to discover that no space was available to me."

"Prudence? That's a virtue you've rarely suggested I have." He grinned.

"You've rarely demonstrated it." She raised an eyebrow at him, closing the closet and moving out of the bedroom.

"You're prudent enough for both of us, Nanao-chan." He followed her out into his large, airy living space. "Do you want to eat?"

"Yes, thank you."

She relaxed while eating dinner with him. He was a good conversationalist, and his food was delicious. She could see them doing this in the future, sitting at the table and eating meals. Some of the aspects of the marriage practice were a stretch for her, but this was easy and comfortable.

After dinner Nanao read a book on a cushion Shunsui set out for her on the porch by the light of a lamp he brought out for her. He lounged next to her, looking at the garden. Sitting with him was also easy and relaxed, though her tension rose as the hour grew late and bed approached.

She closed the book, gripping it in her hands.

"Do you want to go to sleep, Nanao-chan?"

"Yes. I go to bed a bit earlier than you do, I believe." She rose and nodded to him, as if she would be going to bed alone. It would be easier that way, if he came in later, when she was already asleep.

"I'll go to bed now too, Nanao-chan." He stood, bringing the lamp inside.

She went into the bedroom while he was still bringing cushions into the house. Her nerves tingled throughout her body, but she prepared for sleep and then hesitated at the large bed. What if he preferred a certain side?

But she didn't want to be stuck here staring at the bed when he came in, that would be much too awkward. She got into bed and lay on her side, facing the window. Shunsui walked into the bedroom, preparing for bed. She listened to his sounds with her eyes closed.

"Do you want more pillows or blankets, Nanao-chan?" he asked from the vicinity of his closet.

"No, thank you." She kept her eyes closed.

He turned out the lights and got into bed. "Are you comfortable?"

"Yes," she lied. Her discomfort wasn't caused by the bed, which was deeply cushioned and quite decadent, and there was nothing he could do short of removing himself from the bed that would make her more comfortable. "Do you prefer a certain side?"

"No, this is fine. Whatever you prefer, Nanao-chan."

What she would prefer would be to be in her quarters some distance away. She couldn't see how this could be any more awkward.

His hand slid over her waist, resting easily on the curve of her hip. He slid closer, until his chest pressed against her back. She stiffened into a wall of tense muscles.

"I don't want to cuddle," she said, her face burning in the dark. He couldn't see her—she'd chosen to face away from his side of the bed—but he retreated promptly away from her body.

"I don't think that went as far as cuddling. But I'm sorry, Nanao-chan. I don't want you to be uncomfortable. I thought we might get used to each other slowly."

She squeezed her eyes shut. This was too embarrassing. The only way this could be worse would be if he knew she didn't have any experience with this type of thing. "We talked about this already."

"I know. Nanao-chan, I'm not sure what your other experiences with men may have been like, but I want you to be at ease with me when we're together. This is about developing intimacy with each other, not just about making love." His tone was serious.

"Those are very different things." But she wasn't really familiar with either.

"I know. And this situation is unusual with the marriage practice and the matchmaking, but it's not only new for you. I've never tried to develop a relationship under circumstances like these, either. And if we marry, we'll both be novices at that. You're not alone, Nanao-chan."

She exhaled on a long sigh. It was sweet of him to try and reassure her. She was a little touched that he would show vulnerability to give her that reassurance. She turned over on her other side, facing him. "You rarely admit to being a novice at anything."

His lips curved up. "In most situations, if I said something like that, it would be a lie."

She remembered the image of him crossing a wide gulf of experience in a fundoshi and hiking boots and smiled. He was a man who'd lived long and lived richly. But the two of them were in this strange situation together now, both of them on new ground. "Maybe we can try sleeping like that tomorrow. I'd prefer this to go slowly. Can we do that?"

"Of course, sweetheart." His eyes were lit with warmth and surprised pleasure in the moonlight. "I don't want Nanao-chan to feel obliged to light the bed on fire. It's a much better metaphor than a reality."

"Now that would be really uncomfortable." She smiled. Her fingers brushed his in a bare touch, and he grasped her hand and squeezed it.

She flipped over onto her other side, facing away from him again. "Good night, Shunsui."

"Good night, Nanao-chan."

She couldn't sleep. Minutes or hours had passed—she wasn't sure which—but despite her weariness, her mind wouldn't stop turning. Nanao rolled over to her side, facing him. "Shunsui? Are you asleep?" she whispered, almost soundless.

His eyes opened immediately. "I'm awake, Nanao-chan." He sounded alert, but she wasn't sure if she'd woken him or not; he had the ability of an experienced soldier to wake up quickly in emergencies.

"I was wondering—" She hesitated. What she wanted to ask was a very personal question that stuck in her throat. It was possible that she would hate his answer, so should she really ask him?

"What is it? I want you to ask anything that you want to know, Nanao-chan."

"I'm not sure that I want to know," she said, biting her lip. "Forget that I said anything."

"That kind of question, is it? Ask me, and I'll answer carefully." He smiled, his teeth gleaming white in the unlit room.

"You've never used a matchmaker before?" she asked, trying to find a good approach.

"No, I haven't." He waited for her real question, watching her intently.

"Then you've probably never had a file like mine, full of possible matches. Even so, you must have had an idea of what you'd want in a wife, maybe a list like mine. But you haven't been married, so—have you ever been close to marriage before?" Even these more direct questions were still dancing around her real question.

He propped up his head on his hand, his elbow on his pillow. "I've never been married. Have I been close? I would say no; I don't know if the women I've been involved with would agree completely." There was a sadness to his smile. She'd seen him look like that many times before.

"Did those women not match your list?"

"I don't have a list in the way that you mean. There are things I would like to do with my wife, qualities that I hope my wife might have, but there aren't a lot of absolutes for me."

She propped her head up in an imitation of his posture. "What are your absolutes? As you know, mine are currently: must have money, give back rubs, and make good tea." She smiled to lighten the mood.

"What are my absolutes?" He rubbed his chin, considering. "When I was a young man living on my family's estate, the women I met were either nobles or in service to my family. The noble ladies were demure, and it was as if they'd been trained not to show passion for anything. I found them beautiful, but I couldn't imagine marrying one of them. They were like ornaments—lovely to look at but I'd always have to be careful with them. The servants and the workers on the estate were also very demure, for different reasons. They were deferential to my perceived authority. If I'd pursued a relationship with one of them, she would have spent all of her time trying to please me."

"You don't want to be pleased by your wife?" Nanao tilted her head at him.

"I don't want to be served by my wife. There's a difference. In the Gotei 13, the women were varied and interesting. Soldiers and scholars. But I became a Captain early, and the deference problem arose again with some women."

"I am your direct subordinate at the Eighth." Nanao frowned.

"To call you deferential or demure would do you no justice, Nanao-chan. You manage the daily operations of the division, and you manage me, which is no small task. If you shrank from conflict or always ceded to my wishes, you'd never be able to keep the Eighth working."

"It is a difficult job at times," she admitted, smiling slightly.

"I know it. I can be a difficult man, Nanao-chan. What I need in a wife is not any specific thing like your list. What I need is someone who can stand to live with me. I want someone strong and lovely, someone serene in certain settings when appropriateness is necessary, but honest with me when we leave those settings. I want you, Nanao-chan."

She pushed up, leaning forward with her weight on her hands. "I've been unfair to you."

His eyes widened. "What?"

"I didn't consider that you should also be satisfied of our compatibility during our marriage practice." Her brows drew together.

He smiled. "I'm already satisfied that we're compatible, Nanao-chan."

She shook her head. "You said you have things that you want to do with your wife. We should do those things and make sure that this marriage would be suitable for you."

His hand came up to cup her cheek. "You're really sweet, Nanao-chan."

She frowned at him. "It's the practical, reasonable thing to do. Marriage is important."

"Yes, it is." He sat up to cradle her face in his hands. "When do you want to start?" His voice was an invitation, dark silk over her skin. He shifted closer, his head tilting to kiss her.

She swallowed and stopped his kiss from reaching her, turning her head slightly. "Tomorrow. It's very late now."

He smiled and kissed her hand. If he was disappointed that she didn't take his invitation, it didn't show. "You should get some rest." He dropped his hands, watching her resettle onto her side of the bed. "Good night, Nanao-chan." She saw him fall back on his pillow out of the corner of her eye.

"Good night."

On to Chapter 10.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2013 01:41 pm (UTC)
Moving forward with everything a little~

//was this chapter shorter than usual or am I seeing things?//

I want Shun's motheeer!
Jan. 18th, 2013 03:11 pm (UTC)
It's a bit shorter, yeah--the chapters in this story are usually between 3-5k words, and this one is only around 3k words. It's also not a super exciting one, I think. It's always a little bit hard to decide where to split a chapter. Towards the end of Trials I think chapters just got longer and longer so I wouldn't have to decide where to split them. XD

But the next chapter is in the ~5k word range, and has them waking up together, Shunsui's vision of romance with his wife, and Nanao opening up more on some difficult topics. ^_^
Jan. 18th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC)
Well atleast you didn't leave it with a cliff at the end.... >> Those are pretty annoying imo.

YAY! Nanao opening up on anything is going to be interesting!! *3* looking forward to that :D
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )