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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.

Back to Chapter 15.

Chapter 1.

Nanao slept later than usual, waking at the bell sound of her phone. She sat up in bed, squinting at the message on the screen.

"What is it?" Shunsui asked, his large hand rubbing lazy circles on her back.

"Kasumi-bāchan. She wants to finalize the meeting with the matchmaker for tomorrow afternoon." She leaned over and grasped her glasses, putting them on.

Shunsui sat up behind her. "What do you want to do?"

"We should have the meeting with the matchmaker. Kasumi-bāchan wants me to travel down tonight to review our options. Then tomorrow—tomorrow we'll meet with you." Her throat felt tight. Marriage was an enormous step, and the thought of taking that leap with anyone was enough to make her stomach roil. With Shunsui marriage seemed even more significant and harder somehow.

He kissed the curves of her neck and shoulder, running his hand down her arm soothingly. "Don't worry, Nanao-chan. We can do this in any way you prefer. The inside of our relationship doesn't have to be what the world thinks it is or should be on the outside. You have control over what's between us, I promise."

"Marriage is important," she whispered. "It's—"

"It's what, Nanao-chan?"

She shook her head.

"Is it a little scary, Nanao-chan?"

"I didn't say that," she said, glancing down at her phone.

He pulled her back against his chest, his arms banded around her middle. "Are you frightened of me?"

"Ridiculous. No."

He kissed her cheek. "Are you frightened of your great-aunt or my mother?"

"A little, but I believe that is an entirely appropriate reaction."

He chuckled. "You're right about that. They are a little scary. But the most important people in a marriage are the ones bound by it. You and me, Nanao-chan. As long as we're together in this, we can conquer anything frightening."

She leaned back against him for several moments, letting the certainty of his voice sink into her. "You aren't ever frightened by me?" She turned her head, narrowing her eyes at him.

"I am deeply frightened by you on occasions when you want me to be, Nanao-chan." He grinned.

"Liar." She tapped his cheek with her fingertips, an imitation slap. The phone trilled again, Kasumi pressing for an answer. Nanao sent her a brief reply, confirming all plans.

"Let's go back to sleep for a while, Nanao-chan. We got back very late last night, you must still be tired."

Nanao was much too awake to return to sleep after the jolt of anxiety Kasumi's message had given her. "I can't, I have a lot that I need to do today. You go back to sleep and I'll see you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" he asked, surprised.

"I have a lot to do today. I need to do some work at the office, and I want to see Yadōmaru-sempai before I travel to the estate." She shifted to stand, turning to face him. He sat on the bed, disheveled and barely decent. His clothes seemed determined to abandon him much of the time.

He took her hand. "If you want to talk to me about your visit with Lisa-chan, please send me a message or come find me. I'm sure you're great-aunt would forgive a little tardiness."

"Kasumi-bāchan places a high value on promptness," Nanao said, but smiled. She felt better about her recruitment than she had before, but Shunsui would be there for her if she needed him.

"I'll come back to the Ise Estate with you, if you're late. I can make whatever apologies your great-aunt wants."

Nanao shook her head. "That would ruin all her plans. Don't you know that she wants to be alone with me to make sure that I have all the necessary strategies and techniques to win you over tomorrow?"

"She's got it all wrong. I'm the one trying to win lovely Nanao-chan's favor. Sweet, cute, lovely, clever Nanao-chan." He kissed her hand and trailed up her arm, punctuating his words with loud kisses.

"Stop that," she said, but she was happy that he never used the financial needs of her family as a lever in their relationship. She bent at the waist to kiss him, tipping his head back with a hand in his hair.


Her mouth hovered over his. "Everyone's going to try very hard to impress you tomorrow." She bit her lip. It was too difficult to ask, but he only smiled.

"Don't worry, Nanao-chan, I'll be very impressed. I'll be flowery in my praise for everything."

"You don't have to go that far," she said, but kissed him.

His hands cradled her face. "Come back to bed for a little while, Nanao-chan."

"Not today," she whispered, her breathing uneven and her lips tingling. She stepped away from him to get ready for the day. He lay back in the bed, watching her fuss in the closet and when she emerged from the bathroom, dressed for work.

"Hey, Nanao-chan." He sat up in bed.

She approached the bed. "Yes?"

He took her hand, clasping her fingers lightly in his and bringing her hand to his mouth. "Think of me." He kissed her hand.

Her lips turned up. His eyes were serious and his lips soft on her skin. "You want to monopolize my attention even when you're not there. But I think of you often already."

He smiled slowly, his eyes gleaming. "Do you?"

"Yes, I think about whether you're doing your work, or where you might be hiding, or if you've spent too much of the division budget on liquor—"

He chuckled. "That isn't really what I meant, but I'll take it." His mouth tracked to her palm, kissing it. "I'll see you later, Nanao-chan."

"I'll see you at the Ise estate, Shunsui." She left his house with a quick flash step.

At the office she blazed through her new paperwork, dropping a neat pile on Shunsui's desk for his approval. Everything at the Eighth in order, she went to the noodle shop and got takeout for two before heading to the Rukongai.

She hesitated outside her destination. A shop commonly referred to as a porn palace was an unlikely place to find Nanao, and it made her smile. She'd actually spent several enjoyable afternoons here on her days off. This visit was more important than most, though.

She entered quickly, glancing around. "Yadōmaru-sempai?" she called, not seeing anyone.

Lisa emerged from a back room, a stack of books in her arms. "Nanao-chan, it's good to see you, come in. This isn't the usual day for your visit."

Nanao pushed her glasses up. "No, I wanted to discuss something with you. I brought lunch." She held up the bag from the noodle shop.

Lisa set the books down on an empty shelf. She studied Nanao's face for a moment. "Let me lock up, and we'll have lunch."

"You don't have to do that," Nanao said, but she was glad that Lisa understood this was something important and private.

They sat at a table in the back room, Lisa preparing some tea while Nanao laid out the takeout.

"Was that new stock you were putting away?" Nanao asked.

"Yes, some interesting things. I don't think any of those books would strike you, but there are a few new ones I think you'd like." Lisa handed her a tea cup.

"Thank you. Which new books do you think I'd like?" Nanao sipped her tea, relaxing by degrees at the small talk.

Lisa told her about business and various books and magazines while they ate. After they finished, she poured fresh tea for both of them. "What brings you here on a workday, Nanao-chan? I doubt it was eagerness at the new stock."

"No. I have something to tell you." Nanao wrapped her hands around her tea cup. "My family has recently asked me to consider an arranged marriage."

"An arranged marriage? For reasons related to nobility or to money?" Lisa was perceptive, jumping immediately to the main issues.

"Both, really."

"That's tough. If it was only money, there are other solutions. But once the nobility is involved, that seems to change," Lisa said.

Nanao nodded. "Yes. Nobility has its own restrictions which limit my family's options. So I agreed to consider the arranged marriage, and we engaged the services of a matchmaker."

"And now you've found a match?" Lisa asked. "I'm curious. What kind of man has drawn your interest, Nanao-chan?"

Nanao hesitated before plunging ahead. "I did have some profiles from the matchmaker, however, when Captain Kyōraku found out, he offered himself as a possible candidate."

"He wanted to rescue you? It would fit with his romantic notions." Lisa raised an eyebrow.

"I initially thought so, but he denied it. He says his motivations are selfish."

"He wants you for himself." Lisa narrowed her eyes.

"That would be a fair description of his explanation, yes."

"You're going to marry him," Lisa said, her voice hard with certainty.

"I didn't say that," Nanao protested.

"It's all over your face, Nanao-chan."

"He is a potential match that I am considering very seriously. He is the only match that I am considering," Nanao added, wanting to be honest.

Lisa leaned forward. "You understand that Kyōraku isn't pretending with those romantic tendencies, right? He really wants to go dancing and picnicking and cuddle. His interest in those things isn't just an act. He's somewhat clingy, by my standards, and he wants a lot from his lover."

Nanao smiled. "He's been complaining a little that he hasn't been able to get any ringing endorsements from the women in his life."

Lisa snorted. "Maybe he should reflect on why that's the case instead of complaining about it. Don't get me wrong, Nanao-chan, I'm sure he's good in bed, but the concepts of polite distance between lovers or an open relationship are not things he accepts in his personal relationships. I'm sure he understands them, but they aren't things he'll do."

Something about her phrasing struck Nanao. "You were never involved with him in a romantic way?"

"No. He's really not my type. Given his personality and mine, what we would have wanted was too different," Lisa said.

"I see." Nanao had always assumed, on some level, that Shunsui had been in a romantic relationship with Lisa, but never asked either of them, as it wasn't her place. Knowing that he hadn't had a relationship like that with Lisa was something of a relief.

"Certainly he does have good points, Nanao-chan. He's loyal and generous and exceedingly intelligent. If you marry him those traits would be more important than if you were just sleeping with him."

"Yes. Those other things you said about him are true, too, but they aren't things that I consider to be negatives, really." Nanao remembered the romantic lunch picnic and holding hands with him under the stars the other night.

Lisa shrugged. "That's a difference in personal taste, I suppose. He'll expect fidelity, you know."

"I would also expect that, so it's fine."

Lisa leaned her chin on her hand. "Monogamy is pretty boring to me in the long term, and there's nothing so long term as marriage. But if he's a good lover, and you're happy with him, then it'll be fine for you, probably."

Nanao glanced down at her tea.

Lisa tilted her head. "He is a good lover, isn't he, Nanao-chan?"

"We haven't moved into a physical relationship of that kind yet," Nanao admitted.

Lisa raised an eyebrow. "No? I confess that I'm surprised that either of you would seriously consider marriage without having assured yourselves of sexual compatibility. It's very important, Nanao-chan."

"This is a bit personal, but there are certain behavioral standards applied to women of noble birth, and I've never had any compelling reason to put aside those standards. It just seemed like too much trouble—if I was involved with someone from work, there were so many things that could go wrong, and if it became public, it could damage my family's social standing. Given how delicate our social position is currently, it didn't seem like a risk worth taking."

Lisa's eyebrow went higher. "So you've never had a lover? Wow."

"You don't have to look so shocked," Nanao snapped.

"What? Of course I'm surprised, this is a rare thing these days, isn't it? Well, maybe not among nobles in Seireitei, but it's not like I'm closely acquainted with a lot of noble women. I've been in the Living World for a long time, and these ideas are antiquated there." Lisa shrugged.

"I understand that." Nanao ran her fingertip in circles along the rim of her teacup. She smiled wryly. "I'm an antique."

"You're not old enough to be an antique, Nanao-chan. Anyway, this isn't a problem, it's just unusual. What did Kyōraku say about it?"

"It's not something we've discussed."

"You haven't told him? Hmm." Lisa leaned back on her hands. "There are a lot of different things you could do."

"Like what?" Nanao adjusted her glasses.

"Well, you wouldn't really be interested in most of my solutions, I think, since you were into the monogamy and the romantic things earlier. Which is why I don't think this is actually a problem for you at all."

"Why is it not a problem?"

"Whether you regard it as a positive trait or not, Kyōraku is genuinely a romantic person. So he's going to think in romantic terms, and find it special and sweet and crap like that, when he's your first lover and you're getting married. So you could just go along with it, if you were fine with his romantic framing."

"I could just not tell him at all," Nanao said.

"Don't do that. You should be honest with the people you have sex with when it's about things that directly impact them. Kyōraku will try to have a good experience with you if you tell him, but if you don't and then have a bad experience, he'll feel terrible about that even if it doesn't really bother you. You want to have a good relationship with him and have good sex with him? Be honest."

"You're right, Yadōmaru-sempai. It would be best to tell him." She considered for a moment. "Would you just say something like that over dinner?"

"Say it in bed. That's the most natural place for that kind of confession, and it'll be dark enough to hide your blush." One corner of Lisa's mouth lifted in a smirk.

Nanao narrowed her eyes. "Why do you assume I would blush?"

"Nanao-chan, you're blushing now. You're a blusher. I'm sure Kyōraku finds it really cute." Her eyes gleamed with amusement.

"If you try to pinch my cheeks, I may throw a kidō at you."

Lisa laughed. "You're too much fun to tease, Nanao-chan."

"So I've been told. But I've also been told that my retribution can be very impressive."

"I don't doubt that. You learned from me, didn't you?" Lisa drank her tea and put the cup down with a clang. "Do you want books?"

Nanao blinked at the abrupt change of subject. "Books?"

"Sex books. Relevant ones for your experience, and maybe a few for later, when you're comfortable with trying things out for fun." Lisa grinned.

"If you have some books that you think would be good for me, I'm interested. Thank you, Yadōmaru-sempai." Lisa did undoubtedly know a lot about sex, since she had a bookstore mostly devoted to it.

Lisa rubbed her hands together, looking a little gleeful. "Come with me."

Nanao followed her into the main room of the bookstore as Lisa darted along between different shelves, selecting books.

"Do you want erotica?" Lisa asked.

"Is it realistic?"

"Not particularly. We'll skip it for now. You can always get more books later." Lisa ran her fingers along the spines of the books. "Do you want some manual-style books?"

"I think I'd prefer that."

Lisa nodded, handing a book to Nanao. She selected two more from the shelf quickly. "These are for your general knowledge. I'm sure you have an excellent grasp of anatomy and all of the basics already, but it never hurts to refresh yourself."

"All right." Nanao flipped through the book on top. "These position diagrams look very challenging. I don't think my spine will bend that way." Her brows drew together, her head tipping to the side.

"It's a very ambitious book, but it's good to aim high, even if you can't quite get there." Lisa glanced at the page. "It would work with a table, I think."

"I suppose so," Nanao said, a bit dubious.

They worked through an exhaustive tour of the bookstore, with Nanao's pile growing to six books, some of them with content she wasn't sure she'd actually be interested in, but she appreciated Lisa's effort to help her. She sat down in a high-backed chair while Lisa flipped through a rack of magazines.

"I have some bridal ones, if you'd like those, Nanao-chan."

"Oh—all right. I haven't given any thought to what would be involved in an actual wedding."

Lisa grabbed a few magazines. "Honestly, since you're both nobles, I don't know that you actually would have a lot of say in what happens, so maybe you don't have to worry about it too much."

"That's true, there could be traditions we'd be expected to carry out, a specific shrine we'd be expected to use, a particular format for the ceremony we'd have to do." Nanao wasn't too bothered by this idea; she'd spent very little of her time imaging a wedding. She accepted the magazines from Lisa anyway. They might be fun to flip through and Rangiku might like them.

Lisa sat down across from Nanao. "You're getting married, Nanao-chan," she said quietly, and there was more sentiment in her eyes than Nanao had seen before.

"Maybe," Nanao hedged.

Lisa shook her head. "Can you imagine marrying anyone else now?"

Nanao shook her head very slightly.

"Then you're getting married. And to that fool. I bet he can't believe his luck."

"He's been trying very hard to impress me." Nanao's lips curved up.

"I shudder at the thought. Chocolates and poems and candles and all that crap, right?" Lisa made a face.

Nanao laughed, nodding. "It's very sweet, actually."

"It is. That's why I'm not interested in it."

"I don't mind. I wouldn't say I'm a particularly romantic person, but when it's him, I don't mind." Nanao's voice softened unintentionally.

"Nanao-chan is all grown up," Lisa said, wistfulness leaking into the words.

"Yes, but it doesn't mean things have to change."

Lisa shook her head. "They should change. You're an adult, Nanao-chan, and our relationship should reflect that. You're still calling me Yadōmaru-sempai while I call you Nanao-chan. But if we're friends and equals, you should use my name. Call me Lisa from now on, okay?"

Nanao hesitated. "I'll have to practice. Lisa-san."

"We'll work on it. Nanao-san," Lisa said.

Nanao shook her head. "No, that's not right somehow. Please continue to call me Nanao-chan. I'm used to that."

"If that's what you like, Nanao-chan. But please call me Lisa. I think that sounds just right."

Nanao smiled, resting her hand on the pile of books and magazines. "Can I ask you something?"

"Anything." Lisa meant that, Nanao knew. Her honesty could be painful sometimes, and Nanao hoped that this was not one of those occasions.

"The other day I was thinking about recruitment, and about my recruitment as a top selection to the Eighth. I know that I couldn't have been the best candidate that you saw that day. But you selected me for the Eighth Division anyway. I asked Captain Kyōraku, but he didn't know why you chose me."

Lisa narrowed her eyes. "This is important to you."

"Yes. Please be honest with me, I need to know." Nanao's hands clasped each other in her lap.

"You say you weren't the best candidate that I saw, but you must know by now that people are more than statistics on a piece of paper, that recruitment is complicated by many factors. Personality, intelligence, potential, charisma—there are a lot of things that influence a decision like recruitment."

"Yes, now that I've been doing recruitment myself for the Eighth, I've come to understand those things," Nanao said.

Lisa nodded. "Then you understand. When you say you weren't the best candidate, technically that's correct, based on the papers for each candidate, but you were the best candidate for the Eighth Division that year, I'm certain. You were ranked very highly in kidō for your age, and you could only improve even more as you matured. And you were interested, asking questions, curious—that's important, too."

"Do you really think I was the best candidate?" Nanao asked. She couldn't quite believe that.

"You were the best candidate for the Eighth Division. That specificity is important. I saw that you'd fit in there and that you could grow powerful there. I think the rightness of my choice has been borne out by time, hasn't it? You're now the Vice Captain of the Eighth." Lisa leaned back in her chair.

"That's why, then? Because I had potential?"

Lisa glanced away and then back at her squarely. "When I saw you with that fat book and those questions and earnestness, it reminded me a little of myself when I was young. I saw something in you that I thought I could nurture. I wasn't able to mentor you for as long as I would have liked, but I think you grew up really well, Nanao-chan. I'm glad I chose you."

Nanao swept her eyelids down to cover the unexpected dampness of her eyes. "Thank you. It means a great deal to me to hear that from you." She was surprised to feel Lisa's arms around her in a loose hug.

"Kyōraku is better with this kind of behavior than I am, but that doesn't mean I can't do it at all," Lisa murmured.

Nanao laughed, returning the hug, a little awkward, but happy. "If we get married, will you come?"

"Of course. A wedding is a good place to pick up people and find new customers." Lisa stepped back from the hug, nodding.

Nanao laughed again. "Multi-tasking is a good way to maximize your gain from attending, I suppose."

Lisa shrugged. "I'll congratulate you and Kyōraku, and then it's just a normal party, isn't it?"

"It'll be a good party, if Shunsui has anything to say about it. I think we'll have an engagement party as well—he'd mentioned something about that, but I wasn't listening too closely—he likes parties, so I'll leave that to him." Nanao shook her head at the thought.

"He got you to use his name, bare like that? It's a bit impressive. Nanao-chan is so polite."

"His persistence is really remarkable. And if we were to get married, it would be fine to use his name." She bit her lip.

"Don't get nervous. Getting married is a big party and then the monotony of eternity with one person, that's all," Lisa said easily.

"You make it sound so appealing." Nanao raised an eyebrow.

"It's not for me, Nanao-chan. I'm happy for you if this is what you want, but it's a little too straight and narrow for me."

"I understand. It's not for everyone. I wasn't sure that marriage was something I could do, but—I think it would be all right, if it's him."

"You love him?" Lisa asked.

"What?" Nanao's mouth fell open, surprised.

"With the way you talk about him, I wondered."

Nanao frowned. "Emotions are not a solid basis for a lasting relationship. Common interests, commitment to each other, clear and defined sets of expectations for each person: those are the things that form strong foundations for relationships."

"Sure. Those are important things, good things to base a relationship on." Lisa leaned forward. "It would be all right if you did love him, though. Reason is not the most important thing in the world. Sometimes things that don't make rational sense are important and worthwhile, too. Haven't you ever been curious about love?"

Nanao looked away. "Maybe, but I don't know about that."

"That's fine, Nanao-chan. Nobody expects you to know everything. Don't look so worried."

Nanao smoothed the cover of the magazine on top of her stack. "I'm a little worried about getting married," she confessed.

Lisa smiled. "It's a big change and something entirely new for you. You'll have to keep me updated about how it goes. I'm very interested to see what happens."

Nanao nodded. "I can do that."

They talked a bit more on other things, and then Lisa took Nanao's book stack to bag up for her. "Can you flip the sign to Open for me?" Lisa asked.

"Yes, of course." Nanao went to the front of the store to turn the sign over. When she took the bag of books from Lisa it felt a bit heavier than before, but maybe that was just dread at the thought of hauling all of these sex books through Seireitei to her quarters. It had "potential disaster" written all over it.

But the trip was uneventful, and Nanao was unpacking the books within twenty minutes of leaving Lisa's shop. On the bottom of the bag there was an extra book, one Nanao hadn't seen before.

Love: A Practical Manual was a small book with a plain white cover. Nanao smiled at the book, shaking her head. Even if they were both adults and friends now, Lisa hadn't entirely given up her role as mentor, it seemed.

She opened the book, finding a note from Lisa on the first page. Here's something to explore your curiosity about love. It never hurts to have more information, does it? -Lisa

Nanao tucked the book into her overnight case for the Ise estate trip even though she was sure that it contained nothing practical at all.

On to Chapter 17.


Apr. 20th, 2013 03:12 am (UTC)
But it would be a PLEASURE to re-read it again! I re-read this story already, hehe. Please don't worry for your readers' sake on that score. :)

I'm just glad you're okay. No rush at all on those chapters. I'm sorry if it seemed like I was a bit demanding. I just wanted to speak my appreciation not just for your writing (which is of course wonderful and I wish this fandom was bigger so more people could appreciate it) but also for your consideration of your readers.

Thank you again and I look forward to the rest. :) :) :)
May. 19th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
It's not demanding at all, it's always fine to ask. Don't worry about that. ^_^

The edits are up now, so at least that's done. It was longer than I expected to finish them and get them all up. But hopefully I can get this story wrapped up fairly soon!

Thanks for reading! ^_^