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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.

Note: My apologies in getting the chapter out. ^_^; It ended up being so long that I've split it into two chapters. I hope people enjoy reading it! Thanks for your reviews and comments, I appreciate them. Thank you to everyone for reading!

He was wrong.

Kasumi was quietly thrilled when they returned from the garden and announced their intention to marry. She asked that Nanao stay overnight to discuss the arrangements, and Nanao could hardly refuse with an excuse about needing to practice marriage with Shunsui. Instead she bid him a polite goodnight at the door of the Ise main house. He kissed her hand with a flourish and left with a rueful smile.

Besides, she realized with a surprising pang of regret, marriage practice was over now. Soon they would begin an actual marriage. She pressed a hand to her queasy stomach.

"Nanao-chan? Are you listening to me? Do you think the Kyōraku family will find six weeks from now to be an acceptable date for the wedding?" Kasumi asked.

"That's very soon, isn't it?" Nanao looked up from her tea at Kasumi. The two of them were alone in the room they'd held the match meetings in. The hour was late, and Nanao felt weariness weighing her down.

"It is, but the arrangements can be made quickly if we work at it, and I would like to have this settled. I know that this is a lot to ask of you, but everyone will breathe more easily when you're married and we can implement your development plans for the estate."

"Six weeks will be fine." Shunsui was unlikely to object and he would smooth things over with his family if they were concerned by the haste.

"Excellent. Are you going to have any attendants? Young people are fond of having them, I believe. It said so in the wedding magazines you brought."

"Attendants? Won't the wedding most likely be a traditional one at a shrine?"

"Yes, almost certainly. Captain Kyōraku's family undoubtedly has a shrine they would favor, and we will defer to their traditions in this case. But this wedding is also yours. I want you to have some choices in this, narrow as the space between traditions and the requirements of our nobility may be. Do you want attendants, Nanao-chan?" Kasumi's lips pressed together in a worried line.

Nanao considered that. Kasumi needed her to accept a limited amount of control over a significant event in her life. The part of Nanao that controlled the inner workings of the Eighth Division down to the type of tea served in the mess hall rebelled, but she crushed it down ruthlessly. There wasn't really room to assert control here; the space between traditions and noble social requirements was very small, by Nanao's measure.

She could accept that, with some difficulty. It was important to Kasumi that Nanao have some token of choice, so she would have the attendants. Who would she want to be her bridesmaids, if she had any? "Attendants would be very modern. There's a committee, actually, with three of my friends on it."

"A committee? How odd. But you may choose your attendants in any way you prefer. Let's go out to the fabric storehouse. I want you to see the silk I've chosen for the wedding kimono and then we can look at options for your attendants. We will not have many choices in the ceremony, but the wedding reception may offer us more possibilities. "

"Now? It's so late."

Kasumi waved that off. "With a wedding this close, there's not a minute to lose, Nanao-chan." She rose. "Come on."

Nanao stood. "Yes, Kasumi-bāchan." She supposed there was no harm in going to the fabric storehouse, although she was concerned by Kasumi's enthusiasm for planning with her.

Kasumi's next question did nothing to reassure her. "Have you thought about flowers?"

"Flowers?" Nanao asked, trailing after her in the dark night.

It got worse from there.

Questions about flowers, attendants, shoes, food, and hairpins flew at Nanao for most of the night and well into the following day. "Kasumi- bāchan, I would like to discuss some of the plans for the estate restoration with you, actually. We'll want to move quickly on that once the wedding is over," Nanao said in the evening, drinking fragrant tea.

"There's no time for that right now, Nanao-chan. We must plan the wedding well, and make a good impression on the Kyōraku family and on noble society. It's important that you have a good beginning with Captain Kyōraku. I understand that you're concerned about the estate. I am, as well. But it must be a secondary priority for now."

Nanao sighed. The estate restoration seemed to her much more important, much more urgent than the wedding party, but Kasumi clearly did not agree. The most she could hope for was escape back to her quarters soon.

"Kasumi- bāchan, I need to go back to the Eighth Division, as I need to resume a normal schedule tomorrow. I'm sorry that I don't have more time, but we'll talk soon, I'm sure." She rose, stepping towards the door. "Please excuse me. I need to get my things." She'd packed up her overnight bag hours ago, but hadn't had the opportunity to grab it and run.

"Returning to the Eighth Division? I understand. You do need to work. I'll follow you tomorrow." Kasumi set her tea cup down with a tinkling sound.


"Obviously I need to be close while we work on the wedding, Nanao-chan. I'll stay over at your home. I assume you have an extra futon?" Kasumi marched down the hall to her room.

Nanao followed her. "I do, but my quarters are very small, and I'm not sure if you'll be comfortable there."

"Nonsense. I'll be spending a lot of time with you for the planning of this event. I'm sure your quarters will be adequate for both of us, and if they're not, I'll bring whatever I need."

"I understand. I'll see you then, Kasumi- bāchan." Nanao left the Ise estate, returning to her quarters. Night had fallen over Seireitei. She sighed as she opened her closet, preparing to unpack. Her great-aunt would be here tomorrow, and then the talk of the wedding would never end. But she'd hoped to see Shunsui alone. Today might be her only chance; she stopped unpacking, leaving her bag open on the floor.

Nanao landed lightly on the wood of Shunsui's porch. It was late enough that she went directly to his bedroom, since he'd probably be having a drink outside before bed. He wasn't there, so she opened the sliding door to his bedroom. The bed was empty. "Shunsui?" She stepped out of her shoes, padding across the floor to the open door of his bedroom. "Shunsui?"

The large room he used for eating and lounging was lit with dim lamps. Sounds from the kitchen drew her attention. Shunsui appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, crossing to her quickly and drawing her into his arms. "Hello, sweet Nanao-chan."

She smiled, surprised by the strength of the relief she felt at the sight of him. He was dressed casually in dark blue, his hair tied back loosely. Her hands rose to his shoulders of their own accord. "Kasumi-bāchan wouldn't let me go. She's really eager to do wedding planning."

He grinned. "But Nanao-chan couldn't wait to come back to me?" His left hand rested on her back, his right hand cupping her cheek. His eyes gleamed warmly and his lips were tempting. He was vital and handsome and she had missed him.

"I didn't say that," she huffed, but she held his shoulders for balance as she rose up on her toes.

Amusement widened his smile before he bent to kiss her. She sank into him when their lips met, her arms around his neck. This was good, easy and heated at once. She felt the tension that had wound around her like steel wires at the Ise estate start to melt away.

Nanao would have a drink with Shunsui and tell him about her great-aunt's wedding chatter, and then they'd go to bed. In the dark she could confess to anything and he would be understanding and warm about it, she was sure. Lisa was right about that.

He broke the kiss, glancing off towards the kitchen. "Nanao-chan—" he started as a clatter of ceramic came from the kitchen.

"What is it?" she asked, frowning. Was Captain Ukitake visiting?

"My mother is here."

She pulled her hands away from his neck. "Now? Why?"

Midori swung into the room with a tea tray in her hands. "Oh, Nanao-san! It's good to see you again." She set the tea tray down on a low table.

Nanao stepped away from Shunsui's embrace, a little annoyed when he didn't release her immediately. "It's very nice to see you again so soon, Midori-san."

"It is very soon, isn't it? But after Shunsui told me your family wanted the marriage to take place quickly, I had to come right away. There's so much to be done." Midori smiled.

"The timeline is short, I know," Nanao said.

"I don't object to the timeline." Midori poured a cup of tea. "But there are many preparations that have to be made in very short order. Do you have time to discuss some plans now, Nanao-san?"

Nanao hesitated, anxiety fluttering in her stomach. "Actually, I would defer to my great-aunt for questions related to the wedding. She is handling many of the arrangements for me."

"I see. That's very respectful of you, Nanao-san. Deferring to the wisdom of your elders is a good choice." Midori gave Shunsui a pointed look, and Nanao wondered if there was any specific reason for it. "Will she be joining you here?"

"I believe she intends to come and stay with me tomorrow."

Midori nodded, looking disappointed.

Nanao hurried on, before Midori could redirect her wedding questions and planning fervor back at her. "But I'm certain Kasumi-bāchan would love to speak with you by phone now, if you'd like me to call her."

Midori smiled. "Excellent, I would very much like to speak with her now. Are you sure it's all right to call at this hour?"

"Yes." Nanao pulled out her phone, handing it to Midori with Kasumi's information open. "She doesn't sleep very much, and she is very interested in planning for the wedding, so your call would be most welcome."

Midori typed the information into her phone. "I'll just give her a call now then, if you wouldn't mind making an introduction."

"Certainly," Nanao said, accepting the phone and placing the call. Kasumi was as eager to discuss the wedding as Nanao had expected, and Nanao handed the phone back to Midori after only a moment of explanation.

Midori covered the phone with her hand and excused herself quickly. "I was making some snacks, so I'll be in the kitchen."

Nanao exhaled, relieved, as Midori returned to the kitchen, calling a cheerful greeting into the phone.

"Nanao-chan looks so stressed. Is the wedding bothering you?" Shunsui asked, his hand stroking her back soothingly.

Nanao shook her head. "It's hard to explain, but—if I was planning everything, I wouldn't be so concerned by it. I can't do that, because there are certain traditions and customs that have to be respected, and some of those I really do want to respect. But since I have little control over the important things that will actually happen, I would rather not be deeply involved in every aspect of the planning of the wedding. I already have my work at the Eighth and the SWA, and I really want to get the plans for the estate ready to begin right away. It's critical to start the restoration as soon as possible, and it's much more important to me than the wedding reception. We need to select shop locations now if we want to open in the next few months. But Kasumi-bāchan thinks it's vital that the wedding go well, and I very much doubt she'll give me enough free time to work on the estate plans. I'd also like to get a decent amount of sleep, even after Kasumi-bāchan comes to plan the wedding, unlikely though that may be."

"I understand. You don't want the wedding plans to overwhelm your life." He drew her back into an embrace. Nanao glanced at the kitchen, but Midori was nowhere to be seen, her voice wafting through the room, carrying plans for wedding headpieces.

Belatedly she realized what she'd said might seem insulting to him. "It's not that getting married to you isn't important, but-"

"Nanao-chan has never been very big on party planning. Why don't you leave it to an expert?"

"An expert? What?" Did he want to hire someone? Kasumi probably wouldn't allow that.

He gestured at his face with a flourish. "I'm wounded that you don't recognize my brilliant party planning skills, but I'm sure you will before this is over. I'll do the wedding planning with your great-aunt and my mother."

"What?" She raised her head swiftly, knocking him in the chin. "Sorry."

He rubbed his jaw gingerly. "It's fine. I'll answer whatever questions and go to whatever appointments Kasumi-san and my mother need. I'm not going to pretend that you'll get away completely clean of the wedding planning, but I'll try to minimize it for you."

She blinked at him, but he was entirely serious. "It'll be a lot about flowers and hairpins and table settings."

He shrugged. "I can do that. I won't deny that it might end up a bit more colorful than it would have been if you were at the helm, but I'll try to keep it within the boundaries of good taste." He grinned.

"It's very good of you to offer, but why would you want to do this?" It'd only been a day and Nanao already thought wedding planning was a form of torture.

"When my mother asked you if you could discuss wedding plans your feet tensed and your heels lifted off the floor. You were getting ready to run, Nanao-chan."

"What?" The wedding planning did arouse a desire to flee in her, but she didn't think it'd actually appeared in her body language. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to show that to you."

He tipped her chin up. His eyes were warm and amused. "Don't be sorry. I've given you reason to run from me often enough, and I've enjoyed the chase a lot. But this time I need you to come to me because it's what you want. If doing the wedding planning will improve my chances, I'll do it."

"I'm not going to run," she said. "I already promised to marry you."

"Yes, you did, to my great happiness. But I want you to marry me because it's what you want, not because you're bound by duty or obligation." There was a longing in his eyes she'd seen before.

No one wants me to freely choose my path more than he does, she'd told Kasumi-bāchan before the second match meeting. Shunsui wanted her to choose him, and he wanted it with an intensity that surprised her whenever she saw it fully exposed.

"I'll be there," she said quietly. His eyes closed and opened on her face, still intense. Their bodies pressed closer, her hands rising to his shoulders. The moment lingered, intimate and yearning. "Shunsui—"

A clang from the kitchen startled her, and she remembered that they were not alone. She glanced at the kitchen, distracted.

"Nanao-chan? What were you going to say?" He brushed his fingers against her cheek, drawing her attention back to him.

She shook her head. What she'd been trying to say was nebulous, more of a feeling than anything else. She couldn't say it to him now, the words wouldn't come. "You're such a romantic," she said instead, lightly.

If he was disappointed he didn't let it show, instead shifting to lead her into a waltz. "It's true. And I've planned a very romantic engagement party for tomorrow night."


He danced well, his rhythm excellent even without music. "Yes, in the Eighth Division common room. Everyone's invited. It'll be a party with a lot of romantic dancing."

"I see. It's the kind of party we talked about at Urahara's shop?" she asked.

He smiled. "Yes, exactly."

"I'll wear my new dress."

His smile widened. "Nanao-chan will be so lovely, and we'll dance together. Our friends will be there, and Mashiro-chan will write an article for the Seireitei Bulletin."

Midori reappeared in the doorway. "Would you like some pork buns?" If she was surprised that they were dancing without music, it didn't show.

"Sure," Shunsui said. "Let me help you with that." He released Nanao to take a tray from his mother.

"I should go, it's getting late." Nanao edged towards the door.

"No, Nanao-san, please stay. There's so much we have to talk about! Kasumi-san and I had a very productive conversation, and we have a lot of ideas." Midori waved her over to the table. Nanao reluctantly walked to the table, sitting.

Shunsui sat beside Nanao, leaning close. "I'll take care of it," he murmured in her ear. His hand wrapped around her waist, holding onto her as he redirected his mother's enthusiastic questions to him and ate hot pork buns.

Nanao permitted his touch, even though they weren't alone. She wasn't going to run, but it was comforting to have him hold onto her anyway.

"Great food, Glasses!" Yachiru chirped from Kenpachi's shoulder, her hands full of dripping sweets.

"Yeah, it's good grub and lots of liquor. Real classy stuff," Kenpachi said.

"We dressed up," Yachiru said, although Nanao couldn't see anything unusual in either Kenpachi or Yachiru's dress. Kenpachi looked as unkempt as ever, and Yachiru's pink hair was decorated with the same bone clip as every day.

"You look very nice this evening. Thank you for coming. Please do enjoy yourselves." Nanao smiled at Yachiru's face, which glistened with sugar and syrup.

Kenpachi nodded, turning back to the desserts piled high on a table. "Congratulations on your marriage. I hope you two have lots of great fights with each other."

"Oh—thank you," Nanao said, blinking. She was sure he'd meant it positively, but it made her shudder to think about what a relationship with a Kenpachi must be like.

Still, the engagement party was going well. She was a little surprised by how elaborate the food, drink, and setup were, given that Shunsui couldn't have had much time to put it together, but party planning had always been one of his talents.

That was fortunate, since he'd taken on the whole wedding. She'd been happy to give over that responsibility, and she resisted the urge to ask for progress reports or try and gauge how the arrangements were going. He'd made a generous offer to let her focus on the estate restoration, and she trusted him to handle the wedding.

She did trust him.

But it wouldn't hurt to check in from time to time, just to make sure there wasn't anything she should handle for him. "Stop that," she murmured, annoyed with herself.

"Nanao? You're frowning and talking to yourself at your party," Rangiku said, hooking her arm through Nanao's and tugging her over to a corner.

"Sorry, I was distracted."

"About what?" Rangiku drank from her wine glass. "This is really good, have you had any?"

"Not yet. I was just thinking about the wedding." Nanao leaned against the wall.

"Well, I'm sure that's a lot of work, but here's no need to worry about it tonight. Let's get you a nice glass of wine and then find a good spot for you to hold court. Lots of people want to give their congratulations."

"Shunsui's planning the wedding," Nanao said.

Rangiku blinked. "What? He is?"

"Yes." Nanao crossed her arms. "I want to focus on the Ise estate restoration, and he volunteered to handle the wedding party plans. It isn't as if there's some special wedding planning power that only women have."

Rangiku laughed. "Of course not. And Captain Kyōraku does throw a great party, very swanky. The ice sculpture of you is a nice touch."

Nanao gave the glistening life-size statue a sidelong glance. "Where did he even get that on such short notice?"

"Who knows? The mystery is a part of the fun of his parties. Your wedding is sure to be full of things like that. People will have a great time talking about it for months afterward."

Nanao glanced at the huge pink paper birds hanging from the ceiling, ruffling as if flying in the breeze from the open doors of the common room at the Eighth. "I'm a little worried."

Rangiku grinned. "You wouldn't be Nanao if you weren't a little worried. But if the wedding party is extravagant, who cares?" Rangiku narrowed her eyes and her voice dropped into seriousness. "He's not picking out your wedding clothes, is he?"

"No," Nanao said firmly. "My great-aunt has already had work started on my kimono, and we picked out fabric for my attendants." Attendants she hadn't actually asked to be in the wedding yet. "Rangiku-san, I was hoping that you would be one of my attendants for the wedding. Would you please consider it?"

"Of course I'll be a part of your wedding, Nanao! I'd love to do it." She enveloped Nanao in a squeezing hug. "Your aunt sent letters through a messenger to me, Hinamori, and Nemu already, asking to meet tomorrow. It's probably about being your attendants?"

"She sent a letter to the committee on my arranged marriage?" Nanao rubbed her forehead, laughing. "Apparently everyone is planning the wedding quite well without me already. I'd better find Hinamori-san and Nemu-san before the meeting."

"Do you want the whole committee to act as your attendants?" Rangiku asked carefully.

"Yes," Nanao said decisively. She was close friends with Rangiku and Hinamori, and the experience of a wedding might help Nemu blossom socially. She wouldn't exclude Nemu even if she wasn't as close to Nanao.

"See? Everything will be fine. You chose your wedding clothes yourself, which is best, and if the wedding is a bit pink and sequined and bursting with flowers, that's alright. You knew who Captain Kyōraku was before you agreed to marry him, didn't you?"

Nanao's eyes sought Shunsui in the crowd. He was talking with Yamamoto and Ukitake, gesturing widely. He wore the clothes he'd bought for dancing at Urahara's Shop, his tie undone a bit and his shirt unbuttoned at the neck. His jacket had already been abandoned and his sleeves rolled up. "I know him," she said, and he glanced at her over his shoulder as if he felt her gaze.

A spark of pleasure burned in his eyes and he grinned in a way that said, I caught you staring, Nanao-chan.

She raised her eyebrows, refuting his claim. She hadn't been staring.

Not for very long, anyway.

"Nanao-chan is making eyes at her fiancé, how cute!" Rangiku sing-songed.

"I am not." Nanao turned to Rangiku, her eyebrows still raised.

Rangiku flipped her hair. "If you can't flirt with the person you're going to marry, it'd be an awfully dull marriage. But I haven't seen you two together all night."

"No, there have been a lot of people wanting to talk to me, and it's been the same for him."

"I'm sure you'll get a few dances together. Otherwise it would be a waste of a sexy dancing dress." Rangiku looped her arm through Nanao's again, walking her towards a group of their friends.

"Sexy?" Nanao glanced at the lavender dress from Urahara's. She thought the dress was attractive, but appropriate.

"Sexy. It's not a bad word, you know." Rangiku laughed. "Though I can't believe you went to Urahara's without me when I've been trying to get you to go for weeks."

"It was a sudden decision, but you and I will go together soon. Well, maybe soon after the wedding."

"Nanao acting on impulse? This marriage is going to be good for you, I'm sure of it."

"Do you think so?" Nanao asked, her voice dropping low.

Rangiku stilled. She turned her head to look at Shunsui's back. "He looks at you when you aren't looking. But he meets your eyes when you are looking. That connection—it's rarer." Her eyes met Nanao's, serious and sad. "A lot of people look at me when I'm not looking. But they don't connect with me."

"Those people are missing out, then. You're worth the effort of connecting with, even when it's hard to do." Nanao narrowed her eyes, waiting to see if Rangiku would contradict her. She said nothing. "There's no one like Rangiku-san."

Rangiku chuckled. "I forget sometimes, how fierce you can be. But thank you for that." She tipped her head. "Maybe I should be fierce in making the connections that I want, too."

"Why not?" Nanao nodded. "If it's what you want, I'll support you. We'll support you," she corrected, as they drew close to their friends from the SWA.

"We'll support each other," Rangiku said.

The party drifted on, Nanao being swept along from group to group, with everyone making their congratulations. It seemed that all of Soul Society had come out to enjoy the event. But she still hadn't had time with Shunsui. She rose to her toes, looking for him in the crowded room.

"Vice Captain Ise."

Nanao turned around when she heard her name, surprised by the speaker. "Captain Kuchiki. Thank you for coming to our engagement party."

He nodded stiffly. "Please allow me to offer you congratulations on your betrothal."

"Thank you, Captain Kuchiki." She expected him to retreat from her and from the party now that he'd offered congratulations. It was a surprise that he'd come at all, but perhaps he felt obligated by his position in the Gotei 13.

But he didn't leave. Instead he shifted closer, looking faintly uncomfortable. "Vice Captain Ise."

"Yes?" she asked. What could Byakuya Kuchiki have to say to her, beyond what he'd said already? They were not particularly close.

"I believe you are aware that I was married several years ago, although I do not believe that you were well-acquainted with my wife."

He stopped again, so Nanao answered his unasked question. "No, I only had the pleasure of meeting your wife at your wedding reception, Captain Kuchiki."

He nodded. "My wife rarely went out to the divisions. When we were married, there was only a private ceremony planned. My family thought it best that we avoid excessive public attention and I agreed. I thought Hisana would be more comfortable that way. But Captain Kyōraku threw a reception party for us, at my home, against my wishes. It was a complete surprise." His brows drew together.

"I'm sorry?" Nanao couldn't quite see why he was rebuking her for something Shunsui did decades ago, but she supposed she should become accustomed to it. This probably would not be the last time this happened to her if she married Shunsui.

"No—Hisana was happy. It was challenging for her, coming to my family, and the party made it easier for her. There were hundreds of people there. Everyone significant in the Gotei 13 attended. They toasted and cheered for her and our marriage. She enjoyed it enormously."

"I'm very glad that she was happy."

"It was a favorite memory of hers. At that time, I didn't realize how much it would mean to her to be warmly welcomed into Seireitei that way, but Captain Kyōraku did. He is a man of keen insight and goodwill. I believe you have made an excellent choice of spouse, Vice Captain Ise."

"Thank you, Captain Kuchiki. I am very lucky to be in this position." She could have been contemplating a cold marriage to a man she did not share interests with, a man she had no spark of attraction with, a bore about boars, but instead she was here at the Eighth, with a man that smiled, wide and a little wicked, when she caught his eye across the room.

Kuchiki nodded. "Have you decided on a location for your wedding reception?"

Nanao blinked, surprised by his interest. "No, not yet. Both of our family homes are quite distant from here, and I had hoped for something closer to the Gotei 13."

"I would be pleased to host your reception at the Kuchiki estate. It would provide the central location you are seeking." His voice was stiff again, but it had a quiet intensity that surprised her. This was an offer he very much wanted her to accept.

"That's exceedingly kind of you, Captain Kuchiki. Thank you. It would be an honor to have our reception at your home," she said.

He inclined his head. "My sister and I will be in touch regarding the arrangements. Have a good evening."

She bowed slightly as he left.

Shunsui came up beside her as she watched Kuchiki leave. "I'm surprised Byakuya-kun came."

"You'll be pleased to learn that you've finally gotten a ringing character endorsement from someone." She adjusted her glasses.

"From Byakuya-kun? What?"

"Yes. He wanted me to know that you were very kind to his wife when they were married."

"Because of the wedding party? But that was such a small thing, and he was pretty unpleasant about it at the time." Shunsui glanced at Kuchiki's back as he reached the door of the common room.

"Captain Kuchiki extended an invitation for us to have our wedding party at his estate. I think that he feels that he owes you something, and he wants very much to repay you, so I've accepted." Nanao said.

He nodded. "I'm glad, Nanao-chan. If Byakuya-kun wants to throw us a party at the Kuchiki estate, I won't turn him down."

"I think that he still misses his wife. It's obvious he values her memory very highly. I don't remember her well, as we only met once."

"She was a sweet, shy woman. She was surprised that so many ranking officers and nobles of the Gotei 13 would come to her wedding reception. I think she was very aware of her Rukongai origin, especially when she became a Kuchiki."

Nanao glanced away. "It's likely that there were some in noble society and perhaps even in the Kuchiki family that made certain she felt her origins keenly."

"Unfortunately I think you're right about that." He squeezed her hand gently and she looked up at him. "But I also think that she must have had some happiness with Byakuya-kun that could have made up for that."

Nanao nodded. "I'd like to think so." But this was not a time for sad reflections; this was meant to be a happy event. "You managed to pull together a large party in a short time, and there are several unexpected elements, too."

"Like the ice sculpture of Nanao-chan?" he asked, his eyes twinkling.

"Among other things." She shook her head. "Where did you even get that?"

"I was sworn to secrecy by the maker. Are you enjoying the party, sweet Nanao-chan?"

"Yes. Everyone else seems to be having a good time, too."

He drew her in closer, her body pressed against his as he murmured in her ear. "Then there's no reason to worry about the wedding party, is there? I can handle it."

"I wasn't worrying," she protested, but he laughed, low and amused. "I wasn't worrying much," she amended.

"You don't have to worry at all, Nanao-chan." He pulled back enough to meet her gaze, then lifted her hand and shifted them into an easy waltz. "I can handle the party, and your great-aunt, and my mother."