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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.

He was wrong about that, too.

Not about the party—at least, not as far as Nanao knew—but about handling her great-aunt and his mother. Both women descended on Shunsui and Nanao like hungry birds, pecking at both of them about every detail of the arrangements. No matter how much Shunsui did, no matter how many times he redirected the questions to him, they kept coming back to Nanao.

She thought it must be impossible for Kasumi and Midori to believe that she didn't want to be deeply involved in the wedding planning, no matter how many times she said it. She was a woman, and so how could she be genuinely comfortable leaving her wedding in Shunsui's hands?

Nanao thought she could be perfectly comfortable with it if she was left alone. Much, much more comfortable than she was now, living with the constant squawking about color swatches and pond decorations and coloring the desserts different shades of pink. It never ended, despite Shunsui's best efforts. He was working very hard on the wedding, much harder than she'd seen him work on anything in years. It was only a week after the engagement party and he must have already spent dozens of hours on the preparations.

But it wasn't enough to get Nanao any peace.

She looked up from her work at the chirp of her phone. She glanced at the screen and dashed off a reply. Moments later the phone chirped again and she sighed.

Shunsui tipped his hat back, half-turning on the sofa to see her. "What is it?"

"Kasumi-bāchan. About tablecloths." Her brows drew together. "I am starting to believe she's not going to leave until this wedding is over."

"My mother has semi-permanently moved into one of the guest bedrooms. She's going to commute here regularly to help your great-aunt." He sat up, stretching. It was the first time they'd been alone together for more than a few minutes in days, and he'd spent it napping on the sofa while she tried to catch up on the neglected paperwork.

"It's worse now because the party is at the Kuchiki estate. They want everything to be perfect." Nanao's phone beeped cheerfully. "Do you have strong feelings about taupe for the napkins?"

"I don't think anyone has ever had any strong feelings about taupe."

She narrowed her eyes, annoyed. "Aren't preparations like this something that you should handle, so that I don't have to answer questions about taupe?"

"I am handling them, Nanao-chan. I spent a great many hours with my mother and Kasumi-san yesterday picking out flowers and ribbons. I imagine that your great-aunt is trying to involve you because you are the bride, and your wishes should be important."

"What are the ribbons for?" She shook her head. "Don't tell me, I don't want to know." She pressed her lips together.

"Are you upset about the preparations, or is it something more?" He leaned forward, looking concerned.

The phone chirped. "I feel tense every time I get a question about taupe," she said, only half-teasing, staring at her phone. She hadn't slept more than a dozen hours in the last few days. Kasumi-bāchan was an insomniac, and Nanao's quarters were much too small to accommodate her great-aunt's desire to read wedding books and magazines while taking notes and Nanao's desire to sleep through the night.

"I see. That's no good." Shunsui reached for his phone.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I'm telling Kasumi-san that taupe is banned from the wedding, and that she should refer to me for any questions about napkins or cutlery or anything else."

"Don't do that," Nanao said, rising. "She'll think I'm not interested in the wedding."

"But you aren't interested, Nanao-chan." His fingers hovered over his phone buttons, bemused.

"Yes, but you can't tell her that so bluntly. She'll think that I don't want to get married." She fidgeted with her phone, sitting back down.

"But that's not true, is it, Nanao-chan?" he asked, his voice even and curious.

"No." She adjusted her glasses.

"I'm glad to hear you say that, but it's obvious that you aren't happy right now, sweetheart."

She couldn't deny that. "It was different during the marriage practice. I thought that things would be like that now, but instead I've barely seen you and there are tablecloths and seating charts and Kasumi-bāchan and your mother everywhere. I don't mean to be ungrateful for everyone's work. I know you're spending many hours every day on the wedding party." Her phone chirped, but she didn't reach for it.

He set his phone down with deliberate slowness. "If you want to spend time together, I would enjoy that. But a lot of that time would still probably be interrupted by your great-aunt or my mother, as it is now. I'd love to have you stay over at my house, Nanao-chan, but there's a fair chance we'd be eating breakfast with my mother. Would you leave Kasumi-san in your quarters alone?"

She'd started shaking her head at 'breakfast' and hadn't stopped. "No. No, you're right. Of course things can't be as they were during marriage practice. Forget that I mentioned it. I wasn't focusing properly on the reality of the situation."

"Yare, Nanao-chan. I wasn't saying we couldn't do it. Bring your great-aunt with you. She can stay in the room next to my mother. It'll all be very domestic. Of course, I understand that you'd prefer to have my ruggedly handsome manliness to yourself, but—"

She shook her head firmly, one corner of her mouth turned up. "That is not what I said."

"I understood without you saying it directly, Nanao-chan. You want to frolic alone on a private beach with me, the waves caressing our bodies, the sun warming our skin—"

"—the sand itching everywhere." She raised an eyebrow at him.

"Sand is the least romantic aspect of love on the beach, Nanao-chan." He pouted.

"That's unfortunate, since sand is the most common element of a beach." She chuckled at his sulky face. "Not that I said anything about a beach in the first place."

"Mere details. You want to be alone with me, and I want that too, Nanao-chan. But it'll be difficult until the wedding. We'll have to steal what time we can. Like right now." He grinned and held out his hand for her.

"I have a lunch meeting soon."

"There's still a little time, isn't there?" He gestured for her to come to him.

She rose and came around the desk before stopping and reaching for her phone. "I'm going to veto the taupe. It gives me a strong feeling of blandness."

"If you veto bland things, the wedding might end up a bit extravagant. I have excellent taste, of course, but sometimes an abundance of my taste can be too romantic for some people."

She raised an eyebrow. "People everywhere question your taste." Her phone beeped. "The napkins will be pink."

"I did warn you."

She shook her head, stepping towards him. "If I could be put off by pink napkins, we'd never have gotten to this point." She reached the table and was setting her phone down when it chirped in her hand.

Nanao read the message, her brows drawn together.

"What is it? Has something happened?"

She looked up from the phone, blinking. "Why would you do that now?"

"If this is about the pink boar-drawn carriage, I can explain that," Shunsui said. "Nanao-chan?"

"Kasumi-bāchan says that you've made a sizeable deposit into the Ise estate's account." Nanao clutched the phone, her surprise freezing her in place.

He scratched his chin. "I did."

"Why? We haven't married yet." She wanted to read Kasumi's message again, but couldn't take her eyes away from him.

He looked a little embarrassed, the way he did when she caught him leaving stamped paperwork on her desk that she hadn't asked him to do. "I thought that a wedding was bound to incur a lot of expenses for your family, and that there was no reason to wait any longer to move the money. I only waited for the engagement party and the newspaper article to give a fig leaf of cover to the transfer."

"But we haven't married yet." Nanao looked down at her phone and back up at him.

His eyes were keen on her face. "No, but Nanao-chan has given me a promise, and you honor your promises. Everyone knows that, so I thought I could move a little money without any negative implications for your family."

She closed her eyes, swallowing heavily.

"Or it's not enough of a cover, and I've made a mistake. Nanao-chan—" he stood, grasping her shoulders.

"You're a fool," she said.

"I'm a fool," he agreed readily. "Please don't cry, Nanao-chan. I'll talk to Kasumi-san and we'll work something out."

She shook her head and came up on her toes, her arms around his neck. "Shunsui," she whispered.


She kissed him. His lips were warm and he tasted of his morning tea and his own flavor, spicy and warm, something she'd come to savor.

He was receptive if still confused. "Nanao-chan? If you're upset about the money—"

She shook her head, pressing him back onto the sofa. "I'm not upset. I'm relieved about the money. It was very considerate of you to think of Kasumi-bāchan's expenses for the wedding. But you must know that people will say that you're being taken advantage of, that you're foolish for giving us money without the security of marriage."

"I don't care about gossip. People can say whatever they like about me, but I'm the lucky one, because I get to marry my lovely Nanao-chan."

She glanced down at the phone screen again. "I think I should apologize to you. I've been short with you lately because of the wedding plans popping up everywhere, but you've just done something very considerate for me."

"Don't worry about it, Nanao-chan. I know you've been bothered by the extent of the wedding plans, and unfortunately I don't seem to be able to convince your great-aunt or my mother that you really do want me to do all of the planning." He leaned back on the sofa. "You don't need to apologize, but if you'd like to shower me with kisses or tell me how romantic and wonderful I am, I've got some time now." He grinned, wagging his eyebrows in invitation.

She laughed. "You're ridiculous." But she dropped her phone on the table and turned to the sofa, climbing up on her knees beside him.

"It's been stressful for you, worrying about the Ise estate." His thumbs brushed her cheeks tenderly.

"More than I'd realized." She tipped his hat off of his head with two fingers until it rolled lazily on the floor.

"I didn't want you to worry anymore."

"I know, and I'm happy about that." She rubbed his jaw, enjoying the feeling of his beard against her fingers.

"I'm glad, Nanao-chan." His hands gripped her waist, his eyes gleaming with anticipation and pleasure.

"I'm happy," she said, leaning closer, her breath mingling with his.

"It thrills me to hear you say that," he murmured, licking his lips.

She drew back. "But what was that about pink boar-drawn carriages?"

"One. Only one carriage. Can we talk about that later? I'd really like to kiss you now. We can talk about the wedding any time, but I don't think you'll sit in my lap when my mother's around."

She smiled. "You're right about that."

Her lips had just touched his when the door opened. "Hey Nanao! Are you running late today? Come on, we have that lunch with the committee—" Rangiku broke off when she spotted them on the sofa. "I'll wait in the courtyard!" The door clicked shut behind her.

Nanao sighed and leaned her forehead against Shunsui's.

"We can make her wait a little while," he said.

"That would be rude." Nanao tensed to leave.

"Five minutes."

She shook her head.

"Three minutes," he coaxed.

She bit her lip. "Two minutes, and you can't touch my hair."

"Agreed." He dove for her lips as she pulled him close.

That was the last kiss she shared with him for three weeks. Nanao didn't think her great-aunt and his mother were deliberately keeping Nanao and Shunsui apart—they were both very eager to see the pair married—but the wedding plans took over everything. Nanao was barely able to complete the Eighth's Division's necessary work around the meetings and discussions in the office.

Shunsui tried to draw Kasumi and Midori out of the office as much as possible, but without much success. Since Nanao could often be found in the office and Shunsui did have to go there to complete necessary paperwork it remained an attraction for the two women.

When Kasumi asked Nanao to come to the Ise estate with her attendants for the weekend, Nanao was almost relieved to agree. At least she'd probably get to stay in a bedroom alone. Maybe she could get some sleep around the wedding clothes and accessories selections.

"This is so exciting," Hinamori said, giggling.

"This has been a most interesting trip," Nemu said, making notes in her tablet as they walked through the fabric storehouse on the Ise estate.

"The obis and other materials are back there," Kasumi said, leading the way through the large storehouse.

"It's dazzling in here," Rangiku said, falling into step beside Nanao. The neatly stacked rolls of fabric stuck out of the shelves like a mat of gemstones. "I knew your family made silk, but this is incredible, Nanao."

"Thank you. I'm hoping we'll have success with our new shops." Nanao was glad her friends seemed to be enjoying their visit to the Ise estate. Hinamori chatted cheerfully with Kasumi and Nemu in front of them.

"I think you'll be very successful. You could charge a fortune for the kind of workmanship on display in the kimonos for the wedding."

"That's the idea," Nanao said, her smile a little rueful.

"We don't really need new obis for the wedding. Hinamori has one that would be appropriate, and I can use one of mine and lend one to Nemu."

"Kasumi-bāchan wants all of our clothes to come from the Ise estate. Please accept the kimono and the other pieces as gifts. There's no need to be concerned with the expense." She felt a flash of relief as she said that aloud; not concerning herself with the expense of something was a new and pleasant sensation.

Rangiku chuckled. "Your face is so bright, Nanao. I'm glad to see you looking so happy. You've looked pretty stressed out lately."

"I've found wedding planning to be a corner of hell decorated with pink roses. But this will be over soon, thankfully. I've even managed to research a few potential locations for our new Ise shops, and I'd like to get your opinions on them later, if you don't mind."

"Of course! My shopping expertise is at your service."

They'd lagged behind the others, who were already looking through the obis. "What kind of fabric should we choose, Nanao-san?" Hinamori asked.

"Whatever you like best. Since your kimonos are all the same color, you should choose unique obis and accessories." Nanao extended her arms to hold a few obis Kasumi had selected.

"Nanao's wedding outfit is already complete, isn't it?" Rangiku asked.

"Yes, Kasumi-bāchan selected the pieces as soon as the engagement was announced." Nanao shifted for balance as Kasumi piled more fabric over her arms.

"Does that include something special for the wedding night, too?" Rangiku gave Nanao a sly glance.

"That's unnecessary—" Nanao started, but Kasumi interrupted her.

"Of course, I had night gowns made with the wedding kimono. A woman should have beautiful things to wear for all phases of the wedding day." Kasumi tugged an obi out of Nanao's stack and held it up to Nemu's face, checking the color against her skin.

"What?" This was the first Nanao had heard of nightgowns.

"I didn't see any reason to bother you with the details, Nanao-chan. Do you like this blue, Nemu-chan?" Kasumi asked.

"It will present a visually interesting contrast with the pink of the kimono, Ise-san." Nemu accepted the obi from Kasumi.

"You didn't want to bother me with the details of my clothes? But I have been asked about tablecloths and napkins and all kinds of other details in the last few weeks, so why wouldn't you ask me about nightgowns?" Nanao's cheeks were warm. The idea of her aunt selecting things for her to wear to bed with Shunsui was just too embarrassing.

"You've always said your great-aunt has excellent taste, Nanao. You've liked everything she selected for your wedding clothes so far, so I'm sure you can trust her with this as well." Rangiku's eyes gleamed with mischief. "Why don't you show us the nightgowns when we get back to the house, Ise-san?"

Kasumi nodded. "Certainly. There's nothing to worry about, Nanao-chan. My fabric selections were lovely and the seamstress did very fine work."

"I'm sure they're very nice, Kasumi-bāchan, there's no need to dig the nightgowns out for us to see them," Nanao said quickly.

"It's no trouble, Nanao-chan. This is the kind of thing women enjoy doing with their attendants. I read it in a magazine." Kasumi dropped another obi into Nanao's arms.

"It'll be fun!" Rangiku grinned.

"I'm having a lot of fun," Hinamori said, and then glanced at Nanao's face. "But we don't have to see the nightgowns if you'd rather do something else, Nanao-san. I'm sure we'll have fun doing anything."

Nanao smiled. Nightgowns aside, she'd enjoyed this time with her friends at the Ise estate. "I agree, we can have fun doing anything. What do you think of the obi Kasumi-bāchan is holding now, Hinamori-san? I think it would be very pretty on you."

"I love that one, the pattern is gorgeous," Hinamori chirped. Kasumi handed the obi to Hinamori, and conversation returned to the obi selection. It was strange to think that they'd be wearing these clothes for the wedding in less than two weeks.

Nanao would be married in less than two weeks. Her feet tensed, her heels lifting, and she pressed them back down to the floor firmly.

The roof needed work and the door would have to be replaced, but otherwise the location in the First District of the Rukongai was perfect for the new Ise fabric shop. The owner would have the sale contract drawn up and sent to Nanao tomorrow. She'd be able to secure the space and start the renovations as soon as the wedding was over.

One more week, she thought, walking briskly through the Eighth Division. All of this disruption would end then and she could focus on the Ise estate restoration.

"Nanao-chan," the door to a closet on her right whispered.

Nanao stopped walking and glanced around the empty hallway. "Why are you in that closet?" she asked, stepping to the door.

The door slipped open, Shunsui's hand beckoning her into the dim space. "Hurry, Nanao-chan."

She followed him, dubious. "What are you doing?"

He glanced around, making sure the hallway was empty before closing the door quickly. "I wanted to see you."

"You can see me in our office."

"Yes and no," he said. "I can see you, but almost never alone." His mother and Kasumi-bāchan were constant presences these days. There were far too many details to a wedding for the deluge of questions to ever ease, apparently.

"We're hiding from my great-aunt in a closet?"

"It's not a closet. It's File Storage Room B." He took her hand, leading her further into the space, and Nanao saw that it was actually rather large and full of long rows of shelves with boxes on them. "Kasumi-san was called back to the Ise estate for some urgent business."

"Urgent business?" Nanao's brows drew together. Had something happened at the estate?

"Something about obis. It wasn't anything you'd actually consider urgent business, Nanao-chan." He made a small bench by pushing three file boxes together and laying his haori over them. He smiled as he invited her to sit with a flourish.

"So we are hiding from your mother in File Storage Room B." She perched on the seat, concerned that it might not hold her weight, but the file boxes of the Gotei 13 were apparently made well, and held both of them without even a creak when Shunsui sat close to her.

"We are enjoying some personal time in a convenient and private space," he amended cheerfully.

She accepted the revision with a raised eyebrow and a nod. "What did you want to do with this personal time?" When a wicked grin spread across his face she continued quickly. "This door doesn't have a lock."

"But nobody ever comes here unless they're sent for old records. It's a very private space." His hand curved around her waist, pulling her against his side. "Relax, Nanao-chan."

She considered that. "If it was actually a very private space, it would increase the probability of someone coming in, seeking a space for an inappropriate liaison."

"Only a little. The door doesn't have a lock, so the small training rooms in the basement will always be the top choice for young lovers in the Eighth."

"The training rooms?" They were heavily used and regularly cleaned, but not so well that Nanao would ever want her naked skin on any of the surfaces. She wrinkled her nose. "Those young lovers must be very desperate."

Shunsui chuckled. "That's why we're here instead."

Nanao's eyebrow rose again. She was very skeptical of the romantic potential that File Storage Room B offered.

He smiled. "I just want to talk for a little while. Even though we're getting married next week, we've spent very little time together since the engagement started. I've been missing you, Nanao-chan." His knuckles stroked her cheek, feather-light.

"What do you want to talk about?" she asked softly. Her body leaned into his. He was solid and warm, more welcoming than the wall at her back.

"Have you been sleeping better?" Kasumi-bāchan's insomnia and urgency about the wedding had impacted her rest since the engagement.

"No. Even when Kasumi-bāchan is gone, I've been sleeping poorly. I started having dreams about boars."

"Boars?" His eyes widened.

"It's your fault. Since you told me about the pink boar-drawn carriages, I've been dreaming about boars. Pink boars."

He laughed. She huffed and elbowed him in the side. "Ouch! That's mean, Nanao-chan," he said, rubbing his side. "Rangiku-san said that boar-drawn carriages were the stuff of dreams, but I don't think she meant it literally."

"It's a nightmare." She could feel a blush creeping up her neck. Why had she told him about the boars? It was too embarrassing. "It's ridiculous."

"No, it's not." He tipped her chin up, turning her towards him. "You're under a lot of stress, Nanao-chan. You've been working on the Ise estate plans and doing all of your usual work, and it's not as if our relatives have really left you alone about the wedding plans, despite my best efforts. I'm sorry about that."

"No, you've done so much for the wedding. I know exactly how much, actually. Kasumi- bāchan has a book." She shifted to face him.

"She has a book?" He moved his hand from her waist to her thigh.

"Several books, including one that's just lists of tasks with a name beside them, like a division assignment list." She smiled. "Your name is there next to all kinds of things. You've been doing a lot for the wedding, and I appreciate that. Even with the boars."

He leaned in, his eyes dark with pleasure. "You're going to make me blush."

She scoffed. "Liar." One of her hands drifted up to his face.

"Nanao-chan could make me blush, I'm sure of it."

Her hand slid into his hair. "Do you think so?" It was an interesting possibility.

He grinned, glancing at the door. "I really do, Nanao-chan."

That would have to be a project for another time, when she'd caught up on her rest and they weren't sneaking around in closets. There were a few promising possibilities in Lisa's books. "I could try," she murmured.

"I'll put myself entirely at your mercy, Nanao-chan. You can do anything that you want to me." He widened his eyes, trying to look innocent and vulnerable.

She shook her head, laughing. "I've told you before, that look doesn't work at all."

He wiggled his eyebrows. "I'm just trying to encourage you in your ambitions. I want you to fulfill your dreams."

She tipped her head to the side before leaning close to his ear. "I think you're hoping that I'll fulfill some of your dreams."

He grinned. "I have so many dreams about luscious Nanao-chan. It's certain that some of them will come true, no matter what you do with me."

"Luscious is not an accurate description of me." His arm snuck back around her waist, pressing her close to him.

"You're mistaken, lovely Nanao-chan. When I think about the softness of your lips under mine, about your sharp little teeth and the sweet taste of your kiss, luscious is exactly the right word." His fingertip brushed the curve of her lips. His other hand inched under her thigh.

She parted her lips, biting lightly at his finger until he withdrew it with a groan. "I'm still not going to sit on your lap in an unlocked closet."

"It's a file storage room," he said, but his hand moved back to her waist.

She shook her head at him.

"I was overwhelmed by the thought of you reading your sex manuals and industriously making lists of ways to make me blush." His voice was full of teasing pleasure at the vision he'd conjured of her with a list titled Possible Ways to Make Shunsui Blush: Revision One.

"I don't have a list." Not yet, anyway. "How did you know that I got manuals from Lisa-san and not erotic literature or something else?"

"You're legendary among Vice Captains for your research and planning. You have organizational skills that other Captains would cheerfully kill to have in their divisions. You chose manuals at Lisa-chan's bookstore." He spoke low and sensually, as if he was describing her kisses and not her paperwork abilities.

He cheeks warmed, but she frowned. "You can't actually find research and lists and charts attractive and—"

"Sexy?" He flashed a grin and dipped his head to murmur in her ear. "But it is sexy to think about you reading through pages of lovemaking and selecting the things that you want to try with me. Lists with citations and footnotes—charts and diagrams—I'd love to get them from you. Compile them in a little report for me. I promise I'll read it all." His tongue circled the shell of her ear and she drew a shallow breath.

"You would really enjoy that?" she asked. One corner of her mouth turned up. At least there was one report of hers that he'd read cover to cover. But she wouldn't offer to read that one aloud for him. Her hands drifted up to his shoulders.

"Of course. A woman that knows what she wants is very sexy. And if it's you—nothing could be more tempting than that." His lips strayed down to the line of her neck, draping kisses over her skin. She shifted towards him and his hand slid down to her bottom. He groaned again and lifted her to his lap. She didn't stop him this time.

"Shunsui," she whispered, and he raised his head until his lips were a breath away from hers.

He froze, glancing at the door. "Damn." He pulled Nanao off him gently, setting her back on the boxes. "My mother," he said.

Nanao quickly straightened the collar of her uniform and ran her hand over her sleek hair. "Now?" Why couldn't they get a little more time alone? Why hadn't she kissed him earlier?

Midori knocked politely on the door, sweeping it open at Shunsui's call with an apologetic look. "I'm sorry to disturb your private time, but we have an appointment at the Kuchiki estate that we really can't be late for."

Nanao followed Shunsui back to the office as his mother talked to them about the lighting arrangements for the Kuchiki estate. She wished them luck with the appointment and went to her desk after they'd gone.

Shunsui had gotten her to sit on his lap in File Storage Room B, and she'd enjoyed it; she would have enjoyed it much more if they'd had a few more private minutes. He wanted lists and charts and footnotes? She could do that. Maybe the report alone could make him blush.

A woman that knows what she wants is very sexy. Her brows drew together. She hadn't chosen sex manuals only because it was her nature to prefer manuals—she'd chosen them because she didn't have a lot of practical experience in this area. Would he be disappointed that she wasn't already proficient at sex?

Lisa said that he would be understanding, but Nanao knew that he'd meant everything he'd said earlier, too. She frowned at the dark wood of her desk before opening her bottom drawer and pulling out two books.

She prepared fresh ink and a clean stack of paper. Maybe she lacked previous experience, but that didn't have to mean much. Her research skills were superior and she would still make a list, just a different kind of list for now. Shunsui would still enjoy reading it; the sensual delight in his voice when he talked about her charts and diagrams made her certain of that.

She dipped her brush into the ink and wrote the title for her list in neat strokes.

"Why does he want to see me now?" Nanao murmured, frowning at the message on her phone. Shunsui must know that it would be nearly impossible to get free on the night before their wedding. But his message was urgent. She stood, moving quickly through the Ise house.

Nanao landed softly on the wood of Shunsui's porch several minutes later, walking quietly to the door of his bedroom. "Shunsui?" she called quietly, in case his mother was in his home.

"Nanao-chan?" He came to the door, tugging her into the house. "I'm glad you came. I was getting worried."

"You sent a message asking me to come here on the night before our wedding. It wasn't exactly easy to sneak away." She stopped at the entrance of the bedroom. "Is your mother here?"

"No, she's much too busy for that. She's doing something at the shrine now." He grasped Nanao's hand, pulling her forward gently. "Why did you have to sneak away?"

Nanao frowned. "Well, my great-aunt was hovering and talking about hair ornaments for tomorrow, and I thought it was best not to mention that I was meeting you. I'm not certain she would let me go if I told her I was coming here, so I told her I was going for a walk in the garden."

"I'm surprised she'd let you out for that, if she's been hovering so closely." He stopped in front of a room Nanao hadn't been inside before, which she'd assumed was another guest bedroom. His hands ran up her arms to her shoulders.

"I think she's worried that I might panic and run away." Nanao adjusted her glasses. "I warned you that she'd take a lack of interest in wedding planning as a lack of interest in marriage."

"But she's wrong about that, isn't she, Nanao-chan?" His hands cradled her face, a glint of worry showing in his eyes that both pleased and annoyed her.

"It's a ridiculous notion. I would never run away," she said firmly.

"I'm glad to hear that. If you do have any concerns, please share them with me," he murmured, so careful and gentle that she scowled and then felt awful for it.

"I just want this wedding to be over. When we were practicing marriage, it all seemed feasible and even practical. But now it's been weeks of Kasumi-bāchan and your mother and even you asking me about napkins and guests and sandals. I hardly remember now why we thought this was a good idea. It was very generous of you to do the wedding planning, I know that, and I appreciate it, but it's been difficult."

"I understand." He drew her closer, kissing her temple. "I want to show you something. I hope very much that it will jog sweet Nanao-chan's memory." He smiled, opening the door and waving her in with a flourish.

She stepped into the large room. There was something familiar about it immediately, although none of the furniture was recognizable. Sliding doors across from the entrance would undoubtedly lead to the porch and long, low bookcases in dark wood lined the other two walls.

The photos and trinkets on top of the bookcases were all Nanao's, and the books lining the shelves were hers, too. An exquisite desk with a pattern of flowers inlaid into the wood held her desk accessories from her quarters. On a low table pink roses were cradled in her favorite vase, a lilting curve in delicate ceramic that Shunsui had given her several years ago. Paintings hung over the bookcases—one of the hers, a minimalist landscape she'd bought after she became Vice Captain—and two other landscapes she'd never seen but liked immediately.

She walked to the desk, bending to caress the silky wood. A three-paneled screen with a similar inlay to the desk disguised a door that must lead to a bathroom. If she went in there, would she find her favorite soap? She glanced back at Shunsui as he leaned against the doorway casually. But he was anxious for her reaction—it showed in his watchful eyes and in the tight press of his lips.

Of course her favorite soap would be there. He'd obviously spent a lot of time making this study for her, attending to every detail. "When did you do all this?" she asked, looking down at the desk.

"I started when we talked about closets, but it wasn't finished until today."

"All of my things are here." She hadn't packed up her quarters completely until yesterday. Shunsui said he would have the boxes moved before the wedding, but Nanao had expected to have to unpack all of her things once they were married. She wandered to a bookcase, running her fingers over the spines.

He stepped closer. "It's not everything—I left some things that I thought you would want to handle yourself packed, and your clothes are in the closet in the bedroom. Your kitchen things are in the kitchen, things like that. I knew you'd label everything well, and that made it easy."

"I see." He'd added a photo to her collection—the two of them on her last birthday, before the Tanabata festival, dressed for the festival and smiling. He'd chosen a wooden frame inlaid with pale pink flowers. It was distinguished from her other, more staid frames, but didn't clash with them.

"Nanao-chan, if you don't like the room, you can have it all changed—"

"No," she said clearly, cutting through his concerned voice. "It's perfect." She smiled over her shoulder at him.

He came to her, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind. "You could have said that first, sweetheart. I was getting worried," he murmured in her ear.

She laughed. "I wanted to take it in first. You made a beautiful study for me and kept it secret somehow. That's almost miraculous, given how little privacy we have now." She slipped out of his arms to run her fingers over the edge of the bookcases, the screen, and then the door to the porch. Nanao opened it, letting the warm night air drift over her.

"Your great-aunt and my mother both knew, and they agreed to let me surprise you. It would have been impossible otherwise." She leaned against the doorframe, turning towards him, and he closed the distance between them, leaning over her. "We've had almost no time together, just the two of us, since the match meeting. But after tomorrow, we can have all the time to ourselves that we want."

"Or at least a week's worth of vacation time," she corrected. She felt a small curl of anxiety at being alone with him for that long. A honeymoon, a marriage—what did she really know about either of those things?

"I know that there will be some things tomorrow that you wouldn't have chosen on your own. But I hope that you'll still marry me, even if it's not exactly what you dreamed of as a girl." He caressed the curve of her cheek with his fingertips.

"I never dreamed about my wedding. Something like that was always well outside of my interests. I told Kasumi-bāchan that at the beginning." But he didn't look completely reassured. "As long as there's only one pink boar-drawn carriage, it'll be fine," she said, teasing.

His expression dropped into worry so quickly Nanao blinked at him. "About that—I know I said before that there would only be one, but—"

"Don't tell me." She reached up, threading her hands through his hair. "If you tell me there's a procession of carriages I'll have to think about that, and I really don't want to right now." She arched her back a little, curving into him.

He caught on quickly, his lips turning up. "I won't say a word."

"It's like going into battle. We just have to endure, and it'll be over soon." She lifted her chin, wetting her lips.

"Hopefully with less blood and screaming." His arms wrapped around her, pulling her close.

"I don't know about that. The Eleventh Division was invited." She closed her eyes, tugging him down.

He kissed her, trying for softness but making a sound of pleasure when she responded aggressively. She'd been hungry for him—starving—since their moment in the file room and he was doing an excellent job of reminding her why she'd felt that.

She gasped for breath when his lips roamed to her jaw, her throat, the dip of her collarbones. "I want to tell you something," she whispered, and he tipped his eyes up to hers, hot and glittering.

"You can tell me anything, Nanao-chan," he said, his voice low and rich.

"I made a list for you. It's not the exact list we talked about before, but I wanted to tell you about it."

"I'd love to talk about any list you made." Sensual interest darkened his eyes.

Her eyelids felt heavy. "I want to tell you in the dark." The study was beautiful and bright, but she remembered how she'd imagined this conversation, in his bed with the moonlight streaming in, his body curled around hers.

He didn't ask any more questions. His lips pressed warmly against her throat once, and then he straightened. He lifted her up into his arms. "Lovely Nanao-chan," he murmured against her hair.

Her arms circled his neck as he carried her out onto the porch, towards his bedroom. She relaxed against him. Everything would go as she'd imagined. She'd confess her inexperience in the dark and he would kiss her gently and they'd seek common ground in the big, plush bed, with none of the pressure of a wedding night.

A sharp trill from her phone jolted her eyes open. "No," she sighed.

He kept walking but stopped when his phone rang with a new message.

"It could be the First."

"It could be." His voice was soft, but all of her relaxation fled when he set her on her feet.

"It's not the First." She straightened her hair, her yukata.

"No, it's not. It's Kasumi-san. She says that she hopes my surprise went well but she really needs you back now."

Nanao rubbed her temples. "It's the hair ornaments again, isn't it?"

"I'm sorry, Nanao-chan. I can tell her we need more time." He started to press buttons on the phone.

"No, don't." Whatever time he could steal didn't matter—the mood was broken, the reality of the wedding tomorrow and her great-aunt and friends waiting for her now galloping over her relaxation like a thundering procession of boar-drawn carriages. Why had she ever thought they could enjoy a few private hours tonight? She hadn't been able to get more than a few stolen kisses in the last six weeks. She shook her head and breathed deeply a few times. "Thank you for the study, it's wonderful."

"This is our house now, Nanao-chan. I want you to be happy." He slid the phone into his sleeve, reaching out to cradle her face. He looked worried again. "I want you to be happy."

She smiled for him, although it was strained at the edges. "It's just like a battle. There's no time for anything but preparations."

"We'll have a lot of time, after the wedding. Battle, if you prefer that," he murmured wryly.

She nodded. "I should go before Kasumi-bāchan starts calling, too." She turned away.

"Nanao-chan." He stopped her, turning her back toward him. "Please don't worry about anything. Just come to the shrine tomorrow, and I'll take care of anything else that comes up."

She smiled, a real one this time, and shook her head. "You forgot something. I need to come to the shrine, and I need to say yes to you." Even though he'd told her not to worry, his brow was furrowed. Tenderness washed through her. He'd really done so much to try to make this easy for her. She reached up, smoothing his clothes over his shoulders.

"That's true. Precious Nanao-chan needs to come to the shrine and say yes to me. We'll be married tomorrow." He cupped her cheek, his lips at her ear. "And tomorrow night we'll be alone together, in the dark. You can tell me anything then. I promise."

"It'll be different then," she whispered. They'd be married, with all of the weight of expectation and promise that carried.

"It doesn't have to be." He kissed her lightly. "Nanao-chan, we'll still be the same people tomorrow."

That sounded true in his voice; perhaps Kasumi had made too much of what a marriage would require from her. She tipped her face up, seeking the reassurance of his lips.

The phone rang cheerfully, cutting off their kiss.

He leaned his forehead against hers. "I like your great-aunt, I really do," he said, as if reminding himself.

A small laugh escaped Nanao's mouth. "I like her too, most of the time. It's hard to remember at the moment."

"But you'd better go back before she sends for reinforcements." He grinned wryly. "I'll see you tomorrow, sweetheart. Sleep well, Nanao-chan."

She nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow." She stepped to the edge of the porch, looking back at him over her shoulder. "Shunsui?"

"Yes, Nanao-chan?"

"I remembered something, too." I hardly remember now why we thought this was a good idea.

His eyes widened, a real smile growing on his face.

"I'll see you tomorrow." She jumped into flash step before he could respond.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 14th, 2014 01:30 am (UTC)
*squeals* can't wait for the next chapter xD
Feb. 16th, 2017 08:56 am (UTC)
Знайте, что частные клиники согласны обслуживать вас п
Есть такая услуга - добровольное медицинское обслуживание (или ДМО).
Она предполагает, что пациент платит небольшую сумму за то, что ходит на прием весь год бесплатно.
Однако опросы показывают, что лишь 4% жителей Питера знают о ее существовании.
По какой причине?
Потому что клиникам намного выгодней сдирать с людей деньги за каждый визит.
А если какой-нибудь сотрудник клиники посоветует добровольное медицинское обслуживание клиенту - это сулит ему увольнением.
Эта информация уже вызвала кучу возмущений, после того как информацию об услуге рассекретил один врач.
Его уволили "по собственному желанию", после того, как он посоветовал ДМО своему пациенту.
Самое удивительное, что официальные положения по ДМО находились в открытом доступе, просто натыкались на эту информацию единицы.
Как отстоять свои права?
О правилах предоставления услуги и обязанностях клиник можно узнать, сделав запрос в Яндексе: "добровольное медицинское обслуживание".
И именно обслуживание, а не страхование.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )