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Title: The Trials of Nanao Ise
Genre: Romance/Drama
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Spoilers: Through manga chapter 423
Status: Ongoing
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Nanao will face the consequences of her decisions during and after the Arrancar War. Can she overcome these trials, or will they divide her from Captain Kyōraku forever? Canon compliant through manga chapter 423.

Back to Chapter 9.
Chapter 1.

Nanao sat on a cushion on the porch overlooking her captain's garden. Spread around her were several piles of trading cards. She was enormously pleased with these cards, which were proofs for sets that would be going to the printer after her approval. The first shinigami trading card attempt by the SWA had been disastrous, but this effort had been monitored much more closely by Nanao and the results were far better.

"What's all this?" Captain Kyōraku stepped onto the porch from the entrance in his bedroom. He walked down towards Nanao and sat near her with his back resting on a support beam. He'd bathed and changed into a fresh yukata. His hairpins stuck out of his hair tie at jaunty angles.

"Trading cards of prominent shinigami in the Gotei 13. The Ryoka are also in the set, as there is a lot of interest in them. It's a fundraiser for the Women's Association." She handed him one of the piles of cards. "These are the most common cards, which will be easiest to collect."

"They're profiles of captains and vice captains?" He flipped through the cards, looking at the pictures. "Nanao-chan, I'm sleeping in this picture."

"We tried to be true to life." Nanao had taken the picture of Captain Kyōraku herself earlier this year. She felt the shot of him sleeping under a tree was an accurate portrait of how he spent much of his time.

"Well, you have Ukitake smiling, Toshiro-kun frowning, Yama-jii looking old and wise, but why do I have to be sleeping?" He held up the card of himself and tapped the picture.

"Because you were sleeping in the middle of the workday when I needed to take the picture," she said.

"You took this picture?" he asked, looking at it with renewed interest.

"Yes. If you don't want to be portrayed as lazy at work, perhaps you shouldn't nap so much during working hours." Nanao reached for the cards in his hand, but he pulled them away.

"I haven't finished looking yet. I want to see my Nanao-chan's card."

She sighed but watched him searching through the pictures, knowing he'd found hers when he stopped for a long moment. It was a very ordinary picture, and Nanao knew she looked very ordinary in it, seated at her desk with a brush in one hand and a stack of work in front of her.

"Who took this picture?" His eyes skimmed over the biographical information under the photo, but it was only about her position in the Eighth Division and her column in Seireitei Bulletin.


"I wish you had asked me to help with your photo project. I would be happy to follow my sweet Nanao-chan around with a camera," he teased, leaning towards her.

"I'm sure you would be, captain." She tugged the stack of cards away from him. "As I said, these are the common cards, and the pictures are intended to reflect daily life for each shinigami. If you're interested in rarer photos, then you want to see these cards," she said, handing him a stack of different cards.

He flipped through the stack, pausing longer over each photo. At a photo of Mayuri Kurotsuchi smiling he shuddered. "I thought a smile might be a bit of an improvement, but actually it just makes him look creepier."

Nanao nodded. "Nemu-san took the picture for us. Apparently he was smiling at his successful development of a new type of edible bomb."

"I don't think I need to collect this one," he said, flipping to the next photo. "Yare, Nanao-chan, this isn't a rare sight at all."

He held up a card with Rangiku smiling, cheeks pink, cleavage prominent, and a bottle of sake clutched in her hand. Nanao only shrugged until he held up two more cards featuring Rangiku and her cleavage. "Well, we felt that sales would be improved if we included several cards of certain popular shinigami."

"I see." He passed photos of Vice Captain Hisagi shirtless, Captain Hitsugaya with his shikai out, and stopped at a photo of a very handsome man. "Who is this? Eighth Seat of Fourth Division? He gets to be on a card?"

Nanao adjusted her glasses. "Eighth Seat Ogidō has a large following among the female shinigami population."

"I can see why. Still, it doesn't seem fair, when Ukitake's Third Seats have to share a card."

"Fairness has no place in a fundraiser, captain. Eighth Seat Ogidō is very handsome and he was ranked very high in the SWA's recent poll of the Most Interesting Men in Seireitei."

He glanced up at her, surprised. "Do you think he's handsome, Nanao-chan?"

"It doesn't matter what I think. He obviously has many fine facial features that are attractively arranged. Nemu-san did a study about what makes men physically attractive, if you are really interested in information on Eighth Seat Ogidō."

"I'm not interested in Eighth Seat Ogidō. I want to know if you're interested in him." He leaned towards her, his face a little teasing and a little serious.

Nanao made an impatient noise. "I'm interested in selling a lot of cards with his face on them," she said, adjusting her glasses again. Her captain was being ridiculous. Still, she didn't want to date Ogidō, and she supposed it wouldn't hurt to say so. "But no, I have no interest in Ogidō-san personally."

He leaned back against the beam, smiling at her. "Where did I rank in that poll?" He sorted through the cards idly.

"I don't remember," she lied.

"Who did you vote for, Nanao-chan?"

"Voting and poll results are a private SWA matter, captain." She picked up the stack of common cards and began sorting them into order by division.

"But you just told me about Ogidō-kun's ranking in the poll." He held up a card of Captain Kuchiki walking in his garden, head turned towards the camera. "How did you manage this?"

"Rukia Kuchiki is a member of the SWA. Captain Kuchiki was willing to be photographed in a limited quantity if he was given approval of the pictures to be used." Nanao smiled a little. Any photographs of Captain Kuchiki were very rare and sure to bring out lots of buyers for the trading cards. It didn't matter that there would be no racy content—in his other photo, he led a calligraphy class—he was a subject of such high interest that people would buy anything with him on it.

"So three pictures of Rangiku-san, three of Toshiro-kun, two of Byakuya-kun—how many photos of lovely Nanao-chan are in this rare cards set?"


"Only one?" he asked, brows raised in surprise.

"I am not a person of particular interest." She met his eyes.

"You're of the greatest interest to me, Nanao-chan," he said, his voice warm and his eyes sincere.

"You are not the only audience for our fundraising, captain. We intend to sell a great many cards, and the best way to do that is with extra rare cards of the most popular shinigami." She debated a moment, then continued, "Actually, the only reason I have a card in that set at all is because Rangiku-san insisted."

"I'll have to thank her for that." He stopped glancing through the cards and pulled one out. Nanao caught a glimpse of it and saw that it was her card. In the picture she was sitting on a pink surface, looking at something beside her, her head turned slightly in that direction. A small smile sat on her lips and a light blush bloomed on her cheeks. Her eyes were glittering and happy behind her glasses.

It was an unguarded moment for Nanao, and she hadn't been happy when Rangiku insisted it should go into the set, but everyone from the SWA was going to be on a rare card, and that meant Nanao too. This was a good picture of her, and it was from a day she remembered fondly, so it went into the set.

"Who took this picture?" Captain Kyōraku asked with his eyes locked on the card.

"Rangiku-san." She wondered if he liked the photo or not. He'd been obviously disappointed with the dull, unsmiling photo of her in the common set.

"What's made you so happy in this picture, Nanao-chan?" He lifted his eyes to hers, leaning towards her.

She dropped her eyes to his hands and took the card of herself away, tugging when he didn't release it immediately. From his other hand she took the stack of rare cards. The card of herself she set down between them, facing him. She sorted through the stack of cards, pulling one out. This card she placed next to the card of herself.

It was a picture of Captain Kyōraku sitting on his pink haori, looking away from the camera, a wide grin on his face and a dish of sake in his hand. He wasn't wearing his hat and his clothes stuck to him in a way that suggested he was soaking wet. But the pleasure on his face was so strong that it was apparent the dampness didn't bother him.

With the cards side by side, it was clear that they were from the same photograph. Nanao's happiness was because of her captain.

"It was one picture. Rangiku-san suggested we use each half for one of the cards," she said. She kept her eyes on the cards and did not look up at him, though she felt the weight of his eyes on her.

"This was the day of the summer party, when the roof caught fire and you drowned the courtyard."

"Rangiku-san came by later in the afternoon, towards the end of the party. Do you remember?"

"I remember. Nanao-chan," he said, and she reluctantly lifted her head to look at him. "You should always be this happy."

"That's not—" she began, but he lifted one hand to cup her cheek. Nanao's heart fluttered rapidly in her chest. She couldn't say the rest of her intended sentence: that it wasn't up to him to make her happy. How could she say that when so much of her happiness and heartache was because of him?

His thumb brushed over her cheekbone and Nanao panicked a little. It felt like this morning had, like an opportunity she didn't know how to use, so she moved away from his hand to gather up the trading cards with jerky movements.

He dropped his hand and leaned back against the post. When she tried to pick up the cards of herself and her captain, he stopped her by putting his large hand on top of his. "I want to keep these."

Nanao shook her head. "These are the proofs for the printer. I need to approve these so the set can be printed." He didn't lift his hand, warm and large over hers, so she added: "You can buy the cards when they come out and collect these pictures."

"Can I buy these cards specifically?" His voice was lazy but there was a heat underneath that made Nanao's nerves electric.

"You can buy packets of the cards. The packets will have a random assortment of common and rare cards, with fewer of the rare ones. Nemu-san calculated that if you purchase 85 packets of cards, you are likely to achieve a complete set."

"85 packets? That's an awful lot of cards to buy, Nanao-chan." He smiled at her.

"It's a fundraiser. The entire purpose is to sell as many cards as possible."

"My Nanao-chan is a little mercenary." His long fingers stroked the wrist of the hand he'd trapped.

"If you don't want to purchase that many cards, you can always attempt to trade the cards you do have for the ones you want. Rangiku-san or Captain Kuchiki's cards should be in very high demand. You'll probably be able to trade for my card very easily. His hand didn't lift, so she added quickly, "Rangiku-san still has the original photograph."

She tugged her hand free of his and tucked the cards back into the rare set. "I'm going to do some work. Please excuse me, captain."

At the threshold to the house she paused when he spoke. "I want to see you smile like that again soon, Nanao-chan."

She nodded once and walked into the house, away from him.


At her captain's desk Nanao moved aside the stacks of sorted papers to clear a workspace for herself. With a fresh brush and a blank page she started work on something she'd been thinking about since she realized she'd likely soon lose her position as the vice captain of the Eighth: a manual for running the division.

While she did not believe she could lead the division alone—her captain was definitely the guiding light of the troops—she was certain that she alone ran the day-to-day operations of the division. She suspected strongly that Captain Kyōraku was fully capable of doing paperwork, filing requisitions, and making up schedules, but that he chose not to do so. Nanao thought that doing the same forms over the course of centuries might eventually wear thin.

That was why she'd gotten the idea for this manual. When she was gone, stripped of her rank and perhaps exiled, perhaps imprisoned in the Maggot's Nest—she could only guess what would happen—the ranked officers in the Eighth would have a guide to all of the work she'd done for decades.

And when her captain chose a new vice captain—her heart clenched painfully at the thought—that person would be able to step into her shoes well-informed of the responsibilities of the position. Nanao did do more than many other vice captains, both because her captain did as little desk work as he could, and because Nanao was inclined to simply do tasks that would take her more time to explain to a subordinate than she would take to complete them.

She worked on the manual for the entire afternoon. The day was slipping towards evening when a delicate hell butterfly wove its way through an open window and across the room to her hand. It was a message from Vice Captain Sasakibe: Vice Captain Ise, I have received your report on the events during your command of the Gotei 13. I wish to inform you that I have also received a formal complaint from Vice Captain Takahashi of the Kidō Corps. Additional reports from witnesses to the events of the command post are being collected, however, no decision will be made until the captain commander is well enough to review the reports and determine if the matter of your alleged crimes is severe enough to require referral to the Central 46 or if it can be handled by Captain Yamamoto.

It is worth noting that Vice Captain Takahashi has sent a copy of his report to the Central 46 directly, so the larger question of your alleged crimes may not rest in the captain commander's hands at all. If you would care to come to First Division on Thursday afternoon, we can meet over tea to discuss the matter personally.

Nanao watched the butterfly flapping around the desk, awaiting a reply message. Thursday was in three days. She was surprised by the candor of Vice Captain Sasakibe's message, but they had both been vice captains for decades—perhaps he considered this a due courtesy to a colleague?

She dashed off a message on the butterfly, thanking Sasakibe for his information and agreeing to meet with him on Thursday. For a long time, she thought of nothing at all, and when a thought did come it was only: So Takahashi was that awful little man's name.

Vaguely she heard Third Seat Enjōji at the door talking with Captain Kyōraku. The smell of cooked fish and tangy soup wafted through the air. Still, she couldn't stop staring at the wall and thinking about the pig-like vice captain of the Kidō Corps.

"Sweet Nanao-chan, come and dine with me!" Captain Kyōraku called from the vicinity of the table in the main living room.

Nanao went to the table and greeted him briefly. She ate without enthusiasm, not paying attention to his efforts at conversation. After she'd made him repeat himself three times his face grew serious. "Are you worried about that complaint the Kidō Corps officer filed against you?"

"How do you know about that?" Nanao asked, shocked. "The events of the command post are still under confidentiality."

"Yes, so I don't know exactly what his complaint is, only that he's filed one. It's standard to notify a captain of any complaints filed against his ranked officers. You know that. I got a hell butterfly about it a little while ago." He watched her face with concern. "Nanao-chan, whatever it is, I'm sure you acted appropriately for the situation."

She made an irritated noise and adjusted her glasses, looking away from him.

"Yama-jii isn't going do anything serious for a complaint about actions you took at the command post during war. The complaint doesn't involve bloodshed, I know, since there's an extra notification for that. I don't know what you did to this Takahashi—" he lifted a brow at her, but she only shook her head.

"It's confidential," she snapped.

"Whatever you did to him, I'm sure he deserved it. It's going to be fine, Nanao-chan. I'm sure it will be straightened out easily after Yama-jii is better. And who knows, even if he decides to slap your wrist, he might just hand you over to my custody for me to decide an appropriate punishment." He grinned at her.

She couldn't tell him how wrong he was, how the complaint was really the least of it, so she just sighed and picked up her tea. They sat in companionable silence for several minutes. It was her captain who cleared the dinner dishes.

The sounds of him working in the kitchen soothed her a little. She'd already known this would happen, so why did she still feel so shocked and scared?

When Captain Kyōraku reappeared he had a jug of sake in one hand. "Would my sweet Nanao-chan care to join me for a drink under the stars?"

She opened her mouth to refuse automatically. The image of the hell butterfly coming down to her hand flashed across her mind. Time was short—when would she have this chance again? Already today she'd let opportunities to change their relationship slide by. "Yes."

Surprise and then pleasure crossed his face. "This is a rare delight." He offered her his hand, but she shook her head.

"I'll come out in a minute," she said.

He nodded and walked towards his bedroom. The sliding door in that room opened onto the porch overlooking the back garden, which she knew to be his favorite spot at his house.

Nanao went into her guest room and gathered a few items. She adjusted her clothes until she was as neat as she'd been this morning. She pushed up her glasses, breathed in deeply, nodded once and headed for the porch.

On to Chapter 11.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 30th, 2011 09:42 am (UTC)
I love the contrast between the two halves of chapter 10; the sweetness of the split photo, and the tension and fear that has been pushing Nanao into action regarding Shunsui.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )