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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
Contains: mild consensual activity between adults.
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 10.
Chapter 1.

Outside the air was crisp and a bit chilled. The night was clear and the stars winked as Nanao stepped out to sit on a cushion with her legs tucked neatly under her. She took the sake dish he offered her and drank a small sip. She set the dish down and began to fuss with a length of bright pink fabric.

"Are you taking up scarves, Nanao-chan?" he asked. He was sitting on a cushion near Nanao but had sprawled out his legs to dangle off the porch.

"It's for Rangiku-san. I was making it for her for the SWA gift exchange at Christmas, but I thought I would visit her tomorrow and give it to her then." She folded the fabric so he could see the narcissus embroidered on the ends. "It's only a scarf, but I thought it would be good to remind her of what she still has."

He looked at the bright pink silk and the embroidered flower, symbol of the Tenth Division, for a long moment. "She'll love it, Nanao-chan."

"It's not much, after what's happened to Gin Ichimaru, but—I don't think she'll want to talk about that. And I wouldn't know what to say about it anyway. But this will remind her that she's the vice captain of the Tenth, and that I'm her friend." Nanao began to wrap the scarf in the pretty paper she'd brought from inside. There was nothing she could say to Rangiku that would make up for the loss of her childhood friend and the man she'd loved, but Nanao wanted to do something, however small.

"It's interesting that you two are friends." He sipped sake.

"Since we're so different?" Nanao began to wrap the paper package in ribbon. "It's hard not to be friends with Rangiku-san. We're close in age, but we didn't have much in common. So we weren't very intimate when we became acquaintances, but the first time we went shopping together I think we found qualities in each other that we both liked. After that, we became good friends."

"What did you find out about each other that made you close?" His voice was relaxed and curious. He was very easy for Nanao to talk to when he was like this, and she usually kept a guard up to avoid any embarrassing moments, but she wanted to ask him about something important tonight and embarrassment was hiding in the distant background behind her other emotions.

"When I was with Rangiku-san, I didn't have to be so—so Vice Captain Ise, I suppose I would say. If I was more relaxed about things, she didn't treat it as something strange. Most of the other shinigami have an idea of who I am, and if I deviate from that image at all, I'll hear gossip about myself for weeks for things that would be unremarkable in someone else. It's uncomfortable and foolish and I try to avoid scenarios like that. The easiest way is to maintain my professionalism nearly all the time."

"You shouldn't have to do something like that if you don't want to, Nanao-chan. Worrying about what strangers say about you or think of you is a waste of time. You should only be concerned with the opinions of people you know and care about." His eyes met hers briefly.

She looked back down to tie a neat bow in the ribbons on her gift. "It's easy for you to say something like that. You're a captain, and you've been one for so long that it's nothing for you to break rules or act foolish in public. But I was the youngest shinigami in our division, and then the youngest vice captain in any division, until Yachiru-san came. It was hard for me to earn the respect of my peers. Eventually I realized the best way to do that was to be more mature and more professional than shinigami five times my age. So that's who I've been, for a very long time."

His fingers brushed over the back of her hand on top of her package. She looked up and saw his face lit with warmth and understanding.

"It's not as if it's a false face—it's a large part of my personality, it's just not the whole of it. Because of my friendship with Rangiku-san, I've been able to open up more sometimes." She sipped out of her sake dish, uncomfortable with the amount she was talking about herself.

"I'm glad about that. My Nanao-chan has always been independent and a bit closed-off from other people. There's nothing really wrong with that, but there should always be at least a few people you feel comfortable being silly with, or showing your sadness or anger to. If Rangiku-san is one of those people for you, then I'm glad. I want to be one of those people for you too, Nanao-chan. I hope you can think of me that way."

She glanced at his serious face and tender eyes and thought again of how he could open himself up to her, knowing she would probably reject his sentiment out of hand. "It's more complicated with you," she said, because it was. He was her captain and a man she was attracted to romantically and sexually. They were friends also, she supposed, since they spent a lot of time together and had a lot of enjoyable conversations that were entirely unrelated to work. She trusted him implicitly—what gave her pause when she was with him was that she did not trust herself not to do or say something that would upset the careful balance their relationship had stood on for many years.

He smiled at her. "It doesn't have to be," he said, and his voice was rich with heat and suggestion.

"As if that would be simpler." She eyed him balefully. Responding positively to his advances might clarify the nature of their relationship, but she didn't see how that would simplify anything. It would probably involve a world of new complications. Unfortunate, since she intended to try and move them into that new realm.

He chuckled.

She thought it would be best to return to the original subject. "So I became closer with Rangiku-san for that reason. When I think about it, her reason for wanting to be friends with me is almost the same. I noticed that she was always cheerful and joking at SWA meetings, but that it seemed forced sometimes. When we spent time alone together, if she got quiet for a while I didn't ask her about it. After we'd been friends for a few years she told me she liked that about me—that I didn't expect her to always be happy, so she didn't have to put on a bright face all the time."

"I've noticed that about her before—but then, we're drinking buddies, so I think I only see her when she wants to be cheerful and happy, even if it is forced. I'm glad that you two are friends, Nanao-chan. I'm a little surprised—I thought that you and Hinamori-kun were closer than you and Rangiku-san."

Nanao made a small sound in her throat at the thought of her friend from Fifth Division. She moved the package a few feet away and picked up her sake dish, tracing a finger around the rim. "Hinamori-san and I used to run into each other at the library often, and we would talk about books we liked. I thought we had a lot in common, since we were both vice captains, liked reading, were interested in some of the same traditional arts like embroidery. We always had a good time together at the library, but every time we would meet outside of that space, it was different."

She glanced up at him and he gestured for her to continue.

"When we would talk about something that wasn't books, anything that wasn't books, she would always tell me what her captain thought about the topic. That would have been alright, except that Hinamori-san didn't have any other opinion. Ever. On anything. Every opinion was something that Captain Aizen had said, and that she'd absorbed into herself. I don't know if she really didn't have any independent thoughts on things, or if she just admired Aizen so much she was incapable of expressing an opinion different from one of his. She worshipped him, and it was disturbing."

"Yet you visited her often at the hospital when she was recovering from being stabbed by Aizen." He refilled his sake dish and topped off hers.

"She's my friend, and she's very young. I thought the worship of her captain was something that she might outgrow at some point. I wasn't going to stop being her friend because of that. I tried to involve her in the SWA because I thought it would be good for her to encounter new people with other perspectives. After Aizen's betrayal, I visited her at the hospital to bring her new books and talk with her. I didn't want her to feel abandoned by her friends because of what he'd done. You know how people talk. There's been a cloud over the Third, the Fifth, and the Ninth because of what those captains did."

"No one who knows what happened believes that those vice captains or divisions had anything to do with those betrayals."

"As if that would stop people from talking about the possibility. Captain, do you have any idea how cruel gossip can be? I didn't want Hinamori-san to go through things like that. The SWA and her other friends tried to protect her. But when I visited her at the hospital the only thing she wanted to talk about was Aizen, how he must have been manipulated by Ichimaru, how he would never do such things." She made a frustrated gesture with her hand.

"Hinamori-kun was in a difficult situation. You said yourself how much she admired Aizen. To face the truth of his betrayal and his attempts to murder her and Toshiro-kun might have been too much for her at the time."

His thoughts were insightful, and she believed that they likely reflected the truth of Hinamori's situation. "I was very gentle with her. Much more gentle than I am usually inclined to be. She was very fragile. But she'd been doing better lately, so much better. She never stopped calling him Captain Aizen, but she did understand the facts of the events. And now—now the Fourth has given her to the Twelfth Division for organ replacement."

"She's alive. Everything else can be repaired with time, even the mind and the heart. Believe me, Nanao-chan. Time is indifferent to our sufferings, but eventually those pains are eased by the weight of time. For a while she may think of these events every hour, but as years pass, it may only be every day, and then memories might only creep up on her unexpectedly when she's forgotten for months or years at a time. I'm sorry about what's happened to Hinamori-kun, but she has a lot of people who want to see her well and who will help her with anything they can. She's lucky to have such good friends."

Nanao sighed. "I wish I could have done something before this happened."

He smiled at her, but his eyes were sad. "We all wish for that, Nanao-chan."

They sat in silence for several minutes, watching the stars and sipping sake.

"Did you ever think about me the way that Hinamori-kun did about Aizen?" he asked, his tone neutral.

"You mean did I ever worship you blindly?"

He nodded slightly.

Nanao sniffed and almost choked on a laugh. "Never. How could I think something like that about you?"

"Even when you were still very young?"

She raised her brows at him, but his expression was serious, so she answered him seriously. "Not even when I was a child, no. I was always aware that you were a flawed man, and I knew enough about those flaws that I could never see you as perfect. I think it's necessary to believe someone is perfect to worship them."

"You knew about my flaws?" He looked bemused.

"It isn't as if you've ever tried to hide them. You drink, womanize, neglect your work, and for a man who is the leader of a large group of troops, you like your solitude quite a lot, among other things. I didn't notice the part about the solitude until I was your vice captain, to be fair. The other three I could see from the time I joined the division, and Vice Captain Yadōmaru clarified them for me when I asked."

"Lisa-chan talked to you about my activities? But you were a child." She was amused to see him look scandalized.

"She was a big believer in fulfilling curiosity. And she wasn't explicit, obviously."

He looked faintly relieved. "With Lisa-chan, it isn't obvious that she would hold back."

That was the truth, and Nanao nodded.

"You think I like solitude too much?"

"I didn't say that. But for a man with a gregarious reputation who leads a division known for its parties, you do spend quite a bit of your time alone. Did you think you were just lucky when I didn't come to find you when you really wanted to be by yourself? I taught Captain Hitsugaya that tracking kidō. I could find you anywhere."

"My Nanao-chan knows me so well," he said, his eyes intense on hers. He leaned towards her, resting some of his weight on one of his hands.

She tried to fight down a blush and resisted the need to move away from his proximity. "In any case, you needn't worry. I have always respected you as my captain, but I have never felt anything remotely approaching worship for you."

"That's a relief. There are plenty of feelings I'd like to have from you, but worship isn't one of them. On the other hand, I can think of several acts of worship I'd like to do for my Nanao-chan. I would worship you with my lips, kissing you all the way to your—"

"Finish that sentence and you're going to kiss The Unabridged Encyclopedia of Kidō Incantations so hard you'll cringe if you so much as hear the word worship."

He leaned even closer, so his face was level with hers and only inches away. He seemed caught between intensity and teasing, his mouth smiling but his eyes narrowed. When he spoke his voice was dark silk. "I think it's an empty threat, sweetheart. I think if I kissed you now, you wouldn't stop me. I think you'd let me taste your mouth. What do you think of that, Nanao-chan?"

Her hands clenched together on her lap. She took a few darting breaths. This was what she wanted, but if they did this before she talked to him it might not mean what Nanao needed it to mean. "I have the Encyclopedia with my things in the guest bedroom."

"Do you really?" At her small nod he chuckled. "Well, you have been particularly honest and open today. Yet it's a bit of a stretch to think you'd pack that heavy book just to leave it in your bedroom." He deliberately leaned closer still, until only an inch separated their faces.

He was so close Nanao couldn't focus on his whole face, only pieces of it—his strong nose, his rich dark eyes, his wide mouth. "You never know when you'll need to reference obscure kidō spells."

His lips turned up. "Is that so?"

"Yes. You noticed I was being very honest today?"

"I notice everything about you. You've been very open with me since last night. Wasn't it deliberate?"

She swallowed twice. Her voice was small when she answered. "Yes."

"Did you want to tell me something, Nanao?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Tell me."

But she did not speak.

He was going to kiss her. She could read it in the minute tensing of his face. Electric sparks flowed through Nanao's body. At the last moment she jerked her head away and pressed her hand against his mouth.

He groaned and his teeth nipped lightly at her fingers.

"I need to talk to you," she said. "So sit. And give back my hand." She tugged her hand back into her lap, ignoring wet patches where he'd bitten at her.

"Cruel, cruel Nanao-chan." He flopped back on his cushion and poured himself a fresh drink.

She struggled for a minute with how to go about this, and decided to take refuge where she was most comfortable: a professional attitude. Neatly she spun around on her cushion so that she was facing her captain instead of looking off at the stars. Her shoulders straightened and her face smoothed into an even expression. "As you are undoubtedly aware, your treatment of me has been at times highly unprofessional. This is something that I would like you to change when we are in the office."

His eyes narrowed briefly at her phrasing. "Only when we're in the office, Nanao-chan?"

"I have come to the conclusion that I would like to enter into a trial period for a more intimate personal relationship between us, if that is agreeable to you." Nanao clasped her hands together in her lap and forced her face to maintain a neutral expression.

Captain Kyōraku blinked several times. Nanao took a small satisfaction in seeing him act as if he'd been struck very hard in the head. When he didn't speak after a few seconds, she began to get irritated.

"If you aren't interested in having a personal relationship, I would appreciate it if you would say so. Also, if you aren't interested, you need to stop your inappropriate behavior towards me. It is unacceptable for you to behave in this harassing manner towards women, especially someone you work with." Her voice rose with her growing levels of irritation. Really, how dare he spend hours each day making advances if there was nothing behind them?

"Nanao-chan, don't get angry. I'm just a little surprised," he said quickly. "Could you explain a little more of what you want? When you say intimate—ah, why don't you explain first?"

She crossed her arms over her chest and scowled at him. "I want to have a trial period of dating. If you are not clear on what modern dating involves, which is possible, since it's a newer idea and most of the buildings in Seireitei are younger than you, I suppose you could say it's like courtship, only less medieval. If you aren't interested, just say so, and we never have to talk about this again."

"I didn't say I wasn't interested. You want to be courted, lovely Nanao-chan?" His eyes softened and he reached a hand out for her waist. She slapped him away with her empty sake dish.

"Trial period. Of dating," she snapped. Suddenly a dark thought occurred to her. "Were you only interested in going to bed with me?"

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to go to bed with you. But that is definitely not all that I want. I'd be honored to court you, Nanao-chan."

This relieved her and tensed her at the same time. He hadn't refused her, and he hadn't only wanted to have sex with her, but now things would change between them, and that was unnerving. "Wait. There are conditions."

He only smiled at her. That she had terms was apparently not a surprise.

"First, we will date each other exclusively during the trial period. If you pick up another woman, we're done. No exceptions." This was the condition she was most serious about, and her frowning face reflected that.

"I don't want another woman if I can have you." His voice was that dark silk again.

"Second, you will not embarrass me in front of our division or in public." She paused. "That's probably impossible, but at the least, do nothing out of the ordinary. Do not discuss our private relationship with everyone you meet."

"I can be discreet." He raised a brow as she tried to swallow her laughter and began to cough. "I can. Besides, I've already serenaded you from the division courtyard twice this year and proclaimed my love during that joint budget meeting between the captains and vice captains."

She sighed after her coughing subsided. "That's true. I will never forget that meeting."
She sighed again.

"That's so romantic, Nanao-chan."

"I very nearly used a kidō to freeze you in time and teleport you to another place. But it's forbidden."

"My cute Nanao-chan is so clever with kidō."

"I also considered cutting your tongue out with my zanpakutō, but it wouldn't have been fair to the others in the meeting to cover them with blood and distract them from the budget discussion."

"My beautiful Nanao-chan is so considerate."

"I suppose it can't really get worse than that," she said glumly.

"That meeting was a moment of pure romance, Nanao-chan."

"I hid in the office for three weeks. At the vice captains' meeting, Rangiku-san made Hisagi-san act out the scene, in case anyone had forgotten the details. I nearly took off my glasses and blasted them out the window with a lightning kidō."

"My Nanao-chan has such excellent self-control."

"If you ever do anything like that again, your life will be in serious jeopardy." She adjusted her glasses to add menace, but he did not look particularly threatened. It was difficult to intimidate one of the most powerful captains in Soul Society.

"I could never let you forget my feelings, no matter the jeopardy." He put his hand over his heart with mock solemnity.

"At least try to meet the second condition."

"Anything for my Nanao-chan." He grinned at her.

"The last condition is the trial period. The trial will last for two weeks."

"That's awfully short, Nanao-chan. What happens at the end of two weeks?"

I'll be stripped of my rank and perhaps in the Rukongai or exile in the Living World. She frowned at the thought. Two weeks was her best guess on how long it might take for the Central 46 to consider her case. Obviously Aizen had to be dealt with first, and that might take some time. Then all the reports about the command post had to be gathered and read, further testimony taken, and deliberations done. Vice Captain Sasakibe might be able to give her a better idea when she saw him.

But Captain Kyōraku couldn't be told any of that. "At the end of the trial, we will decide individually if we wish to continue the personal relationship," she said.

"I want to continue the relationship."

"You can't decide that now," she snapped. "Two weeks should be enough time to consider whether something like this could work between us. I see no reason to spend more time on it if we aren't compatible."

"We're compatible."

"Two weeks. Can you agree to the condition or not?"

"Two weeks to court you? I accept, of course." He grinned again.

"Good, then we're agreed." Nanao nodded once, some of the tension leaving her. She had no idea what would happen now, but she'd reached out for what she wanted and changed their relationship.

"An agreement like this should be sealed."

Nanao gazed at him in confusion. "Do you want to sign a contract?"

"No, precious. I was thinking of something more like this," he said, shifting close to her and cupping her cheek with one large hand. His lips hovered the barest distance from hers.

He was so close she could feel the heat of his body through his clothes. He smelled of sake and musk and the autumn. Faint tremors were streaking through Nanao's body. Her hand came up to his face, but this time she rested it on his jaw, rubbing his scruffy facial hair. Nanao's eyes drifted closed.

His lips were firm and warm against hers. He kissed her tenderly, leisurely, as if they had eternity to spend on this moment. His teeth nipped lightly at her bottom lip and his tongue teased the seam of her lips. She made a little sound and opened her mouth. His hand stroked her skin approvingly.

His tongue slipped into her mouth, teasing her tongue. He tasted like sake and something else, his own masculine taste. Nanao's body felt like it was filled with honey, heavy and slow and hot. She sighed when he left her mouth to lavish kisses along her neck.

"Captain," she gasped.

"No, Nanao. Call me Shunsui. We're having an intimate personal relationship, after all." He murmured his words into the skin at the crook of her neck. His lips suckled at her skin, sending a jolt down her body. Her hands grasped at him, one clutching the back of his neck, the other wound around his arm.

He came back to her mouth and she welcomed him in. She offered up her lips and tongue, and he feasted on them until she made little moans into his mouth. He gentled the kiss, easing back until they were just brushing their lips together.

Her heart leaped erratically and he soothed the pulse in her neck with caressing fingers. He pulled her close, leaning her into his side, her head resting on his chest.

"I'm a man who likes to take his time with things, and you've offered me very little time. But don't worry, sweetheart, before these two weeks are over it'll be very clear to you why you should give me much, much more of your time."

"Captain," she said, but couldn't continue.

"Shunsui. Use my name, Nanao-chan."

She shook her head. "Captain—"

"Shunsui. Is it that difficult to say, Nanao-chan?"

"Yes. I've called you captain for a very long time, and I still need to call you captain in many situations."

"My proper Nanao-chan. I don't care if you never call me captain again."

She shook her head at that. He stroked her hair with one heavy hand. He'd freed it of her hairpin at some point during their kiss. Her body relaxed into his. She was warm and comfortable, with a ribbon of heat still running through her. They stayed that way for a long time.

She was close to sleep when she remembered she still had something to do. Nanao pulled away from him and covered a yawn with one hand. "Take off your top. I have to heal you one more time today."

"I will give up my clothes at Nanao-chan's request any time," he said, shrugging out of his top.

Her hands lit up as she moved behind him. She eased her reiatsu through him when the kidō was established, sending the healing spell after it. She felt an intimate connection with him, but it was more comfortable now than it had been the first time she'd done this, in the hospital. The healing session went on for several minutes.

The light in her hands winked out and she yawned again. How long had they talked on the porch? It felt very late to Nanao. "I'm going to bed. Good night, captain." She rose from her position behind him.

He clasped her hand gently in one of his. "You could stay with me if you wanted."

She turned her body slightly to look at him. His face was serious. He wanted to have sex today, before they'd really even begun dating? "Captain, that's not—"

"To sleep, Nanao-chan. I slept so well with you beside me."

Nanao had slept well with him wrapped around her. She shook her head. "I don't think it's a good idea."

He nodded. "If you change your mind, I'll be here or in my room." He released her hand, smiling slightly.

"Don't stay up all night. I don't know when Captain Unohana will want to see you tomorrow. It could be early."

His smile only grew at her words. "Retsu-san won't send for me early."

As she was crossed into the house he said, "Sleep well, Nanao-chan."

She paused and nodded. "Sleep well, captain."

On to Chapter 12.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 30th, 2011 09:42 am (UTC)
And Nanao has finally gathered her courage and stepped forward! It's rather sad that she could only do so when she thought she was in danger of losing him; she doesn't seem to realise how hurt he'd be in she was indeed locked up after the two weeks, when he thought they had an eternity ahead...
Jul. 30th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
I think Nanao in this story has a lot of fears about moving forward and damaging the comfortable situation she already has, so an external catalyst was needed to provoke her to action. I don't think it would occur to her that her actions now could be very hurtful to Shunsui if he is in love with her, because she's never believed that he's actually in love with her. That's a bit sad, when I think about it!

Thanks for following this story, I appreciate your comments. I've been trying to post Chapter 12, but LJ is not very cooperative at the moment, so who knows when that will actually happen... ^_^;;
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )