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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 12.
Chapter 1.

It was nearly two hours before Nanao waved goodbye to Rangiku and left the hospital room. She'd almost called a halt to Rangiku's advising several times, but her blonde friend was having such a good time with it and so obviously enjoying Nanao's discomfort and indignation that Nanao let it go on until it reached a natural end. Rangiku's happiness was important to Nanao, and if enduring conversations about undergarments and kissing made her friend smile, she would suffer through.

She tucked the packet of notes she'd made into her uniform. Although she questioned the value of this information, Nanao was nothing if not a diligent student, and her notes were detailed.

"What are those?" Shunsui asked near her ear, and she nearly shrieked in surprise, slamming her shoulder into his chin.

"You startled me," she scolded.

He rubbed at his chin gingerly. "I can tell."

"Sorry," Nanao said, not really meaning it. He shouldn't be sneaking up on her like that.

"Retsu-san booted me out for Ukitake's treatment and you were still visiting, so I was enjoying the sunshine over there." He waved at a bright patch in the quiet hallway. "You visited for quite a long time. And made notes?"

"Rangiku-san was working on the requisitions for her division for next quarter." She left it at that, making it seem like she'd spent a lot of time helping with the paperwork.

"It was nice of you to help her. Are our division's requisitions done?" he asked as they walked down the stairs towards the entrance of the hospital.

"They've been done for about a month. I did mention it to you at the time."

He shrugged, endeavoring to look apologetic. "I forgot. How could I listen to notices about requisitions when my beautiful Nanao-chan commands so much of my attention?"

"Maybe because I was the one telling you about requisitions, and you should listen to me."

"I listen to you all the time, Nanao-chan. I just don't care about requisitions." He grinned at her. "I noticed Rangiku-san was laughing a lot and you were making a lot of interesting noises, too."

They exited the doors of the hospital and Nanao waited until they were outside the gates of the Fourth Division to speak. "Were you listening?" She backed him into an empty side street and put her hands on her hips.

"I told you, I was sitting in the sun. I can hardly help it if I overheard some of your conversation. I'm pretty sure most of the floor overheard some of your conversation. It wasn't very discrete, Nanao-chan," he said grinning.

"What did you hear?" She scowled at him as he leaned against the wall in front of her.

"Enough to make me very curious about what kind of requisitions you have in that packet. Really, Nanao-chan, what kinds of things do they do in the Tenth? Can we do some of those things in our division? I think it might be fun."

"We weren't talking about you," she snapped, though that was only true in a marginal way. She and Rangiku had talked a lot about men in general, because she wanted help with Shunsui in particular. But right now she felt more inclined to make him eat the notes on men than she felt like acting on some of the ideas in the notes.

He made a tsking sound and leaned down towards her, brushing his fingers over her cheek. "It's not nice to lie, Nanao-chan!" he sing-songed.

She fisted her hands into the front of his uniform to pull him down so his face was even with hers. "Eavesdropping on a private conversation isn't nice. You're lucky I don't have the Unabridged book with me, but if I hear one more word about this, I will drop that book on your face when you are napping." She'd made a mistake in pulling him down to her. He was much too close and the crooked smile on his face and the pleasure in his eyes drew her in closer.

"This isn't very discrete either, lovely Nanao-chan," he murmured. He nodded his head towards the end of the alley, where a few gawkers from the Fourth were looking on with interest. They scattered swiftly when Nanao turned her black scowl towards them.

She realized she was still gripping the front of his uniform and released it. She froze when he swept his lips gently against hers.

"I was only there for a little while. Though your conversation did seem very interesting. Would you like to tell me about it?" He held himself in the position she'd pulled him into.

"Not a chance." Nanao moved away and fussed with the folds of her uniform.

"But it made Rangiku-san so cheerful. It might make me cheerful, too."

"You're cheerful enough already."

He grinned at that. "I'm having a very good day." He clasped an arm around her waist. "Are you ready to go home?"

Nanao nodded. He stepped into shunpo so quickly that she grabbed onto his shoulders to hold on, afraid of falling.

At his house she released him immediately and brushed past him to go to the guest room and secret away the packet of papers. If he saw their contents, it would only give him an even more swelled ego, and that was just unnecessary.

When she emerged from the guest room she saw Shunsui lounging on the pile of cushions he'd set near the desk. "Do you want some tea while you work, Nanao-chan?"

"Yes, thank you." She wondered if she was transparent about her intentions or if he was just particularly attuned to her. He returned shortly with a cup of pale tea. She thanked him, watching him curiously. How well did he really know her? Probably better than she wanted, perhaps better than she knew herself.

Nanao did not spend much of her time on introspection, as a rule. She'd probably thought more about her wants and her feelings in the last week than she had for months before.

Then again, she thought as Shunsui settled in for a nap, perhaps it didn't take a great leap of intuition to figure out that Nanao Ise spent much of her time working at a desk. She shook her head and picked up the brush to work on some instructions for the division party tomorrow before she continued on her manual.

An hour later she was surprised out of her paperwork reverie by someone at the door. "Do you know who that is?" she asked Shunsui.

He stood slowly, rolling his head on his neck. "It's one of our newer recruits. I sent him to pick up some things at the market."

Nanao frowned at that. She followed him to the door as he greeted the shinigami boy at the door warmly. Shunsui took a pair of bags from the boy, thanking him. As the young division member turned to leave, Nanao halted him and asked him to give her party instructions to Third Seat Enjōji.

She closed the door behind the boy and tracked Shunsui into the kitchen, where he was unpacking vegetables from the bags. "It's an abuse of your authority to send division members to do your grocery shopping."

"Is it? He seemed happy to do me a favor when I ran into him at the Fourth."

"I'm sure he was thrilled. You're the captain, after all. Still, you shouldn't use division members for personal errands." Nanao had tried to impress this on her captain for years without success, and she doubted he would start heeding regulations now.

"But he'll have a nice little story to tell about helping his captain try to impress Vice Captain Ise with a home-cooked dinner." Shunsui grinned at her, leeks in both hands.

"What? You're cooking?"

"Why so surprised, Nanao-chan? I can cook. And I am trying to impress you." At the faint frown on her face he emptied his hands and approached her. "Do you not want me to cook for you? I want to impress my Nanao-chan with my domestic skills, but if you would prefer something else I do have skills in other areas I would be happy to demonstrate to you," he said, his voice dipping low and dark.

Nanao stepped back from his closeness, her heart fluttering. "Cooking will be fine." She retreated from the kitchen with a few quick steps. His chuckle followed her back to the desk.

She straightened the pages of her manual for running Eighth Division, trying to regain her equilibrium. How could he set her off-balance with so little effort? Even though she had initiated their relationship, it was clear Shunsui held a distinct advantage over her, because of his considerable experience with women. Multitudes of women. Legions of women.

Nanao wondered idly how much of the division courtyard could be filled by the women he'd been involved with. Would there be overflow into the street? Perhaps it would become a parade. They'd probably need several permits from the First Division, for a gathering of such size. She laughed a little, because if she didn't she might cry.

Even if she held his interest, was there any part of him that would be for Nanao alone? Was there anything left untouched, any territory in his body or heart that she could claim as hers? She felt angry with him for living so long and living so much, and angry with herself for wanting something so ridiculous from him, something that she couldn't have.

"Idiot," she said under her breath, and began to write characters on the current page of her manual with brisk strokes.
By the time Shunsui came to call her for dinner, a wide smile on his face, Nanao had recovered from her earlier burst of emotion. She didn't name it as jealousy, because it wasn't directed at anyone in particular, and she didn't really think it was the right name for the dark threads of feeling that punctured her heart.

She summoned a calm and even expression for her face and light conversation for her lips. Dinner itself was a surprise and a pleasure. Shunsui made a vegetable stir-fry over rice and a tangy seaweed salad. She enjoyed the meal; the food was good and their talk was familiar and comfortable.

When they were together like this, it was easy for Nanao to imagine a romance with him as a flowing extension of their natural camaraderie. It was only when she thought of the new areas of their relationship that she felt the full measure of her inadequacy.

After dinner Nanao insisted on doing the clearing and washing and Shunsui consented after she promised to sit with him on the porch afterward. She cleaned mechanically, thinking as little as possible.

On the porch she moved a cushion to the other side of the tray he'd set out, and added another foot of space between them for good measure.

He watched her, his eyes dark and intense. "You're so far away," he said.

Nanao shook her head, ignoring the complaint. She studied the tray, surprised by the plate of cakes filled with sweet bean paste. "These are my favorite. Did you have that boy go to the bakery, as well?"

"He was glad to do it. Have one."

She picked up the sweet and took a small bite, conscious of his eyes drinking in each detail. He offered her a cup of tea that she accepted when she'd finished the cake. Her lips felt sticky with sugar when she pressed them together and she darted out her tongue to lick them clean.

"Let me do that," Shunsui said in a voice like rich honey, and he was in front of her, cupping her face with one hand and leaning down to her lips. His tongue slid across her bottom lip. He was thorough in his hunt for the sweetness, licking and nibbling across her mouth. Her lips felt swollen and sensitive by the time he kissed her properly.

He urged her mouth to open with a light caress of her jaw by his fingertips and a playful tap of his tongue against the seal of her lips. Nanao shivered, but not with cold, lines of heat flowing down her body to burn in her belly. She rested her hands on his chest, but whether it was to pull him closer or press him away she was not certain.

He plundered her mouth as if she were a delicious treat. Nanao felt like one when he kissed her. She didn't really know what to do, but he didn't seem to expect anything from her. His expertise in this area was evident.

His expertise was obvious because he was so very experienced. How many women had he led through this script? Hundreds? Thousands? Nanao couldn't even decide whether to move her tongue or not. The dark threads of feeling tightened around her heart, cutting into it with a sharpness that made her gasp.

Her hands on his chest pushed him back, and she curled away from him. "This wasn't a good idea," she said, focusing her gaze on the tray.

"Nanao-chan? Did you not like the kiss? I can do something different if you don't like that." She could hear the worry in his words.

"I'm sure you can," she said, studying the grooves on the fat sake jar resting on the tray.

There was a pause as he considered her neutral words. "Do you want me to do something else?"

"No." She stared at his white sake dishes.

"Did you not like dinner? The cakes?"

"They were very good, thank you. But I think this was a mistake. Changing our relationship was a mistake." She did not look at him, focusing on the small cakes shaped like maple leaves.

"What did I do? Nanao-chan, what did I do wrong?" Worry and frustration tinged the edges of his voice.

"You haven't done anything wrong. It was my mistake. I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Nanao, please look at me. Look at me, sweetheart. It hasn't even been a day."

She studied the tea in her cup. He knew all of her favorite types of tea and when she liked to have them. He was very good with remembering details like that, like the cakes.

"Nanao, please." He touched her tentatively on the shoulder and she shrank away from him.

"I've reached the conclusion that this relationship will not work."

"Why? Please look at me, Nanao."

The hurt in his voice made her ache, but she was not swayed. "I thought our fundamental compatibility would be enough to form a good foundation for a relationship, but I realize now that we have very disparate experiences that do not allow for equal positions in a personal relationship." She kept her voice even and her words as detached as possible from the emotion of the situation.

There was a long silence. "What experiences are bothering you, in particular?" he asked, and she could almost see him calculating in his mind. He was a clever man and a brilliant strategist. He would never accept a rejection like this without trying to work around the problem.

She tried to get through this without going into the humiliating details. "It's the same as it was with the war. I was naïve and wrong about that, even more than I realized when we talked after I was assigned command. I didn't realize how much until I was already in the situation. It's the same with us."

"Explain it to me, please."

She felt a flash of anger as she realized he wouldn't let her off without really getting into the heart of it. Her back straightened as she spun slowly on the cushion to face him. She met his hot, pained eyes with her cool gaze. "How many people have you slept with?"

If he was surprised by the question it didn't show. "Why does that matter? You're the only one I want to be with, Nanao."

"Enough to fill the division courtyard? Enough to have a parade through Seireitei?" He winced a little at her icy tone. "How many relationships do you think I've had?"

"If you're concerned at your lack of experience, please don't be. Nanao—"

"I'm not concerned about my lack of experience. I'm concerned about your abundance of experience. In an ordinary relationship, even between two partners of some experience, there are still new experiences to be shared between them. But between us, everything will be new to me and nothing will be new to you, so we can have no shared discoveries. The disparity is simply too great. I cannot accept that there is nothing for me to give you. I cannot accept that there is no part of you that would belong to me alone. You haven't done anything wrong. The problem is mine."

"Nanao," he said, and she nearly flinched at the intensity of his voice. "I've had sex with a lot of women, it's true. Sometimes I felt a great deal for them, and sometimes it was just some fun. But I've never felt as strongly about any other woman as I do for you. I've never wanted any other woman as much as I want you. I don't know what part of me you want, but I'll give you anything I can. Please don't think that you have nothing to offer me. I'll treasure anything that you want to give me. Please stay with me, Nanao." He reached out slowly to take her small hand in his large one.

She dropped her eyes from his serious eyes to their joined hands. Even in this they were disparate, and not just in size. Nanao's hand was chilled from the night and the freezing around her heart. His hand was warm and enveloping, and she knew that his embrace felt the same, and that this trait of his body was reflective of his heart. "I don't know."

"If I'd known that what I did in the past would damage my future with you, if I'd had the slightest idea that you would be hurt like this, I would never have acted as I did."

The ache in her heart grew until it was throbbing with every beat of her pulse. "It's not your fault. I told you that. You were just being who you are."

"But I want to be the man Nanao Ise holds in her heart. I don't want to be a man that you won't accept. What do you want me to do? Tell me what you need from me for this to work."

At the pleading in his eyes she looked back at their clasped hands. "I'm not sure that there's anything you can do. To show that you weren't going to revert to previous behavior, to prove that negative, it would take so much time that it's hardly possible. Even accepting that you are capable of future fidelity doesn't solve the original problem. A relationship with me doesn't offer you anything you haven't had before. I give you nothing new, nothing unique, and nothing special." She tugged her hand away gently.

"Everything with you would be new for me, Nanao, because I've never been with a woman I've loved in the way that I love you. Believe in me, Nanao."

She stood, swaying slightly under the weight of her heart. "I don't know."

"Nanao. There's no one between us now." He clasped her hips with his hands. He leaned into her until his head rested on her abdomen.

Her hands came up to curl into his hair. He was intense and hurt and she wanted very much to give in to him, to agree that only the two of them mattered and not worry about this anymore. But she thought of the women marching into and out of his life even during the time she'd been in the Eighth Division, and couldn't even quantify what that would be over two thousand years. "I don't know."

He lifted his head to meet her gaze. His eyes were dark storms and there was a frown between his brows and on his mouth. "I love you."

Her icy heart throbbed painfully. "I'll think about it," she said, because it was the most she could offer now.

He nodded. "I'll be here if you need me. Let me know if you want anything, precious Nanao-chan," he said and then smiled, but it was small and forced.

His hands slid off her hips and she felt his eyes burning into her cold body with each step she took away from him.

On to Chapter 14.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 1st, 2011 07:05 am (UTC)
I almost feel like this should be 'the trials of Kyouraku Shunsui'! I hate it when a wonderful day ends badly, as his did!

I completely understand where Nanao is coming from, but she's so scared of losing what she's got that she's denying them both a chance at great happiness. I don't know about Shunsui, but she broke my heart! I was struggling not to cry into my tea.

I can't wait to
Aug. 2nd, 2011 02:11 am (UTC)
I did feel badly for Shunsui here, and also for Nanao. The next chapter I post will offer his perspective on this situation. This part was some sadness, though. D:
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )