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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 13.
Chapter 1.

Shunsui was drinking. He wasn't drunk—as much as he might like to be after the evisceration Nanao performed on him—he wouldn't get drunk with Nanao in the house, in case she came back to talk to him, or needed him for something, or remembered in the middle of the night that she hadn't healed him and decided to make up for that right away. The last was actually a possibility—no one was more conscientious of duty than Nanao.

There had been no malice in her earlier. It might have been easier for him if there had been. Instead she'd cut his heart out and crushed it with regret and sadness and that cold formal demeanor he knew she used when she was really close to falling off an edge she didn't want to leave.

He thought of the first time he'd seen that demeanor break, and how it had intrigued him.

Two Months After Nanao Became Vice Captain

Shunsui tipped further back in his desk chair, trying to find a comfortable position for napping. He wanted to be available to his new vice captain, at least for a little while each day, so he'd taken to having his afternoon naps in the office. But the floor was not particularly comfortable and his desk chair did not accommodate naps well. Perhaps he could have his cute vice captain order him some new furniture for the office. Little Nanao-chan was very clever with numbers; she could find a way to fit a sofa into their next quarterly budget.

He could feel her eyes on him from her desk across the room. She was cutting holes in him with her gaze. He could picture her easily: those blue-violet eyes narrow as she stared at him, a crease between her brows, and her lips bowed with her teeth clenched behind them. He wondered if she would approach him today about what was bothering her or if she would just swallow it down and resolve the issue herself.

Nanao had been very self-contained since she was a child, and if anything the trait had only become more pronounced as she grew older. He'd appointed her his vice captain almost as soon as she was able to pass the exam for the position. Vice Captains at the Eighth after Lisa had only a slightly longer tenure than most jugs of liquor at a division party—very short and ill-used. He'd booted the last one after Shunsui realized the man had been dumping his work on Nanao and taking credit for the finished product.

After that he saw no reason he shouldn't just give Nanao the job, since she was already effectively doing it and probably had been for the last several vice captains. She'd objected to the promotion at first—she'd only been a Ninth Seat before—and she looked about seventeen at most, though the glasses and the older hairstyle did add gravity to her appearance. But eventually she'd been persuaded to take the job, and Shunsui couldn't be any more pleased than he was with the outcome. Training took place on a regular schedule, a better variety of food was on offer at the mess hall, the barracks were clean and the leaks in the roof finally repaired, and best of all Yama-jii no longer complained about the lack of quality and quantity in the Eighth's mandatory reports. Nanao might very well be the best vice captain ever to grace the division.

Still, at moments like this, when he could feel her eyes on him like daggers, he wondered if she was as happy to be his vice captain as he was to have her in the position. He cracked one eye open at the sound of her chair being pushed back and her small feet briskly crossing the room.

There was really plenty of space for a furniture arrangement in the middle of the office, and it might be nice for guests as well as napping. He was startled away from his speculation about sofas by the slap of thick paper on the surface of his desk. Nanao stood on the other side of his desk, hands clasped behind her back, eyes cold behind her glasses.

"Captain. If I might interrupt your rest for some work, I would appreciate your attention." Frost could have formed on the words as they left her lips.

"Of course, Nanao-chan." He made a production of sliding his feet off the desk, sitting up in the chair. "What can I do for my vice captain today?"

"Please take a look at these documents. Do you know what this is?"

He glanced over the papers. "It's a transfer request by one of the Fourteenth Seats. That's a shame, she's a sweet girl."

"Do you know why she is transferring?" Nanao's arms moved to cross under her breasts.

He flipped through the pages, wondering where Nanao was leading him. "It doesn't give a specific reason. Perhaps she's got friends in the Sixth?"

"Are you aware that this is the fifth such transfer request that has crossed my desk in the two months I have been vice captain? And that all these requests are by women who do not list a specific reason?"

Shunsui shifted a little in his seat. "Ah, I was not aware of that, no."

"This represents an anomalous number of transfer requests, and naturally I decided to investigate what could be causing this phenomenon. Do you care to guess what the root cause of these requests might be, sir?"

He cocked his head. "I have no idea, Nanao-chan."

"Having inquired with a few of the women in question, I was informed that all of these transfer requests have come about because of you, captain." One of her arched brows went up. "What do you think of that, sir?"

"I certainly never encouraged any members to transfer away from our division." He was quite sure of that.

Nanao's brow came down and she sighed heavily. "Sir, all of the women in question were the subject of amorous pursuit and conquest by you. Subsequently they found the working environment of the Eighth difficult to continue to serve in."

Shunsui was certain he'd been in greater discomfort during other times in his life—he'd been injured many times in battle, for instance—but discussing his sex life with his very young female vice captain was the most uncomfortable he could remember feeling in recent memory. "Nanao-chan, all of those women were consenting adults. We had fun together. I would never want them to feel that they needed to leave the division after our personal relationships ended."

Nanao looked away from him, saying nothing, and her icy face gave away no particular emotion beyond irritation. "Captain, please approve the transfer papers."

"Nanao-chan, if you want me to speak to these women, to attempt to retain them within our division, I can do that—"

"Don't do something like that," she snapped, and he reeled back in surprise. "You've abused your power as a captain enough in this situation as it is. If you spoke to them and coerced them into staying it would only make things worse for the Eighth if the First Division decides to inquire into our high number of transfer requests."

"Then what is it that you would like me to do about this situation, if you don't want me to intervene?" He watched her curiously. Her face and body seemed to freeze more and more with each word, until she was absolutely still.

"Are you joking with me?" she asked in a frosty voice. At his puzzled look her icy façade exploded as she slapped the palms of her hands on his desk and leaned towards him. "Isn't it obvious what I want in this situation? I want you to stop sleeping with division members! Surely there are enough women outside of the gates of the Eighth that you could have sex with that you do not need to pursue our troops!" She wasn't shouting, but her voice was sharp and hot and incredibly fierce. He was mesmerized by the way her eyes had changed to a deep violet, glowing because of a reiatsu aura behind them. Did she wear glasses to contain her power so her reiatsu wouldn't slip out and do harm when she was furious?

"Nanao-chan, I never meant—" he began carefully, to no avail as she interrupted him immediately.

"It doesn't matter what your intentions were, it matters what you did. And what you have done is cause upheaval in the division and an increase in my workload. Who do you think will be doing the Fourteenth Seat's paperwork until a new one can be found? The other Fourteenth Seats are already busy with additional work caused by the departure of a female Thirteenth Seat for the same reasons a few weeks ago. I do not want to hear about your intentions or your romantic feelings or anything like that. And I certainly did not want to hear about what you did with that unranked redhead in the first floor supply closet, but I have heard about that, too. All I want to hear from you now is a promise that you will not sleep with any division members in the future."

She was magnificent, with her violet eyes glowing and her cheeks pink with the heat of her anger. He took in her pouting rose lips and the curves of her slender figure hidden beneath an encompassing shinigami uniform. At some point when he hadn't been looking, Nanao had become an attractive woman.

He felt uncomfortable with this new revelation. He'd always retained some of the fondness he'd felt for Nanao when she'd been the youngest member of his division, but what he felt now was well away from the realm of kindly warmth for a bright child.

The version of Nanao that had become his vice captain was a woman. Young and with more maturing to do before she'd be as polished and accomplished as she would undoubtedly become, she had an inherent elegance that would only increase over time. She was now and would always be a woman in his mind. He could never think of her otherwise after her flash of anger that day.

He made her the promise she wanted, about not sleeping with division members, and he kept that promise through all the years since that day. Whenever he felt tempted to pursue someone from the Eighth, it was not the promise he'd made that stopped him first, but the image of Nanao leaning over his desk, fierce and hot and focused on him.

It was years after that day before he would admit even to himself that what he truly wanted was to touch the fire Nanao kept locked in her icy demeanor. He'd made a game of his pursuit, because he did not want to frighten her with the full intensity of his desire for her, and because it allowed him to see her burn more often. Usually she would break her cold front only to express exactly how annoyed she was with him, but any display of emotion from Nanao was precious and to be treasured.

In the last decade he'd mostly given up on pursuing other women at all. He'd gone home from a bar with a woman one night and had some fun with her, merrily drunk. But afterward he'd felt more hollow than he had in a very long time. He felt guilty and pained, although he'd broken no promises, shattered no hearts. His own heart had become so attached to Nanao that he could no longer truly enjoy empty pleasures. He'd tried a few more times after that, more out of habit than anything, but the momentary pleasure wasn't worth the bleakness he felt afterward.

And after a memorable evening with Nanao four years ago, he hadn't been with any other women at all. He thought she would understand that. But would it make her happy? He wasn't quite sure.

Would it at least ease Nanao's sadness at his previous promiscuity if he told her there was no one else now? He poured himself a fresh drink from the lukewarm sake. The taste didn't matter at this point. Everything was bitter in his mouth now.

He'd lived his life exactly as he'd wanted, never following any particular rules or conventions, and now that choice was denying him the only woman he wanted in his future. He didn't blame her for thinking as she did. Though he'd never given the idea much consideration, he realized that he was not a very good long-term prospect for a serious relationship. Why should Nanao believe in him when there was no evidence he was capable of what she wanted?

She believed in evidence.

He could have pushed her, tried to make her continue the trial she'd started, but that wouldn't give him what he wanted from her, even if she'd agreed to meet the terms that she herself had suggested. That which was flavored with reluctance was never as sweet as that which was freely given. He wanted Nanao with him, but he wanted her there without reservations or doubts.

Maybe it wasn't their time yet. He'd been waiting for a long time for the two of them to be standing on the same ground, reaching for the same thing. They'd been close many times before—and getting closer, he knew that—but maybe it was just too much for Nanao right now. She was so clever, but the speed with which she processed and accepted emotions was slow.

If she'd panicked at the idea of losing him in the battle at Karakura, she might have wanted to pull him close to her without really working through what that would mean. It was her usual behavior to step back from him when she became uncomfortable with their relationship; he didn't like it, but trying to hold on to her when she wanted to get away would only make things worse.

He imagined her heart as a butterfly sometimes, delicate and beautiful, something that he could cup in his hand if he was gentle and open. But if he tried to capture it, to lock it inside his grip, the butterfly would be crippled or killed. Something so frail and lovely as Nanao's heart could only be his if she trusted him to be careful, if she believed he would not hurt her.

There was time. It might take longer than he'd hoped to gain her faith, but it wasn't impossible. That they were even in this situation at all was an admission on her part that she wanted something more with him, that she wanted more from him. He rubbed absently at his chest. The ache of the wound she'd dealt him eased, but didn't disappear. He didn't think it would until Nanao herself healed it. The heart is strange, he thought, and smiled.

"Yare, yare," he said, and tipped his sake dish to the moon.

It was well into the small hours of the morning that the door that led to Nanao's guest room from the porch slid open, and Nanao's small form leaned out, shivering under her thin sleeping robe in the chilled air.

Shunsui rose from his lounging position on the porch and approached Nanao. She looked the same as she had last night when she came into his bed: face pale, cheeks damp, and hands trembling. "Nanao-chan? Are you having nightmares?"

She jumped slightly, startled. Was she fully awake? She stared at him for a moment as he hesitated about whether to come closer or not. He didn't want to frighten her if she was sleep-walking. With a small noise she stumbled over to him, pressing herself against his body as if trying to climb inside of him.

His arms closed around her tightly, his heart pained by the tremors wracking her body. "Is it about the war?" he asked, rubbing his cheek against the top of her head.

She might have nodded, a faint movement of her head, but he wasn't certain. This wasn't an appropriate time to question her anyway, when she was suffering and wanted comfort from him.

He lifted her up into his arms, bridal style, and carried her into his bedroom. She made a protesting noise when he slipped her into the cover of the bed and moved away to shut the door to the porch. "I'll be right there, sweetheart."

Shunsui changed quickly into a sleeping robe in a dark corner of the room next to the closet. He didn't like to sleep in his uniform in bed and he didn't relish Nanao's wrath if she woke to find him naked in the morning.

Modesty satisfied, he slid into the bed beside Nanao. She climbed onto him immediately, resting on her front on top of his body. He circled his arms around her back, one hand stroking her silky hair. Her hands parted his sleeping robe and rubbed down his sides, wiggling under him to clutch at his back.

Now he was the one to shiver. He fought down the throbbing heat of arousal. That wasn't what she needed from him tonight.

He allowed himself to take satisfaction from the thought that no matter what she had said to him earlier, when she'd been suffering from her nightmares she took comfort in his presence, in his touch.

He was holding his Nanao, and for tonight that was enough.

On to Chapter 15.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 4th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
Oh this was wonderful. I do enjoy hearing the other side of the story from time to time! And they're both trying so hard, but not quite reaching each other yet. I can't wait to read more :)
Aug. 5th, 2011 03:08 am (UTC)
They'll reach each other eventually. ^_^ Thanks for reading!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )