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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 14.
Chapter 1.

Nanao woke at her usual morning time with the same sensation of warmth and ease that she'd felt for the last few days. She was sleeping with Shunsui again. It hadn't been her intention to seek him out last night. After that same terrible dream of Karakura and death and enduring silence, she'd hardly been able to breathe.

But the autumn air was as sharp as a slap on her skin and no comfort at all. Then he'd been there, worried for her, and it was so easy to go to him. He'd let her stay with him even though she'd told him only hours before she didn't want to continue their relationship.

She winced at that. His heart was so much more generous than her own that sometimes she didn't understand how he could stand it. He could be kind even when he knew it would likely hurt him.

Her head was resting on his chest, and she brought one hand up from where it wrapped around his stomach to trace precise patterns on the skin over his heart. The hair on his chest was silky and a little springy and her hand played with it absently.

When they were together like this, Nanao didn't feel the longing and inadequacy that had driven her decision yesterday. There'd always been some inequality in their relationship—it was inherent—he was so much older, so much more experienced, and his rank and power level were higher than hers, the latter so much higher that she didn't think she'd ever seen the outer bounds of his ability. She knew he was conscious of their inequality, and that he had subtly guided her after she became vice captain to the relationship style he wanted with her: she would take the lead, would physically set him back when he went too far, and would be encouraged to express any and all of her emotions to him in any form she liked.

The inequality of their positions was mitigated by the nature of their relationship—he was still the captain, but the divide between them wasn't as severe or impassible as it might have been, because he allowed Nanao to control many of the aspects of their relationship. She'd nagged him often enough about abusing his power, but he'd never done anything beyond accepting the small favors members of the division were always eager to do for him. He'd never attempted to use his superior position to pressure her into a personal relationship.

It was only after they'd started the trial that she felt the inequality between them in the new area of their relationship in its full measure. This was yet another place where his experience could be measured in centuries. How could a romance with her possibly be satisfying to him?

"Everything with you would be new for me, Nanao." Was that the truth? Would he find as much of their relationship new and exciting as Nanao would?

She absently drew the characters for her name over his heart. This piece of him that she wanted the most, could she have it? He'd said he loved her, and he'd seemed serious. Surely even if he'd loved other women, that group had to be smaller than the parade she'd imagined yesterday. Maybe there was at least one thing he could offer to her that he'd never given to anyone before. It was possible.

Perhaps she could make an itemized list of the possibilities.

"Why are you awake so early?" Shunsui's voice was heavy with sleep.

Nanao bent her back until she could see his face. "This is when I normally get up in the morning for work."

He turned his head to glance at the dull gray light coming in the window. "Calling an hour like this 'morning' doesn't seem honest."

"Many people get up at this hour. There are a lot of benefits to rising early," she said primly, as if she were sitting behind her desk at the office instead of curled half on top of his body like a purring cat.

"I cannot begin to imagine what those might be." His fingers played with strands of her loose hair.

"Well, you can get all the best produce at the market, for one." She shifted some of her weight to one of her hands, propping herself up to look down at his face.

"I'll pass."

She shook her head. "There's never a line at the street food vendors or in the mess hall."

"I'd rather wait a few minutes in line than get up at this hour."

"Most importantly, the washrooms in the barracks are never out of hot water if you get up at this time." This was an important lesson that new recruits often learned early in their shinigami careers. Nanao was accustomed to hearing loud yelps and screams from the barracks after the Academy graduated a new class. Usually this happened while she had her mid-morning tea in her office. It always gave her a smile.

"That is actually a very good point, and if I lived in the barracks, I'd have to consider that. But since I have my own house, it's not a concern for me."

"And you have lovely full baths," she said, because she was really a bit envious of his bathrooms with their large heated tubs for soaking. She'd been taking showers or washing without a bath afterward since she'd gone to the Academy, with only an occasional visit to a public bathhouse to relax. Even though she had her own private quarters in the barracks, her bathroom had no tub, only a small area for washing.
He looked at her with interest through half-lidded eyes. "Do you like my baths, Nanao-chan?"

She raised a brow at him. "Of course."

"Nanao-chan is welcome to bathe in my house at any time. And if you need any help at all, I will humbly volunteer my services."

She laughed a little at that. "You're too kind." She slid off him to kneel on the futon, stretching her arms behind her head. He followed her movements avidly.

He stopped her from leaving the bed with a hand on her arm. "Nanao-chan," was all he said, but she knew what he was asking.

She bent over him so that they were face to face. "I'm thinking about it."

"Can I do anything for you?" he asked, and the yearning in his eyes as he looked at her face almost stole her breath.

"I'm considering an itemized list."

He smiled a little at that, and she hesitantly bent to kiss his cheek. Her soft lips brushed against the warm skin of his face. He stopped breathing until she'd straightened and rose from the bed.

She noted his reaction with interest. This was the first time she'd kissed him openly. Generally the times she'd touched him were much rarer than the times she'd permitted his touch on her. But he was a very tactile man; surely he would want to touch and to be touched also?
If he coveted her touch, there might be a way for her to achieve more equality in their relationship. At the very least, perhaps he would not continue to dominate every physical contact they had. It was certainly an avenue for her to research further.

She absently picked up the crumpled uniform on the bedroom floor and deposited it with his other laundry on her way into the bathroom. He'd covertly moved her bath things from the other bathroom back into his and argued when she questioned him that it only made sense to fill and heat one bath, instead of two. Since that was fair and it was his house, she'd let it go.

Besides, she took a secret pleasure from seeing their things lined up on the same shelf. That was not something she would admit to Shunsui, however.

There were a lot of things she wasn't admitting to Shunsui lately. Her mood dropped at the thought of the events at the command post, but she tried to put that aside. Everything related to her disregard of the order from Central 46 and the complaint by the vice captain of the Kidō Corps was out of her hands. Perhaps she'd have a clearer idea of what would happen tomorrow, after she met with Sasakibe at the First.

What would Shunsui think of her after he found out about what she'd done? She thought of his face last night, so intense and raw when he said he loved her, and his face from a this morning, when he was full of yearning for her. Warmth ran through her, a wave of feelings she didn't try to separate out or identify.

But she remembered his ruthless eyes from that first time she'd seen him in a serious battle, and his absolute resolution in the battle of false Karakura, and shivered. She tried to reconcile the conflicting faces but couldn't.

Which one would he show her when he knew she'd failed in her duty, had deliberately refused orders? In his daily life, he showed minimal respect for authority and rules, but he'd never shied away from what he perceived as necessary in battle. Could he have carried out the order to destroy one hundred thousand human souls? Nanao thought perhaps he could have done it, but she wasn't sure that he would have done it.

After the nights of dreamed terror and death she was far from certain that put into the same situation again, she would be able to give the order to annihilate souls, even knowing the possible consequences. More than she had after her argument with Shunsui before the war, and more than she had during her time leading the Gotei 13, she saw that there was a very real gap between what she'd thought command was and what it could actually demand of a person. Command wasn't organization and schedules and training troops. She did all those things already, and did them well. What command really consisted of was decisions that stole sleep at night, hard choices with no good outcomes.

What kinds of decisions had Shunsui made over his years as a captain? When he sought solitary hours in the outdoors, when he drank himself into the black, what was he remembering? Nanao knew the loss of Vice Captain Yadōmaru was one incident. How many more haunting choices had he made in two thousand years?

She'd had command for only two days and had disobeyed critical orders and risked allowing Aizen's success and all the lives that could have cost. She couldn't begin to guess what Shunsui would think of her decisions.

Nanao sighed. Why even try to articulate what she wanted from him in a real relationship if it could be ended so soon by the Central 46, if not by his disappointment with her crimes at the command post? A pang of despair struck her chest, but she shook it off.

She wanted to know what a real relationship with Shunsui would be like. Her concerns over his past were real, and she would have confronted this issue whether she had two weeks with him or two hundred years. She would deal with these problems the same way that she would if there was no probable deadline on their relationship. That was the only way for Nanao to be true to herself.

When the judgment and consequences for her actions at the command post came down, she would deal with it as best she could. Until then there was nothing she could do about it, so she might as well focus on other things.

With that in mind she went to the guest room after her bath. Shunsui was sleeping again when she passed through his bedroom, and she had a surprising desire to climb back into the bed with him, which she ignored.

She dressed in a clean uniform and made a mental note to stop at her quarters while they were at the division for the party. She hadn't packed enough clothes for more time at Shunsui's house.

The notes she'd secreted away yesterday were still where she'd left them. She flipped through the neat pages of Rangiku's advice on men, looking for things that might be relevant to her current situation. After an hour of consideration she shook her head and tucked the note packet away, leaving the room to sit at Shunsui's desk. This information was of questionable value at best.

The brush hovered over the page, but she was decided about what to ask of him. It didn't end up being an itemized list. Actually what she wanted from him if they were going to continue the relationship was very simple, if very difficult to give. What she was seeking from him wasn't a specific item or action. She wrote one sentence in her neat brushwork, hesitated, but added nothing more. But the simplicity of the wish didn't mean that he would be able to fulfill it.

I need proof of your love.

She folded up the page neatly and wrote his name on the outside.

She put together a light breakfast in the kitchen that she ate quickly and then worked on her manual for running the Eighth while she waited for Shunsui to get up. When he emerged from his bedroom wearing a black uniform and a wide smile, she reached into her uniform to pull out the note she'd written for him, but hesitated and pointed to the kitchen instead, to indicate his breakfast was there.

They made easy conversation while he ate. Afterward she worked her healing kidō on his back. She wanted to test her theory about him desiring her touch, and this seemed like a fair opportunity, since she would be touching him anyway. When the light faded from her hands she ran them up his back and across his shoulders. His heavy muscles rippled and tensed under her touch. She brushed her fingertips slowly back down the path they'd run up, enjoying the play of her pale hands on his darker skin.

"Nanao-chan," he said, low and hot. He turned his head to pin her with an intense gaze.

"You're healing very well." Nanao moved away from him, back to the desk, her heart beating rapidly. There was no question that he enjoyed her touch.

Shunsui tensed as if to rise, but then settled back. He smiled easily, as if he had not just looked ready to devour her.

Nanao flipped through the pages of the manual she'd written earlier in the morning, trying to act as if she hadn't seen the intensity of his desire. She was surprised and a little scared by the strength of his reactions to her. Given how quickly he'd changed to a light smile, Shunsui was aware of her skittishness. So often he seemed to know what she was thinking and feeling even when she didn't. It was a little maddening to Nanao, who tried to contain her emotions behind a professional surface most of the time.

Still, this was a fascinating, if somewhat risky territory to explore. She would have to consider the best way to proceed.

He rose from his seat and stretched, his bare chest and arms flexing. "I think I'll go out to the garden and enjoy the sun. Would you like to join me, Nanao-chan?"

She shook her head, pulling her eyes away from his body. "No, thank you, I have more work to do here. Don't forget that we're visiting the Eighth this afternoon."

"I wouldn't forget a party!" He stepped close to her, bent down to caress her cheek. "Don't work too hard, precious Nanao-chan," he rumbled near her ear.

She nodded. After he left the house she slumped a little against the desk. "Definitely dangerous territory," she whispered to the room.

On to Chapter 16.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 6th, 2011 05:28 am (UTC)
Sometimes danger can be fun, Nanao :P

Loved her thought processes, and the interaction of the two - the whole chapter, in other words. Can't wait for more!
Aug. 6th, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it! Introspection is my least favorite thing to write. Dialogue is much more fun. A section like this with heavy introspection takes such a long time to write. ^_^;
Aug. 6th, 2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
Love it but where is everyone getting that Shun is two THOUSAND years old? They haven't even said the head captain is that old. So I doubt Shun is. I think he's around 300 or 400 yrs. Keep it up though. Nice to see a story about Shunanao that is updated almost daily, not every month or longer or WORSE...canceled.
Aug. 6th, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading and commenting! I appreciate it!

To answer your question about Kyouraku's age: there are a few reasons from the canon that people think Kyouraku and Ukitake are so old. In the Bleach SOULs character book, page 201, there's a discussion about the Shinigami Academy, saying it was founded 2,000 years ago and that Kyouraku and Ukitake were the first graduates to become captains.

There are a couple other sources that will provide the same information--Renji's profile in manga volume 9 says he's a graduate of the 2066th class at the Academy, so you know the school is older than two thousand years, and in manga chapter 155, when Yamamoto faces off with Kyouraku and Ukitake, he says that they were the first graduates of the Academy to become captains.

From information in TBTP arc, we know Unohana is the sempai of Kyouraku and Ukitake, and that means she must not have gone to the Academy, since she is not the first captain to graduate from the Academy and she is also their elder.

The Academy takes ~7 years to complete, so even if we theorize that Kyouraku and Ukitake didn't attend as soon as the Academy opened and that it took them one or even three or four hundred years to graduate and then hone their skills enough to become captains, the conclusion must still be reached that they are very, very old, most probably in the range of thousands of years.

You'll see this assumption about Kyouraku and Ukitake being so old throughout the fandom, because what the canon information gives us makes it very difficult to write them any younger, basically, so most people seem to peg their ages to the age of the Academy, roughly.

As a point of interest, we have no information about the age of Captain Yamamoto, beyond that he must be older than the Academy he founded, and the only piece of information about Unohana's age we have is that she is older than Kyouraku and Ukitake. From TBTP we know that these four are the only remaining original captains. With this information, you can safely assume that everyone else in the current Gotei 13 is most likely younger than these four.

Aging is a strange matter in Soul Society that isn't fully explained. There's an amusing omake from the anime where Kyouraku and Ukitake look at pictures from their Academy days and freak out a little that Yamamoto still looks exactly the same as he did then.

This is a bit long, but I hope it's useful. ^_^
Aug. 16th, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah. But the weird thing is that I think manga Shun and anime Shun might be diff ages. In the manga they mention the school being over 1000 yrs. old and all but in the anime they just say its old. And there's also a filler arc where they go back 400 or so years and Shun and Uki aren't there. And in the TBTP arc Shun says in the manga he, Shun and Uno are from the original thirteen where as in the anime he says they are the only ones to serve over 100yrs. And yeah I saw that omake. It's hilarious. I'm more amused by the fact that they JUST noticed that he's always looked that old. :)
Aug. 18th, 2011 01:16 am (UTC)
The anime could certainly be presenting a different age for Kyouraku - they deviate on a lot of things, big and small. It is odd in that omake that they never noticed before how Yamamoto always looks so old. XD
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )