Author's Notes: Spoilers up to manga chapter 150.


"Do you remember our first time together in field training?"

She does but she can't understand why he's asking. He's sitting under a cherry blossom tree, sipping his sake as usual, his straw hat in his lap as he tilts his head back to watch the sunlight through the blossoms. She's not sitting but standing next to him, back straight, eyes forward, a pristine black line against the vibrant backdrop of him. She raises a hand smoothly to adjust her glasses and doesn't realize he compares the motion to poetry, of which he knows little but likes to listen to. There's a subdued grace to her of which she is hardly aware of. Shunsui calls it "elegance" in the corners of his mind.

There's something polished about their relationship, too. Something poised and dignified and ancient like the way she serves him white rice with smooth chopsticks and changes his sake for water when she feels he's had enough. Or the way he sometimes passes her futon in the night, his bare feet pausing against the shining wooden floorboards before the rice-paper door closes and he continues his guard. She has served him for years and has never known him to falter, which is why reminiscence throws her off balance.

Without waiting for her to answer, he continues whimsically. "My Nanao was very headstrong then." Her expression twitches and she turns her head to look at him, arching a thin eyebrow.

"I believe you called it being 'foolish'."

He smiles without showing his teeth, a look she thinks makes him seem sad and gentle all at once. "Well, you must admit, you did try to face three Hollows by yourself."

"And you must admit that if it hadn't been for you and Captain Ukitake showing off, I wouldn't have had to come save you in the first place."

He sits his sake cup down and grins. "Is that how you remember it? Why, Nanao-chan, I was just trying to impress you with my charming, handsome, brilliant-" He cuts off at her look and laughs, a deep bell-tone laugh that never fails to warm her. Then he goes silent and his eyes deepen with seriousness and she knows he's thinking of what had happened afterwards.

The Hollows had been too strong for three students just learning the ropes. Back then, Shunsui and Ukitake had not been as strong as they were now, enjoying their classes with a youthful energy she had never shared. To her, becoming a Shinigami was the logical outcome of the hunger that drove her to eat food, to learn binding spells that rivaled any of her classmates. Fighting Hollows was the same.

Unfortunately, she had suffered a terrible wound during that battle, a Hollow's cat-like claw drawing five stripes down her back, pristine in the fact that she even bled beautifully. Shunsui had saved her from anything more serious by darting in front of her. (He could always move quickly when he really wanted to.) The next thing she remembered was waking up in the med hall, covered by a robe she knew to belong to him because it smelled of flowers and alcohol.

Brushing her hair out of her eyes, she had found him sitting next to her, patiently waiting for her to wake up, his own arms heavily bandaged. Upon seeing her awake, he had smiled, amber eyes glinting, and spoken words that had stayed with her from that day forward.

Welcome back, Nanao-chan. Don't leave me again, alright?

His cheerfulness had befuddled her but it seemed almost right that he should become a Captain, and she, his Vice Captain.

Even now he still confuses her, she's just much better at hiding it.

"Do you still have those scars?" he asks quietly, and she blinks, wondering at that odd note in his voice. He's not looking at her, but out across the petal-strewn grounds and into the distance.

"Barely. I never notice them."

"Good," he murmurs, and she doesn't understand why it is, but finally knows he has something else on his mind and she has a pretty good idea what it is. Sighing, she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and lowers her voice for him and him alone.

"Whatever you decide to do, I'm still with you."

Don't leave me again, alright?

He looks at her with a teasing slant of his head. "Even if it means breaking the rules?"

She glances at him. "I follow more important things."

The End.