The Play Of Clouds And Rain
This was not the first time that Ise Nanao had had to chase her Captain across Seireitai with an armful of forms to sign and reports to initial. In her more irritated moments, she would have told him that she was getting used to it and that he would be saving them both a great deal of trouble if he would simply look at his desk every once in a while.
(Number of times that he looked horrified and said that his desk was far too full: 10. Number of times that he said he was sure he could trust her to bring him the important things: 32. Number of times that he said he'd rather look at her: too many.)
At least this time she knew where he'd gone. It wasn't any of the wine shops which she was becoming far too well acquainted with, and it wasn't the baths, and it wasn't a meeting, and it wasn't the rooftop and it wasn't any of his other hideouts. It was a waterfall out to the north. The northern gatekeeper had confirmed it when she asked if he'd seen Kyouraku-taichou passing by. Apparently her Captain had stopped to share a cup of wine.
(Typical. Utterly typical. Even more typical that he'd been carrying two jugs.)
She made her way across the countryside quickly. She knew her pace wasn't as fast as a Captain's, but he couldn't have got that far away. Not if he wanted to be back for his usual drinking this evening. The papers under her arm riffled in the breeze as she sped across the fields and valleys, and then along the riverbank as she came to it.
(She didn't deny that the countryside was beautiful. She was particularly fond of the willow trees herself. But this was hardly the sort of example that a Captain should be setting.)
She slowed to a halt as she reached the waterfall ahead, and stood at the top of the rise looking down into the dip below, where the valley spread out into a wide curve and the water cascaded down into a deep pool. Her Captain's clothing was scattered untidily next to his wine jugs and a basket. And - oh, dear. Ukitake-taichou was sitting there as well, already looking up at her inquiringly.
(Later, when she could sort through her thoughts, the first one was thank goodness he was wearing something. He had clearly been bathing, for his hair still hung damply against his back, tangled and thick and white, and he had simply thrown on his outer kimono again rather than bothering to dress fully. It was stark black against his skin and hair, and it clung to his body where he had not bothered to fully dry himself.)
"Ise-fukutaichou!" he called up politely. "Is anything the matter?"
(Always so polite.)
She hastened down to join him, bowing politely, glancing around under her eyelashes for her Captain. No sign of him. Perhaps he was hiding in the bushes. "I was looking for Kyouraku-taichou, sir -"
(At the moment, did she really want to find him, given his clothes were there but he wasn't?)
"Ah." Ukitake smiled. "He's over there." He pointed towards the waterfall. Nanao turned automatically to follow the gesture, and saw her Captain standing thigh-deep in the water, back turned to them both, directly under the fall itself. It came beating down on him, sleeking his hair away from his forehead and over his back, sliding over his muscled shoulders and arms like glass, sheeting down his back and over his buttocks.
(The hammering of the water was no faster than the beating of her pulse.)
"I." She swallowed. "Had some reports for him to sign, sir."
(She should be doing better than this.)
Ukitake made a small disappointed noise, and that let her look away from the naked body of her Captain, look back at Ukitake-taichou, and behave like the Vice-Captain she was. "I'm so sorry, Ise-kun," he said, and he sounded genuinely sympathetic. "He promised me that he'd finished his work and got everything sorted out before he suggested this outing."
(Abstract knowledge about one's Captain's relationships is not the same thing as a practical demonstration.)
"Nanaoooo-chan!" came a gleeful call from the pool. "How generous, how kind of my beautiful Nanao-chan to bring herself to join us out here in the desolate wilderness that is made so lovely by her presence!"
(How kind of her Captain to make it easy to forget about his naked body and instead ponder the mechanics of beating him over the head.)
She didn't look in his direction. "You have not signed your forms, sir," she stated. "I would not have disturbed you otherwise."
(Nor even looked.)
He sighed. "You wound me with your cruelty. Join me," the splashing got closer, "in this cold water, Nanao-chan. Warm me with the heat of your white jade body -"
(Was this, she wondered remotely, what some of the men around her felt on seeing Rangiku? This awareness of physicality, this urge to reach out and touch, to stroke skin and muscle, to feel the heat of lips?)
"Here." Ukitake-taichou took the papers from her. "I'll see to it that he signs them, Ise-kun. You'd better get back and make sure that the Division stays in order."
(Always. So. Polite.)
The splashing stopped. "So cruel, Jyushirou," her Captain said with a sigh.
(She was not going to turn around and see how far out of the water he was.)
"Thank you, sir," she said, giving the same polite bow as earlier. "I'll see you back at Eighth later, Captain -"
(Better to cut this sort of thing off before she had to look around again. Much better.)
She heard him calling after her as she sped back towards Seireitai, and the wind was cool and fresh, brushing the colour away from her cheeks and letting her pulse slow, clearing her head, letting her resettle her composure like the folds of her kimono.
(He was handsome. This was nothing new.)
No doubt Ukitake-taichou could handle him better than she could.
(She had wanted to touch him as closely as the water had.)
They came in from the rain at a run, and the lightning threw their shadows on the floor long and black in front of them. Shunsui had reached the door first, but he stood there gallantly to hold it open for his Nanao-chan, then closed it behind them both.
She took his breath away. The rain had plastered her robes against her body. Her sleeves swung in long heavy pendulums, straight with the weight of water that dripped from them, and her clammy kimono outlined her torso perfectly. Her hakama clung to her legs, showing the lines of her calves under the thick fabric. A single drop of water ran down the side of her neck and along her collarbone to the notch at the base of her neck.
He had given her his hat to protect her from the storm, but he had to admit that it hadn't been much use. She still clung to it, hands careful on the straw brim.
"Nanao-chan," he said affectionately, "you're soaking. We should do something about that." He shook himself, trying to get rid of some of the excess moisture from his own clothing.
She looked at him with those delightfully pursed lips that meant he had somehow annoyed her. "Sir, you're as wet as I am. Go - no, come along to your quarters. The servants should have lit the braziers. You can't just stand around like that, or -"
"A vigorous man like myself fears no cold!" he declared.
"Yes, but you might give it to Ukitake-taichou," she said quickly.
"I can't let you go running back to your own quarters in this weather." He patted her on the shoulder. Her robe squelched, and she swatted his hand away. "Let me at least lend you a towel and some spare robes. Vice-captain," he added, to make the point that this was in an official capacity. Much as he would like to see her in one of his spare robes, loose on her slender body, slipping back to bare her neck and a single shoulder . . .
"Very well." She gave in with surprising meekness, and was hustling him along the corridor to his quarters before he could ask why.
He sneezed pitifully as he opened the door for her, but didn't get more than a casual glance. Apparently her solicitude only went so far, hard-hearted beauty that she was.
Fortunately one of the servants had already lit the braziers and the lamps and drawn the curtains, and the room was nicely warm. He shook himself again, just to prompt a protest from his Nanao-chan about not getting everything wet, and plucked a spare kimono and sash from the cedar storage box in the corner before hustling her to the bathroom. "You can change there, Nanao-chan - I'll be quite all right out here, don't worry about me . . ."
Even though he finished it off with another pathetic sneeze, she didn't look back.
Resolutely, resignedly, he dropped his wet clothes in a pile near the window, and wrapped himself in a plain brown but mercifully dry kimono. He was still damp, and his hair was still soaked, but it was nothing new. An old shinigami (ah, my Nanao-chan, if only you knew how many woman I have seen over the years, and still I find you among the most beautiful - no, that wouldn't do, it would just inspire her to ask who the others had been) was used to managing. He had heat. He had wine. He could sit and wait for her to come out of the bathroom before he went to find a towel.
Moisture from his hair slowly soaked into the back of his kimono, and he sneezed with a bit more realism than before.
The door opened again, and Nanao stepped out of the bathroom. She was wrapped delightfully like a parcel in his cypress-green kimono; it was far too large for her, and she had needed to pull it up and blouse it over the obi simply to be able to walk in it. The tips of her fingers peeked out of the sleeves like little buds on a winter tree. Her hair was pulled back from her face and bundled in a towel. She pursed her lips as she looked at him. "Kyouraku-taichou! You haven't dried yourself at all!"
He spread his hands in acceptance. "My lovely Nanao-chan, we are together in the warm. I am content to know that you are dry. Let me pour you some wine." He clinked cups against jug invitingly, and waited to be ordered into the bathroom to scrub himself down.
She sniffed. (Could she also be coming down with a cold? Interesting visions of him sitting by her sickbed and diverting her with grapes came to mind.) "Please stay where you are, sir."
"For you, always -"
She stalked round behind him, and produced a towel which she had tucked under one arm, hidden by the cascading folds of loose sleeve. Her fingers brushed against his shoulders as she draped it over his head.
"My Nanao-chan, this unexpected closeness . . ."
She unclasped his hair tie, and dropped it over his shoulder into his lap, then began to rub his hair dry.
It was a pleasant experience. Her legs were firm against his back, braced against his weight, and he could feel each movement of her fingers against his head through the softness of the towel. He could have reached round behind her to stroke her leg in thanks, but he decided not to; this nearness was already more than he had expected, and he didn't want to spoil it.
"Ow!" She'd finished his scalp and was now working through the length of his hair, pulling it away from his head as she rubbed it between layers of the towel. "My sweet Nanao-chan, is it necessary to pull that hard?"
"It is if you want it dry," she said firmly. "I don't want you catching a cold. You were sneezing earlier."
She had noticed. He was gratified. "They say that wine is an excellent remedy for colds, Nanao-chan," he offered without much hope.
"I -" She hesitated. "I would be grateful if you would pour me a cup as well as yourself, Kyouraku-taichou. I may be catching a cold as well."
He almost paused while reaching for the cups and the jug. His Nanao-chan had never before asked for wine from his hands. She rarely even touched him. This unexpected intimacy was the sort of thing which he imagined in idle daydreams, not something that he deliberately worked to achieve or even particularly expected to come true.
But perhaps she had her own daydreams, too.
He poured two cups of wine, and set them down as she finished drying his hair. "You can put the towel away now, Nanao-chan," he said.
She retreated into the bathroom to leave it there (always so delightfully precise! She was an absolute marvel) and then came round to kneel opposite him, picking up the cup of wine in both hands. "You will understand, sir," she said with dignity, "that I am not the connoisseur you are. I probably won't appreciate the wine as much as I should."
"I could teach you," he offered.
She twitched a little. "I fear my work would get in the way, sir."
"Nanao-chan," he said sincerely, then took a sip of the wine. "Nanao-chan, a wine is like a person. Each wine has a separate fragrance, a body, a spirit of its own. It lingers on the tongue, it endures in the mouth, it warms the heart. Drink a little. Let it embrace you. Let it speak to you. Know it as it will know you, as it permeates your body. Imagine it running in your veins. Taste it."
She drank a little of the wine. Her face was still tense. The drapes of the towel hung down on either side, framing her elegant bones, her pale skin. She closed her eyes for a moment, dark lashes fluttering, and then opened them again, and smiled the tiniest fragment of a smile at him. "It is very good."
"I knew you'd like it," he said, utterly delighted. "Now tell me, Nanao-chan, when you were at the Academy, did you ever go out and get drunk with your friends?"
She lowered her gaze. "I sometimes . . . went out drinking. I never got drunk."
"I learn more about you every day." He offered to refill her cup, but she put her hand over it and gestured him away. "Why won't you take a little more, Nanao-chan? You can tell me what sort of poetry you like . . ."
"Well, Kyouraku-taichou. If I drink too much, I'll get drunk." She swallowed. "And if I get drunk -"
He blinked. "Nanao-chan, I wouldn't think at all the less of you for it."
The rain rattled against the windows and the walls.
"Yes, sir," she replied, monotone. "But if I get drunk, then you'd think you're taking advantage of me, and I wouldn't want that to happen . . ."
She leaned forward suddenly, and brushed her lips against his in a quick sweet kiss.
". . . when I so very much want to do this." Colour flamed in her cheeks, stark and beautiful, and her breath was fast with nervousness.
He set down his wine-cup, bemused, and raised his other hand to touch her cheek. "My Nanao - I don't want you to feel forced into doing this -"
"I'm not." She turned her head to kiss his fingers, then looked back at him again, still leaning forward. Her hands were braced on her knees, fingers lost in the heavy silk of the kimono, keeping her steady. "Kyouraku-taichou - please don't ask me to call you by your personal name, there are some things that I cannot do, because I cannot forget who you are - but I know what it is, and I want to be with you, and if you are offering me wine, then you are the wine I want to taste."
He placed his hands on her shoulders. "Nanao-chan, a beautiful young woman shouldn't have to ask like that."
"She does if her Captain doesn't make the first move," she replied, with her usual tartness.
It would be ungentlemanly to refuse. It would be unkind to mock her courage. He slid his hands up from her shoulders to her neck, then to her face, bringing her into a kiss. Her mouth opened readily to his, and she returned the kiss with a ferocity that did not quite surprise him. She locked her arms round his torso, holding on to him tightly as her tongue slid into his mouth, her eyes closed and her fingers digging into his back.
After a couple of minutes, he was reasonably certain that she wasn't feeling forced. He gently eased her away, fingers lingering on the softness of her neck. "And . . . what about the second move?"
"Kyouraku-taichou could lie back and let me do most of the work. As usual." Her hand slid into the folds of his kimono above his knees, deliciously and slowly finding its way up his legs. "I hope that he will not object."
"I . . ." He sighed exaggeratedly, and leaned back, letting his hands fall to his sides. "If my Nanao-chan orders, I obey."
She shook the towel off her hair with her free hand, letting it fall to the ground behind her. Her damp hair swung round her shoulders, clinging against her face and neck. There was a glow in her eyes like sparks struck from black diamonds, like fine onyx; her cheeks were still stained with embarrassment, and her lips were as red and perfect as cherries. She leaned forward, and her other hand moved to his legs; she parted the folds of his kimono, and her hands moved further up, strong thin fingers soft and warm against his skin, delicate and tempting.
He leaned back further. The room was warm, and the rain outside had died down to a whisper. He could smell cedarwood from the chest that the kimono had been stored in, and wine, and the crispness of charcoal, and - he closed his eyes as her fingers reached his loincloth, and this had to be one of the sweetest of sensations, almost as rich as the actual touch of hands on naked skin, the movement of hands through cloth, the slow building of tension as it was slipped away, as her neat fingers peeled it back deftly and then her hair fell to brush his skin as she lowered her head and took him into her mouth.
Normally at this point he would have returned some caresses, or somehow . . . his thoughts trailed into temporary incoherence. Since she was determined to prove herself, he vaguely decided he ought to just lie back as his beautiful, his wonderful, his sensual, his gorgeous Nanao-chan had told him, lie back and let her - let her -
She knelt back, licking her lips clean. The kimono was less tightly sashed now, having come a little adrift while she was exploring his body, and he could see a tantalizing fraction of white skin at the notch of her collarbone.
He took a deep breath, collecting himself. He leaned up on one elbow and extended his fingers to touch her sash, stroking along it till he could reach the knot.
She regarded him with a dubious air.
With a quick and practiced gesture, he tugged at one of the loose ends. The knot fell apart, and the sash unwound, and her kimono fell open to show her lovely body, pale as ivory against the dark green silk. She was like snow on a winter tree, as casually perfect and as elegant.
"I can hardly let my Nanao-chan do everything herself," he said, stroking her thigh as he moved across to sit beside her.
"Sir," Nanao said, too tired and too hot to be overly tactful, "the night grows late, and you have not yet signed the expenses. Or the reports. Or the -"
Kyouraku-taichou raised a hand to cut her off. He was sprawled on the couch in the corner of the room, legs outstretched in front of him. Even he had made some concessions to the heat. His captain's coat was hung over the back of the door, and his flowered kimono dangled on top of it, in a symbolism that Nanao would have been annoyed by if she had the temper to spare. He was in simple black now, just like her, and his sleeves puddled across the couch like shadows. Next to him, a bowl of shaved ice sat with a spoon sticking defiantly out of it.
She was not eating shaved ice. She was not lounging around with her chest half bare. She was trying to keep the Division running, and as usual he . . . Nanao sighed. He was being his usual self. She was the one who was annoyed by the weather, by the work, and by him.
She never had liked this time of year.
"My lovely Nanao-chan," he said, carefully enunciating each word and drawing it out, "your cheeks are pink with the heat. Come and sit with me and listen to the night birds singing outside, to the crickets chirping, to all the beautiful sounds of nature. There is a breeze in this corner . . ."
Nanao wetted a finger with her tongue and held it up. The air was still as a blanket.
"Ah," he sighed, "the flicker of your little pink tongue . . ."
Nanao gritted her teeth. Certainly there was a time and a place for such things, but the place was not her office and the time was not this sweltering heat. She turned pointedly back to the work at her desk.
"Nanao-chan," he put in more seriously, "the slide in your hair is askew."
She blinked, and put down her inkbrush, raising her right hand to probe around tentatively on the back of her head. It didn't feel askew.
"A little more to the left - no, up a bit -" He paused. "Come here and let me adjust it for you."
There were few things that would have got her away from the desk and walking over to him, but that was one of them. She couldn't abide having her hair untidy. With carefully controlled composure, she marched across and went down on one knee in front of where he was sitting so that he could fix it.
His arm went round her waist, and he scooped her up into his lap, pulling her onto the couch with him.
"Kyouraku-taichou!" she protested angrily. He was hot through the thin fabric of kimono and hakama, and he cuddled her against him as though she were a favourite toy. His hand stroked her waist, fingers tracing her lower ribs.
"My Nanao-chan needs to relax," he said firmly. "How are you going to be able to work properly if you're so tense and angry? I can feel your muscles, all knotted -" He caught her elbow as she brought it round to hit him. "Look at that," he scolded. "You didn't even reach me."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to put sensuality away in the same box as annoyance and finding it a cramped fit. "There's work to do. Sir."
"It can wait," he said soothingly. He released her elbow.
"I'm too hot," she said, and knew that it sounded petulant.
She could hear a rustle of fabric, and knew that he was fiddling with something, but couldn't tell what and didn't want to give him the satisfaction of wriggling round in his lap to see. "I'm - tired, sir. This isn't the time or place."
"If my Nanao-chan is tired," he breathed in her ear, and made her twitch as his teeth grazed her earlobe, "then it's because she's been doing my work, and I have a responsibility to help her relax."
This was not helping her to relax. "Sir -"
He trailed a length of fabric across her face with his free hand, covering her eyes, then wound it round her head again as she tried to object. It was his light green sash; she recognised the texture and the weight, even if she couldn't see the colour. She could make out the pinpoint of the desk light through it, but nothing definite. She could feel him knotting it calmly behind her head.
She sat up straight in his lap, fury and sheer confusion driving her. "This isn't funny."
"Nanao-chan." His hands slipped to her shoulders, rubbing them gently. "I just want you to relax. Sit here in the dark with me. Listen to the birds outside. There's nothing here that won't wait. Do you trust me?"
Always. "Yes, sir," she replied, in tones which said I fail to take your point.
He didn't try anything. He just kept on rubbing her shoulders. Slowly she relaxed a little. The birds outside were singing; the rest of Seireitai had left their offices and gone home for the night, and it was just the two of them. She closed her eyes behind the blindfold, and deliberately slowed her breathing. Maybe she had been a little tense. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to just . . . be still. For a little while.
He tweaked the collar of her kimono down a little at the back, baring the nape of her neck, and his lips brushed against her skin.
She tensed again. "Sir." But her objection lacked its earlier rigidity.
"Nanao-chan," he murmured against her skin, his breath hot on her back, "I feel so much more relaxed now. Don't you?"
She could feel his hands moving against the collar of her kimono, sliding under it, parting it away from her sweaty flesh. She swallowed and tried to control the tension knotting in her stomach, the urge to arch back against him. "No," she whispered.
"Ah." He hooked his fingers under the collar of her inner kimono, and drew both inner and outer kimono down over her shoulders and halfway down her back, leaving her breasts still partly covered.
She could feel the sweat beading on her spine; she felt his lips as he kissed his way down her back, licking at her skin, his hands sliding down her arms to where the folds of her sleeves tangled round her wrists. She couldn't see him; she couldn't see the room around her. She bit her lip and bent her head forward, feeling the cloth slide further down her back as she did, her breath coming faster.
He stopped, and slid her right arm free of its sleeve, bending her elbow gently and kissing along the length of her arm as the stiff cotton of her robe fell away. When it reached her wrist and slipped off, he cupped her elbow in his hand till she bent it, then raised her hand to his mouth, lips hot on the fragile bones of her knuckles. He took her fingers into his mouth one at a time and licked at them before drawing them out delicately, and at that she couldn't remain still, but she squirmed against him, gasping, trying not to whimper.
He held her wrist where it was, his mouth pressed against the palm of her hand till she was still again and her breathing had slowed.
When he did the same thing to her left arm and hand, she knew what was coming, and so she was able to control herself a little better.
Her kimono lay in folds around her waist, leaving her torso bare. She was still too hot. The ends of his scarf hung from the knot at the back of her head, draped in a straight line down her spine. It felt as if he had arranged it precisely, just for the pleasure of seeing it against her naked back.
Perhaps he had. She couldn't see his face.
His hands came round from behind her to trace along her ribs and up to her breasts, cupping them gently while his thumbs brushed against her nipples in short irregular movements, and she couldn't see, she couldn't see or know what he was doing, it was just his hands on her, and she reached behind her head to grasp at his shoulders, her fingers knotting in the cloth of his kimono and pulling it tight. She was pressed against him now, gasping, feeling the bare skin of his chest against her back - it wasn't fair that he could be dry while she was so hot -
He took his hands away from her breasts, and she leaned against him, panting, still holding him.
"Is my Nanao-chan relaxed?" he whispered into her ear, tracing the lobe with the tip of his tongue.
"No!" she snapped between breaths, furious. Of all the stupid ways of putting it, the stupid words to describe it. She was very definitely not relaxed. She would go into exactly how not relaxed she was as soon as she could get her breath back.
"Mmnh." He slid a hand into the slit of her hakama to stroke her leg. She could feel him smiling, feel it as she squirmed at his touch, and in a complicated turning manoeuvre and slither of clothing that she could only vaguely map, she was lying on the couch with her hakama sliding down from her waist to her ankles, and he was kneeling on the ground beside her, one large hand spread out across her chest to keep her still.
"Kyouraku-taichou!" she protested for form's sake.
"Kyoura-" She broke off with an undignified squeal as something cold and wet landed with a small splat on the hollow of her neck, followed by her Captain's hot lips and tongue as he licked it off her skin. Oh, so it was going to be like that. So he was going to try to be funny. Well, she could.
She stuffed her knuckles in her mouth to stop herself making undignified noises as he.
As he trailed it down her body.
Between her legs.
She tangled her fingers in his hair.
His mouth, when she managed to pull him up to kiss her, tasted of sweet lemons and ice, and he settled against her comfortably, and as they moved together she didn't care how hot and sweaty he was.
Afterwards she went to find a pitcher of water, bare feet quiet on the dusty floorboards. When she came back he was still lounging there on the couch, one eye half open in lazy enquiry, and he reached for her rather than for the water.