Chapter 1: The Library Tech
She wasn't well known except to anyone who might frequent the kidou section of the massive Soul Society library. There was a certain kind of strictness about her, with the neatly trimmed hair and eyeglasses. She, like most library techs, did not carry a sword at her waist.
It was not her neat appearance or her talent for her work that drew his eye. It was watching her, one afternoon, execute the most graceful kidou spell he'd seen in some time. Perhaps, it was just watching the young man being chastised fly across the library where he banged into the wall and the prim miss telling him he was banned for the next 6 months and to vacate her section immediately.
Ise Nanao was a strict technician.
Ise Nanao was firm about the rules.
Ise Nanao was very, very willing to enforce them.
Ise Nanao was perfect for Kyouraku Shunsui.
It was that singular event that led him to sign his name to the transfer request form, there at her table, right under the unsuspecting Ise Nanao's nose.
She was a librarian technician for the Soul Society Central Library. Her area of expertise in said library was the extensive kidou section. She knew almost all the titles and had read a good portion of the higher quality books. She had memorized and practiced countless. The lower quality books were strategically placed on the bottom of the shelves near her feet though she couldn't bring herself to tread upon them. The world of kidou was at her fingertips. She was on top of the world, so to speak. It was a dream job. She had worked there from the very first, learned so much, grown so much in knowledge. It was the ideal place for her. Her niche in the world…
Or it had been. One delightfully sunny afternoon she was informed she had been, "requested by higher powers for transfer." It was a sudden, violent snowstorm in her brain. She couldn't think. Presently standing in the Central Librarian's office she was flabbergasted, astonished beyond words. "Transfer?" she repeated absently.
The woman at the desk nodded sadly. "Apparently they are having some staffing issues in one of the Division offices. Someone high up, it seems, has recommended you to Captain Yamamoto. The argument in your case must have been convincing, the First Division Captain was insistent that his decision could not be appealed."
Shock wasn't sufficient to express her emotion. "I see. Which office am I pending transfer to?" Nanao dreaded the answer. She was a full-fledged, licensed shinigami but she had given that up ages ago when she was accepted into the library program almost directly out of the academy. Not to say she could not defend herself adequately, but… but…
The entire staff of the library had known her name before she graduated, getting a job there had been a dream come true. Now she was back-tracking? Taking the route of a newly-graduated shinigami? If she found out who was responsible, she'd rip out some teeth!
The older woman glanced down at a paper on her desk. Nanao resisted the urge to attempt reading it upside down. It would not be respectful to pry that way.
"Eighth Division – under Captain Kyouraku Shunsui."
Her head felt light. Disaster loomed on the horizon, she was certain of it. The things Ise Nanao knew about the 8th Division could fill a thimble cup. Or, she corrected, the good things she'd heard about the 8th Division. From what she recalled during her many years at academy and the library was that the Captain of the 8th division was lazy and a skirt-chaser and he could not keep any high ranking female staffers because he flirted continuously… That and he rarely came to the library, had she seen him before? She couldn't recall.
He couldn't keep the men because it was too much stress and not enough fight, and apparently too much paperwork. Who knew being a louse generated paperwork by the hour? Or, so she'd heard. She was not one to dabble in gossip.
How in the world had she, a library tech, come to anyone's attention in the Gotei-13 offices? She never went there. If she was lucky she assisted someone with research every so often, but never enough to warrant any great notice. She was a speckle in a sea of people in that library. What was going on?
Her mind was awash with ideas. Speculation. She hated speculating, it meant she had no idea what was going on. It meant she was woefully out of control of the situation. Things should never be out of her control, it was against her way of life.
Was she being transferred to do paperwork? To put the office in order? The commissioned officer seats were won by fighting, should she go and practice her skills lest the competition break all her bones? It had been so long since she'd done this. Not since she'd practiced, that would be foolish, but since she'd engaged in one on one combat…
As she left the library, she glanced at the slip of paper between her fingers. The head librarian had generously supplied the address to her new… job. Also included was a contact person.
Was this some horrible snag of fate? Who had she annoyed to deserve this? The walk was far shorter than she anticipated and scarcely could she catch her breath, she had arrived. Before she could raise her hand to knock at the front door of the 8th Division office, it was slid open. "You must be Ise-san?"
It was a man. Large, chunky around the waist and shoulders. This couldn't be the Captain, could it? No, not attractive enough to be a womanizer, she determined, looking at the large forehead and puffy black hair.
"I'm Ise Nanao," she confirmed, stepping into the drab foyer.
She had barely entered and already she knew it was going to end badly. The place smelled of vomit and alcohol. Stacks and stacks of paper were piled around like little heaps of snow. It was every bit the disaster she'd imagined. What was she going to do and how could she get away from it?
"I am Ituo Daichi. Come down this way." He led her down a corridor and she noticed the place seemed empty. An office door was already open and he headed on in and she followed. He sat down at the desk and despite his huge stature looked woefully overwhelmed. "You were recommended to us by …" he made an absent motion with his hand. "Actually, I have no idea about that. Captain Yamamoto contacted me this morning and told me you were coming."
"I don't understand," Nanao murmured. "What am I supposed to do here?"
The man looked at her as if she'd sprouted another head. As if to say, 'can't you see'? They were surrounded by white pillars of paper. It could've been a miniature city made of paper stacks.
He cleared his throat and glanced away. "Uh, Captain Kyouraku is a man of many talents. Unfortunately, maintaining the office is not one of his stronger…uh... abilities."
She just stared.
"We need you to fix this." He made an awkward open motion.
"Am I joining this division? What am I, a secretary?"
"Gotei-13 law states all personnel handling the office paperwork need to be seated officers. You are expected to challenge for a seat tomorrow afternoon. The division officers have already been notified. I'll tell the Captain as soon as we figure out where he is."
He had the nerve to look a bit bashful with the last statement. The captain's whereabouts were unknown. Was that commonplace?
"Would you like a tour?" he stood looking suddenly much more cheerful as if she were a rainbow on a rainy day. As if she was the answer, the savior, in a way of the office.
"Who are you again?"
"Itou Daishi – 5th seat. It's not what seat you get, Ise-san, we just want you in a seat so you can stay with us. We need help desperately, please try hard."
He looked so desperately earnest she could have no ill feelings toward him. This person, despite the rest of the place, looked like he was trying. He wasn't responsible for dragging her here.
She had one day to prepare to challenge an entire division? How did that work? Did she fight by succession? What determined a win or loss? There had to be very specific rules. As she'd never been in battle of succession she'd never looked it up before. She almost ran back to the library when her tour was over. In her estimation, Itou-san was being just a bit too welcoming. He'd already offered to give her his office and the office of several others in the division since, it seemed, no one used them anyway. Could he even do that?
She felt weary.
"Ise-san, you're back!" One of the other techs exclaimed, clearly surprised.
"I need to know something," she answered shortly and breezed past only to stop abruptly and swing back around. "Where would I find the Gotei-13 laws on officer succession?"
The other woman stared at her a long minute before biting her lip in contemplation. "You know, I'd ask Rumi about that one."
In a back section of the library at a table alone, Nanao sat with four volumes of books surrounding her. All were open to various pages.
"Battles of succession in the Gotei-13 must be overseen by the Captain of said Division. A win is determined by the drawing of first blood. Death of the opponent is considered a win and non-penalized. Loss is determined by the presentation of blood. All body parts are considered viable targets."
It drifted off into guidelines for disqualification. She could win by killing her opponent, wasn't that fun… She felt woozy again.
Snapping the volumes closed she returned them to their respective places on the shelf and headed out. The library was suddenly much too full of information and felt stifling. She needed air.
The walk home was longer that afternoon than it had ever been before. When she reached her darkened residence, cold in its still silence, she slid to the floor inside and leaned back against the wall.
For hours she thought…and thought…and thought… and did nothing.
Morning drew Nanao from the comfort of her residence. She walked the lonely streets toward the 8th Division. To her surprise, Itou was there just opening the front door when she arrived.
"Ah, an early-riser Ise-san. See," he grinned. "Already you are good for us. I'm the only person who comes in before twelve!" he happily announced.
She repressed a groan. Would it be dishonorable of her to fake it and lose?
"I managed to track down Captain Kyouraku last night and told him about you. As it turns out, to handle the office work in this office you need to be at least a 10th seat officer so we've narrowed down the personnel required. Although," he paused. "You realize this is an open event for the entire 8th Division?"
She wished the floor could swallow her whole. She was going to humiliate herself in front of an entire division? Wouldn't everyone want to come down to see the tiny library trounced? She wanted to melt. She had not used her zanpakutou since the academy days. At least, not formally in battle. Her kidou was her definite strong point, but…
"Do not be nervous! Come! Would you like a drink Ise-san?"
"No thank you. I'm just going to go and stand by the window if you don't mind." She pointed to the one down the hall, all the way down. It was as far away from Itou's office as she could manage within eyesight.
"Sure, sure. Enjoy yourself."
He stepped into his office but left the door open.
It wasn't as if she hated the man. She simply desired silence instead of conversation. Approaching the end of the hall she found it forked and met a doorway. It was the path to the garden? She put her back to the wall and looked outside.
This captain certainly had a flare for the aesthetic didn't he?
Just as she thought so, the side door she'd discovered slid open and a man came inside. He was large too, broad across the shoulders and… pink? She hurriedly glanced away as her eyes noticed the long plunge of cloth and the glimpse of sculpted chest beneath. The Gotei-13 was full of such large men, but they rarely came to the library.
Keeping her eyes steadfastly on the window scene she ignored the presence of the man who'd stopped beside her. She nearly jumped when he caged her against said wall with his arms.
"You must be the librarian." His voice was deep. Melodic. Beautiful in a way. This kind of man never came to the library. This kind of man never looked at a woman like her.
"You smell like a brewery, step away from me."
Stern, Nanao, she told herself. She couldn't let herself get pushed around here. She had more backbone than this, didn't she? There was no way she needed to turn tail and run back to the library, not with this goon hanging on her. Never. Even if he was a handsome goon.
His answer was neither insult nor argument but laughter. "When Itou told me they had sent a librarian I thought perhaps I had been more misbehaved than usual. I even imagined some old, rounded woman with glasses and a ruler. What is your name?"
He had big hands. And shoulders too. The man was huge over her! She needed to stop noticing things about him. "Ise Nanao."
"Despite your severe frown, you've got a strong jaw, Ise Nanao." It was almost a whisper. "Do your best. Show me," he paused, tracing one finger along aforementioned jaw line, "…what a librarian can do."
They both turned at the shaky shout to see Itou heading their way. He looked nervous. Was it more bad news? Nanao sincerely hoped not. As the officer drew nearer, the man in pink drew away, straightening.
"C-Captain Kyouraku, I didn't expect you so early. This is Ise Nanao, our new transfer."
"So I see," he nodded at her.
Nanao looked at him closer. His hair was long, he had what almost looked like mini kanzashi pins in his hair and the pink kimono? "You're the Captain?"
He grinned and crossed his arms, drawing her eyes, again, to his chest. She hurriedly looked way once more. "Kyouraku Shunsui. Don't I look the part?"
She frowned. "I thought Captains were supposed to adhere to a certain code of dress?"
His grin reappeared abruptly. "Cheeky. Not even fully transferred and already trying to get me to strip for you, Nanao-chan? Usually it's the other way around; I'm honored."
She cocked a brow, refusing to be embarrassed even as heat flushed her cheeks. With absent grace, he suddenly shrugged the pink outer kimono off revealing his white Captain's coat. She told herself to focus and not stare. "Who are you calling 'Nanao-chan'?"
He laughed and she wanted nothing more than to slap him silly but didn't dare raise her hand to him.
"Stern, even while blushing." He crowded close again, forcing her back against the wall. She hadn't realized she'd stepped away from it. "I've heard interesting speculation about today, Nanao-chan, but I think you will surprise us all if your fear doesn't lead you to sabotage yourself. Promise me..."
His grin gentled. His expression was soft as he stared down at her. "Give me everything you have. Don't stop at 10, go all the way. Show me what you're made of… Promise me you'll be honest in your effort."
She'd thought of it. But…
He leaned closer. "Nanao-chan…"
"Don't call me that," she snapped without thinking and then flinched as if expecting punishment for taking such a tone with a high ranking officer.
"Your promise, Nanao-chan?" he ignored her flatly. It was as if she'd said nothing.
She looked away. Was agreeing the easiest way to get rid of him? "I promise," she murmured.
He leaned back away. She didn't dare look at his face. "Don't look so wounded, Nanao. It was a disservice to you, locking you away in a library." One broad hand suddenly cupped her cheek, gently tilting her head up to look at him. "That library is an icy winter, and you a delicate blossom… in that distasteful place you will wither and never fully bloom."
Was this man a lunatic? Surely, this wasn't some kind of pick-up? Right? Right? Granted, he was good looking, but the waxing lyrical was just so… And was he going to continue referring to her in the familiar? Would it be entirely too disrespectful to request that he not call her "Nanao"? Again? And most certainly not Nanao-chan!
Her soon-to-be Captain stood up straight. "I need a nap. Delay the ceremony until 4." He gave a great yawn. "You promised, Nanao-chan."
With that, he gave her a half wave and sauntered down the hall. What kind of new world was this place?