Chapter 7: From the Mouths
The guest caught her off guard. Nanao opened the door wider to admit the woman, her former boss at the library, to her quarters. Her home was small, spacious and traditional. Nanao was nervous to admit her there.
"Good evening, Amori-san. Could I get you some tea or--?"
"If you wouldn't mind, some tea would be lovely."
That was how she'd found herself, a half hour later. Sitting in her living room serving tea to her former boss, a strict, quiet woman who only spoke to her employees in passing. She had never had a conversation with the stern Amori-san before and it didn't please her to be having one now.
"What brings you out tonight?"
Nanao's curiosity was going to eat a hole in her belly if the woman didn't say something related soon.
Amori, an older woman with a salt and pepper shade of hair, sat her teacup down gently. Nanao wondered how long she'd been working for the library. As long as Nanao had been there, and that was several decades. A quiet sigh escaped her lips and she sat back, squaring her shoulders.
"Were you ever familiar with the rumor network in the library?"
"I know there was a lot of talk, but I have never been fond of rumor." Nor had she ever been familiar enough with anyone that they would share it with her.
"It has always been rampant. The life of the library staff tends to be a bit less exciting than those of our Division-based colleagues. So when you came to be a subject of the rumor mill there, I was a bit surprised and a bit startled. Before your change of employment, had you ever met Captain Kyouraku?"
Nanao frowned and lowered her head. "No, I don't believe so."
"He is a frequent patron, he and Captain Ukitake. When there is trouble in Soul Society, the two of them get involved in much research. They have great knowledge, those two men. Is there any truth to the rumor that you are not getting along well with the Captain?"
Nanao was mortified. She felt dirty and embarrassed. Shamed. "He isn't what I expected a Captain would be like."
"I didn't come here to lecture you, nor would I have any authority to do it. I came to remind you that you were chosen because someone thought you would be good for Captain Kyouraku. Someone saw something in you that could be improved, for you and for Division Eight and you proved that assessment correct by qualifying yourself for Vice-Captain."
Nanao hung her head.
"You served me many years very well. I don't wish to see you hurt by people that you don't know. Give him a chance. Give it all a chance; don't hastily throw it away because you're afraid of it."
Nanao met the morning, with if less than high spirits, at least determination. After Amori's visit, she'd gotten around to paging through the book she's borrowed from the library about Division Eight's history. Captain Kyouraku had been in place there for centuries.
Dressing, she headed for her new place of employment, uncertain what was next to be done once the paperwork dilemma was cleared and when she would get a moment to speak with her Captain. It was the latter of the two that were bothering her more greatly. It hadn't been until yesterday when she realized what a grievous error she'd made. If people were gossiping about her in the library of all places. How far she'd fallen so quickly. How could she even go in there now?
Whether she liked it or not, Nanao had given that man, that horrible man, her promise to do her best. And she hadn't been doing that, not really. Instead, she'd been bitter and vindictive and, possibly, mean. Captain Kyouraku wasn't responsible for her transfer out of the library and whether she liked him or not she owed him her respect because he was her superior officer and she needed to accept that. She couldn't go back to the library. This was her life now; she really needed to make the best of that.
And, what reason did she even have to complain? She wasn't a librarian tech anymore. No longer was she an anonymous face maintaining the stacks, maintaining the rules. She was the Vice-Captain of one of the Division Offices. She should stop being morose and instead be proud of herself for accomplishing that. So, why wasn't she?
With a frown, Nanao renewed her determination. Just because it was new didn't mean it had to be bad. And she was going to do it.
Right after she apologized to her Captain. It also cleared up what she was going to do next. She'd had swept up his belongings from right beneath his nose and sold them. Luckily for her she had a log of who had bought what and if it cost her personal funds to retrieve those items that were just as well. Punishment wasn't supposed to be pretty. Punishment was what she deserved. The sake, well, that she felt well within her rights to be rid of, she was maintaining a place of business.
Only, once she got to the office itself something else asserted itself to her. Something a bit more pressing. Something that caused a well of panic in her chest that bloomed into fury. The front gate of Division Eight was fully intact and it clicked closed behind her dutifully. Once inside however, she found the front door completely kicked down and the remnants of a brawl all around her feet. Papers, pieces of previously intact furniture and flowers. The front office of Division Eight was now scattered in the courtyard like rubbish.
Her previously determined mood darkened.
No one was to be found anywhere.
Nanao panted. It was already noon time and she'd made no progress on her self-assigned mission. Leaning against the tree, she wiped her forehead with her sleeve. The warmth of the day was getting to her, but at least it was clear. There wasn't a gray cloud to be had and that in itself was a godsend. But it was hot and she was feeling it. She'd barely had one cup of tea at home and then finding her new office in literal shambles on the lawn she'd set out to find the Captain.
Where the hell was he?
She'd checked his quarters at the office. No one, naturally. She'd gone to Division Thirteen, in hopes that he might be there. They didn't know. Shiba Kaien had been helpful in giving her his home address after he'd held her up for forty-five minutes. But the Captain hadn't been there for all her wasted effort. Or he hadn't answered if he was. She'd checked the rooftop of both buildings once someone helpfully told her he liked to nap upon them. Nothing. She'd gone to every park she could think of within a certain distance of the Division.
Now, here she was back at Division Eight, perched under a wide canopy peach tree, trying to catch her breath and out of ideas. What would she do if she couldn't find him? Simply take charge of the situation?
It had been hours.
If she tried to search for him by reiatsu, she was certain she'd fail. Not out of lack of ability, but it was a bit like trying to find a fish in the sea. How would she know which was his? She hadn't the familiarity with him yet.
Her breath caught.
And she, slowly, looked up as if expecting a zombie to hurl itself from the tree upon her person. To her utter horror, there he laid, cradled in the bough of the branches leisurely, his kimono spread beneath him the sleeve hanging over the branches, his hat on his belly…
"Captain," she murmured breathlessly.
Disheveled was probably a fine word for her appearance at that particular moment and he must've been alarmed at the sight of her because he immediately swung his feet over and hopped down reaching out to place a hand on her head.
"You okay, Nanao-chan?"
"I have been running all over this morning looking for you," she murmured. How could he possibly have been in the yard all morning? He couldn't have. He wasn't… "You haven't been here all day, have you?" The thought was appalling. He'd been here the whole time and she hadn't … noticed? Impossible!
Nanao took a long, calculating look at him. Analyzing him from head to toe, his attire to his reiatsu signature, she needed to memorize him if she was to locate him in the future. What an utter waste of time.
Now that she had him in front of her, there was so much to say and she'd been stonily silent. So when he chuckled, she was utterly baffled.
"Are you overwhelmed already?" the thought seemed to amuse him.
Nanao sighed. "I had a list of things that I needed to talk to you about but after I got here this morning and ran into blatant destruction I've had to reset my priority list. But then I couldn't find you."
"Well," he turned and sat down at the base of the tree and patted the ground. "You've got me now. Have a seat and we'll talk."
Uncomfortable, Nanao did just that, curling her legs beneath her and folding her hands in her lap. He looked tired and she felt rotten.
"What destruction did you find?" he asked idly.
The anger was like a firestorm and it momentarily distracted her. "The entire front office is in the… courtyard. Like someone had a challenge to the death with our property!"
His smile, which she didn't notice, would've irked her. "We'll sort it out, Nanao-chan."
"That's not a matter of sorting. That's a matter of bashing heads and you are completely distracting me, I didn't want to talk to you about that first."
"Oh? Is there a more pressing matter?"
"Yes," she heaved a sigh. "I thought about this a great deal last night. You have been Captain of this Division for centuries and I do not feel that I am going to affect any great change in your or the way you run your Division. So what I need to know is, what do you expect from me, as your Vice-Captain?"
"This has been bothering you?"
"Since yesterday," she murmured. "Before that I was preoccupied with being immature and petty."
In the ensuing silence, he bent up one knee and pulled up a blade of grass, curling it around his finger. "As long as I've been Captain, the running of the Division has been left to my Vice-Captain."
Nanao thought it over. "So you don't care?"
"Was your transfer to Division Eight voluntary?"
She blinked and frowned at him. "No."
"What was the first thing you wanted to say to me this morning?"
Nanao was confused at the rapid change of topics. "I'm sorry."
His first, pressing instinct was to reach out for her.
Ise Nanao looked to him, at that moment, like a woman who needed to be held, but he didn't dare move.
Ise Nanao was a woman who needed attention.
Ise Nanao was a woman who needed control and purpose.
"It was what I wanted to say to you, this morning, that I was sorry. I made a promise and I have not been keeping that. I think certain aspects of this situation have overwhelmed me and I was really not prepared."
Little Nanao was stumbling over inexperience.
And sheer pressure.
"And while I'm apologizing, last night was the last time you'll entertain guests at my request. That was a disaster of unspecified proportions. I still think you can be useful in generating money for the Division, perhaps a calendar book of photos or something if you would be agreeable."
He wasn't sorry to learn that project was at an end. The previous night had been hell. He couldn't be certain if the girl picked up the most annoying women she could on purpose to inflict on him or if she just found those annoying few who would never approach them on his own because he'd never experienced such boredom in his life.
"While we're discussing that, I fully expect I should be punished. For even having the nerve to be so utterly disrespectful-"
"Nanao," he started.
"I believe in being fair."
Her soft admission stopped him.
"I shouldn't be held to any less a standard than I will hold to anyone else."
The consequence he had been going to hold to her, to steal a kiss from her pretty, disapproving lips, was something he could no longer ask for. How unexpected. He leaned back against the tree and smiled.
Precious Ise Nanao was a woman of fine, etched crystal. So delicate. He would handle her gently. Moreover, he was certain she was going to be harder on herself than anyone else would be.
"Let's call it even."
"Let's start over then."
"Start over?" she asked, dry swallowed, and then paused. "I am Ise Nanao, and I hope not to be a disappointment to you, Captain Kyouraku. And I promise I will never again have a yard sale of your belongings on the yard or dispose of your sake collection. If you can promise not to have liquor all over the office."
The last part sounded like an afterthought.
"How about if I promise to keep my liquor in my personal space?"
Her answering smile changed her face and seemed to embarrass her as she quickly looked away. "That's acceptable."
"Any other pressing matters?"
"Just one thing. It isn't normal to find to massive property destruction, is it?"
"So I can… handle that in any manner I choose?"
He thought it over and stood. She followed, and stood up beside him, presumably awaiting his permission before she headed off to crack heads. Part of him hoped she did. Little Nanao was a firecracker and he'd be damn lying if he said she wasn't sexy when pissed off.
"You may hold every member of Division Eight to the same standard that you hold yourself to."
Because he was now convinced that he could trust her to do that. She nodded sharply and turned and stopped.
"Captain, Sir, please enjoy your nap. I do not expect I will need to find you again today. But in the future, you do actually come to the office at some point during daylight hours?"
"Understood. Thank you."
AN: Shiba Kaien and his brother are a great deal of fun. I may keep him alive, why not, it's already alternate reality. This means Rukia is running around the Rukongai (if she's there at all) and Ichigo and Co. probably aren't even born yet. Don't expect to see them.