I have never actually written Bleach fanfic before--and not much fanfic at all, come to that!--so my profound apologies for all inaccuracies, idiocies, oddities and otherwise.
Afternoon in the Eighth Division offices.
Tawny light was slanting through the windows, picking up individual dust motes. The polished wooden floors gleamed. Behind the paper screens of the captain's office, it was dim and cool and quiet.
Vice-Captain Nanao had taken over the captain's office ten years earlier, on the principle that she was doing all the paperwork anyway, and needed more room to stack it in. It was debatable whether Captain Kyouraku Shunsui had noticed yet. Since he spent most of his time on the roof, and only graced his office when it rained or when he was dragged by the collar, maybe a decade wasn't enough time to notice.
Still, the office was a lot cleaner now, and she'd funded the division for an entire month just on the proceeds from all the sake bottle returns.
Nanao leaned back, sighing. He was up on the roof now, most likely, basking in the spring sunlight like a large pink lizard. Most of the Eighth was out doing the same thing, so the offices were quiet. She could hear, very faintly the sounds of combat, and the distant thump of buildings crashing down. Probably Eleventh Division. There was an entire team of contractors whose job was to follow the 11th around and rebuild structures after them. Rumor had it they worked triple shifts and were paid salaries that would make a shinigami blush.
She wondered idly who did the paperwork for that particular division. The notion of either Zaraki or his lieutenant filling out a form was laughable. Still, somebody had to be doing it… "Eleventh Squad, Combat Secretary," she said under her breath, and smirked down at her files.
Nanao shuffled through the papers again. She'd filled most of them out so that all they required was the captain's stamp. The bills were next. She sighed and fanned them out across the desk. They glared at her balefully. The Eighth did not merit the kind of budgetary leniency that the Eleventh got, since they were only highly skilled warriors, rather than unstoppable killing machines. A large part of Nanao's job consisted of fighting a balanced budget past a man with an immense pink wardrobe and a cast-iron liver.
"Sixteen bottles of sake—" she read aloud, "—only sixteen? Slow week…two baskets of rose petals…dry cleaning order for one captain's uniform, large, and three haoris, pink…two reams parchment, one inkstone…two reams?" She tapped her pen against her lips. "What would he do with two reams of paper?"
"I've taken up poetry," said the large pink lizard, who was apparently not basking on the roof after all. Nanao looked up over the tops of her glasses, and saw Shunsui sprawled out across the low couch, his hat pulled down over his eyes. "I was composing an ode to my lovely Nanao-chan."
"It took you two reams to compose an ode?" asked Nanao skeptically. He must have used shunpo to move from the roof, which he generally did if he was already laying down and didn't want to get up.
"My Nanao-chan is a lengthy subject," said Shunsui, opening one eye hopefully. "Would you like to hear what I wrote?"
He sat up, undaunted, and clasped his hands together. "My Nanao-chan has lovely eyes, as cold as winter's frosty skies—but far more lovely are her thighs—"
Her fan struck him between the eyes, cutting off the poetry. "That's enough of that."
"But it goes on for another ream's worth…" he said, giving her his tragic look. She had had years to develop an immunity to that look, and met it without flinching. He sighed and slumped back, pulling the hat down again. "My Nanao-chan is a harsh critic."
She waited until he'd closed his eyes again, then shook her head and smiled faintly. Idiot.
Nanao went back to her paperwork. For close to an hour, the only sounds were the scratch of her pen and the distant rumble of falling masonry.
"Do you like doing this?" Shunsui asked suddenly.
She looked up, surprised. She'd thought he'd fallen asleep long since. "Doing what?"
He gestured to the stacks of paperwork. "All this. Forms. Files. Everything."
Nanao blinked. Almost, she said something cutting—after all, if she didn't do it, it wouldn't get done, and who's fault was that?—but something stopped her. It was his voice. He was using that odd, sad tone he had, when he saw things a little too clearly, and it stopped her, and made her consider the question.
Honestly, she'd never thought about it. It was just…part of the package. If you had a cat, and it threw up on the rug, you cleaned it up. You didn't enjoy it, but after awhile, you weren't particularly bothered by it, either—it was just something that had to be done. Nanao had a division, and a captain, which generated paperwork, and she cleaned it up, because it had to be done.
"Doing this is useful," she said finally, taking off her glasses and cleaning them on the corner of her robe. "I'm good at it. And it is better to be useful, because…"
She trailed off, unsure of how to finish the sentence, aware that she was veering into dark territory in her own head, and a little startled that she'd gotten there from a simple question about paperwork.
He did not press the matter. He never did. Nanao finished cleaning her glasses and put them back on, and saw that he was looking at her strangely.
He'd been doing that a lot lately, she thought, a little exasperated and more than a little disquieted. That particular look. It was penetrating but somewhat abstracted, as if he was trying to remember a grocery list and suspected it might be taped somewhere on the inside of her skull.
"Why?" she asked, nettled.
"I would not want my Nanao-chan to be unhappy," Shunsui said, and smiled a broad, foolish smile that she didn't believe for a second.
He's up to something.
No, it's not the up-to-something look. It's close, though…
Nanao took refuge in routine. "You have a meeting in twenty minutes." She held out a paper.
Shunsui heaved a sigh, the world's most put-upon captain, never mind that he slept sixteen hours a day and spent the other eight in various stages of inebriation. He got up, took the paper, gave her another of those odd looks, and then strolled out. She could hear him humming to himself in the corridor.
He had certainly been acting odd lately. Nanao shook her head. Ever since…well, ever since…
Ever since the fight with Yamamoto-sama.
Nanao inhaled. Her chest felt tight at the memory.
The fight where you failed him before a blow was ever struck. The one where he had to drag you out before you suffocated on the old man's power.
Yeah, that fight.
Did he want to replace her?
The thought woke an involuntary shudder. She set her pen down, very carefully, and twined her fingers together.
It would make sense. It would make a great deal of sense, now that she thought of it. It would explain the looks, the odd questions. He would never simply transfer her out of the blue. There was no malice in Shunsui, not a drop. He had once carried a lost baby bird in his hat, clear to Fourth Division, walking nearly five miles on foot, for fear that flash-stepping would alarm it.
Good lord. What if this time he thinks I'm the baby bird? Nanao put her head in her hands.
She could see it clearly. He did not want her to be unhappy, and he did not want her dead, but she was obviously not capable of holding up anything but the paperwork end of being Vice-Captain. She was a competent fighter, but among the thirteen squads, competence was assumed—there were so many simply amazing fighters that you could wallpaper the cafeteria with the merely competent. What if he was trying to figure out what to do with her, so that he could get a second in that wouldn't fail him?
Chirp chirp, said the voice inside her head, who was a traitor of the first water.
"Baseless speculation," she told herself, and then stopped, because she sounded a little shaky, not at all like her usual clipped tones. Still. You don't know that. He could just be trying to remember your dress size so that he can send someone off to buy you some ungodly outfit made of two postage stamps and a bit of wet string.
Still…all those searching looks…Shunsui was a man with a problem, and Nanao was afraid that she was it.