A/N: I'm back! Here's something I've been slowly working on for months now. The sequel to Tossed Aside. Though the first chapter sort of sets the stage, it'll get more exciting soon, I promise. Don't forget to review!
Tomorrow and After
Chapter One: Having Gotten Used to It
Nanao moved her neck from side to side, trying to relax the muscles in her shoulder which had grown stiff from sitting so long hunched over the latest deluge of paperwork. Straightening her back, which she had allowed to slump from its usual perfect posture due to the absence of anyone from the Eighth Division Office, she rubbed her tired eyes behind her trademark glasses. Nanao blinked, startled to find a large bouquet of white roses in front of nose. Her gaze traveled from the beautiful full blossoms to the familiar sun-browned hand that presented them.
"What are these for?" she asked, looking up into the smiling face of Kyōraku Shunsui.
"Why, our anniversary of course!" Shunsui cried indignantly. "How could you forget, Nanao-chan?"
"How can I even hope to remember when we have so many," Nanao countered, taking the flowers out of his hands and standing up. She drew the already occupied vase on the corner of her desk closer to her. The squad's third seat had given the container to Nanao for the sole purpose of holding all of the flowers Shunsui brought her on a weekly basis.
"What are we celebrating today?" Nanao asked, as she arranged the roses among the red lilies Shunsui had given her on the "Anniversary of the Day their Reiatsus Met for the First Time."
"You really don't remember, Nanao-chan?" Shunsui rumbled gently, coming to encase her between the desk and his body.
"I really have no idea," Nanao lied, trying to remain unwavering as the warmth from his front seeped invitingly into her back. She had more work that she wanted to complete before retiring for the evening but Shunsui's ability to influence her carefully managed schedules had only grown over the past years.
"Why, my lovely Nanao-chan, today is the fifth anniversary of the night that I brought you dinner before turning you around, sitting you on this very desk," he mimicked his words with a delighted smirk. "And―"
His next words were effectively cut off as Nanao fisted her hand in the front of his uniform and brought his lips down to meet hers. Shunsui growled playfully in approval, grasping her hips in his hands and pressing her closer to him.
"Straight to the point as always, Nanao-chan," Shunsui grinned when they broke apart a few moments later.
"Well, one of us has to be," Nanao commented dryly, though she could not effectively hide the small smile that was playing on her slightly swollen lips. "Otherwise, nothing would get done around here. Now, kindly remove yourself from the premises so I can finish this week's paperwork." She slid off of the desk and made to move around him.
"Come now, Nanao," Shunsui said, blocking her attempt. "Even fukutaichōs are allowed to take some time off to enjoy special occasions." He brought a hand up to caress the curve of the face that he had memorized long before he had been allowed to touch it freely.
"Every day is a special occasion with us," Nanao argued, placing a hand on his chest and attempting to remove him from her path.
"Shouldn't it be?" Shunsui remarked happily, plucking a protesting Nanao off of her feet and sitting her on the desk once more. "Now, where were we?" he said with an air of mock thoughtfulness. "Ah, yes, I believe we were here." He swept down to cover her lips with his once more, but Nanao turned stubbornly away. Not one to be daunted, Shunsui allowed his lips to settle on the graceful column of her throat.
"Shunsui, I might be wrong," Nanao attempted to point out even as she leant into his touch.
"Doubtful," Shunsui murmured against her skin.
"True," Nanao concurred, her hands wrapping around him of their own accord. "However, I believe that the occasion in question occurred well after sundown."
"Your point, Nanao?" Shunsui breathed in her ear, his teeth catching gently on the lobe.
"Doesn't that mean that I should be allowed several more hours to work prior to beginning this…reenactment?" she inquired, her breath catching slightly.
"Nanao-chan, we've known each other for how long now?" Shunsui said lightly as he allowed his hands to meander her torso.
"Too long, I'm sure," she fairly moaned.
"You wound me, Nanao," he returned, discarding his hat and reaching for her once more. "My point was that you should know by now that celebrations in the noble house of Kyōraku always begin at least three hours prior to the occasion and last long into the early hours of the morning."
Nanao couldn't suppress a shudder of anticipation. She shifted, tucking her feet underneath her, and raising herself onto her knees. She wrapped her arm around his neck, her hand trailing down between the, to loosen the aqua sash around his waist. Shunsui broke the kiss, reaching up to remove her glasses.
"What are you doing?" she asked dazedly, as he removed the pins from her hair, throwing them over his shoulder without concern.
"Taking your glasses off and letting the pins out of your hair. They were getting in my way," he explained, his hand entwining itself in her newly-freed tresses.
"Is that really appropriate in the office?" Nanao asked.
"I think that's a strange question, seeing as you're currently in the process of removing my clothing," Shunsui pointed out.
"Am I?" Nanao questioned breathlessly, as his palms grazed over newly bared skin.
"Well, you were," he corrected, delighting in the way she relaxed into him. "Yare, Nanao," he remarked. "I remember a time when you couldn't look at me without blushing. Look how far you've progressed."
"Well, we can all see that," interjected an amused voice from the door.
With a surprised scream, Nanao fairly fell off of the desk in her haste to dart behind the relative cover provided by her lover's broad back.
Matsumoto clicked her tongue in a patronizing manner as she fairly strolled over to the large office window to in order to pull the screen down. "You two really are terrible, having sex in broad daylight in front of the open window." She let out an airy giggle while she faced the wall, allowing her friends time to dress themselves. "I'm glad I came when I did or else you would have put on quite a show for those heading to the mess hall early."
"What would we do without you?" Nanao said, rolling eyes.
"Well, I believe that's obvious," Shunsui quipped as he adjusted the small glass pendant around Nanao's neck, which held a flower cut from his favorite haori, so that it hung properly.
"As grateful as we are for your timely arrival," Nanao said, stepping out from around the desk, "may I inquire as to the reason for your visit?"
"Of course you can," Matsumoto replied with a grin as she turned around. "It's past five o'clock and you were supposed to come and help Okuni train for the placement competition tomorrow."
"We're having a placement competition tomorrow?" Shunsui asked, scratching his head. It was news to him.
"Yes, we are," Nanao said, exasperation evident in her voice. "It's been five years since the last one and most of the other squads hold them every year. You would know this if you listened to me every once and a while." She smacked his chest angrily with the back of her hand. He snatched the small appendage out of the air and pressed it palm down over his heart.
"How can say such a cruel thing to me Nanao-chan when this heart beats only for you!" he exclaimed, sticking his bottom lip out in an overly pathetic manner.
"That won't work on me anymore," Nanao proclaimed as she resisted his insistent movements to draw her closer.
"You've always been a terrible liar," Matsumoto laughed. It was not hard to notice the faint smile that was a clear sign that Shunsui's antics did, in fact, melt the heart that Nanao had once tried so hard to keep guarded from him.
Nanao adjusted her glasses in a trademark gesture of annoyance. "I'll be right back," she sighed as she crossed to the staircase which led upstairs to Shunsui's quarters.
"Where are you going?" Shunsui asked with a knowing look at Matsumoto. His Nanao-chan was embarrassed at her noticeable (for Nanao anyway) display of affection.
"To get my zanpakutō," her voice called from the landing.
"Come now, Nanao," Shunsui chided. "Okuni-san is still nowhere near skilled enough to best your clever kidō."
"It never hurts to be prepared," she snapped, tucking the tantō inside her shirt. Shunsui smiled. Despite the fact that it had been several years since Nanao had clandestinely moved most of her things to his quarters, it still gave him a feeling of immense satisfaction to know that Nanao no longer kept her zanpakutō hidden in her shirt at all times like she used to. Instead, it sat demurely on the mahogany shelf on the bookcase he had installed in their bedroom to house her favorite books, right next to his Katen Kyōkotsu.
He sighed almost audibly when he noticed that Nanao had not brought down his zanpakutō. The beautiful spring sunlight had an indescribably invigorating quality to it, inspiring him to be active. Denied the type of exercise he would have preferred, Shunsui thought that he might enjoy a friendly spar. Maybe Matsumoto's little ice-dragon would entertain him for a while.
"Nanao-chan," he asked, his tone actually revealing true hurt. "Why didn't you bring my Katen Kyōkotsu down with you? They sit on the same shelf. Would it have been so much trouble―"
"We're not discussing this now, sir," Nanao practically hissed over Shunsui's complaint. Matsumoto glanced between the two startled at the sudden shift in mood.
Shunsui closed his eyes heavily for a moment, reminding himself that he truly did love Nanao no matter how difficult she was. He plastered an incredibly fake smile on his face, an expression which garnered an immediate look of suspicion from Matsumoto. Nanao determinedly avoided Shunsui's gaze, already pulling out a hairbrush and clip from her desk drawer in order to once again return her hair to prim confinement.
Shunsui resisted the urge to run his hand over his face in another defeat to Nanao. Honestly, it seemed that despite the fact that he had won the first round, namely getting Nanao to enter into a relationship with him at all, the smaller day to day victories sometimes seemed harder to achieve. She was a challenging woman sometimes, but it was that quality that kept his days interesting he supposed. With no other choice left to him, Shunsui swept up the stairs to retrieve his own zanpakutō.
"Shall we go, my lovely ladies?" he crooned a moment later,Katen Kyōkotsu strapped nonchalantly around his waist, a large bottle in his hand. He donned the white captain's haori that Nanao had folded neatly over his desk chair in his absence.
"Why thank you, gracious Nanao-chan," Shunsui said, as he accepted his pink haori which Nanao held out to him in a silent peace offering. He took the garment and slung it over his shoulder, allowing it to dangle from one finger.
Shunsui made a sweeping gesture with the hand holding the large bottle, indicating for Nanao and Matsumoto to exit first. Smiling in gratitude at the chivalrous gesture Matsumoto followed the actions intent, stepping out into the bright sunlight. Nanao did the same, casting a dark look at the bottle. "You're seriously not going to handle a zanpakutō while drinking?" she queried archly.
"Relax, my caring Nanao-chan, it's only filled with water in case you overwork yourself training Okuni-san." He patted her on the head with the hand holding his haori, giving her a face full of pink silk. "We can't have you passing out from exhaustion, can we?"
"I don't believe I have a past history of passing out from exhaustion," Nanao remarked icily.
"Oh, come on Nanao," Matsumoto interrupted. "Poor Shunsui-san was only trying to do something nice for you. You didn't seem to mind him so much a few minutes ago," she added slyly.
Nanao didn't reply, merely adjusted her glasses and sped up her pace. Matsumoto brushed as strand of her immaculate hair out of her eyes and cast an unsure glance at Shunsui. She did not know exactly what had triggered Nanao's rather confusing change in demeanor from the warm woman melting into her lover's arms into the Nanao that resembled the brisk fukutaichō from her first days in the Eighth Division.
Uncomfortable and slightly concerned, she had no idea what to do but brush it off with her usual tactic of humor. "Oh well, Shunsui-san," she said in an over-the-top voice as a large group of Academy students passed by them. "I can't stand the sight of a poor man walking all by his lonesome. I'll walk with you."
Shunsui gave a wry smile. "Oh, how kind you are, Ran-san," he said melodramatically. "You may have my arm but you cannot have my heart. For better or worse it belongs solely to my sadistic Nanao-chan!"
Matsumoto giggled and taking the bottle from his hands, slipped her own hand through Shunsui's elbow. The two slid easily into vapid conversation which both friends knew was merely biding them time until they could exchange more meaningful words.
- - -
By the time Matsumoto and Shunsui reached the clearing near in the forest near the Tenth Division, Nanao was already fully immersed into the middle of the training session. She was circling a girl a few inches shorter than herself with her long chestnut hair pulled away from her face in a high ponytail. The girl held a large, deadly looking steel bladed fan in her hands which sparkled in the early evening sunlight. The glow of Nanao's kidō caught the sequins which bedecked the colorful sash the girl had slung around one shoulder and across her hips, throwing the sweat beading down the girls forehead into stark relief.
"Takahashi! Stop favoring your right side," Hitsugaya Toshirō barked from a few feet away where he stood with his arms crossed against his chest, his teal eyes narrowed as he observed the girl fight.
"Mmm, now there's a sight for sore eyes," Matsumoto said, sagging slightly against her friend as her eyes took in her captain, framed by the fiery glow of the sky. He had taken off the white haori which denoted his rank and the plain black of his uniform highlighted his unusual hair color.
"Weren't you with your little ice-dragon before you interrupted my preferred exercise for the day?" Shunsui asked amusedly. It was nice to see Matsumoto, who had strayed from partner to partner for so long because Gin had denied her the affection she deserved, so happily enamored of her shorter, grumpy Taichō.
Hitsugaya Toshirō appeared to be Matsumoto's opposite in almost every aspect but somehow they fit. In a way, they reminded Shunsui of himself and Nanao except for the fact that Toshiro seemed much more easily persuaded of Matsumoto's depth of affection than Nanao was.
Suddenly, Shunsui felt slightly strangled. He reached up with his free hand and plucked his favorite straw hat off of his head, depositing it next to Hitsugaya's discarded haori on a large flat boulder. Matsumoto removed her hand from his elbow and glanced up at him in question.
"Come," he said, shedding his own haoris with a flourish and resting his palms on the hilts of his zanpakutō, "it's been a while since we sparred, Ran-san."
Matsumoto's eyes widened. She knew from previous experience that Shunsui only spared when struck with the rare mood or agitated beyond the point of being aided by sake's blissful embrace of ignorance. She was guessing his motive for requesting a match was the second.
"Are you still afraid of making beautiful women bleed?" Matsumoto teased, placing the bottle she had helped to carry down on the surface of the boulder and removing her pink scarf.
"More than ever," Shunsui returned evenly. "Especially since I have a definite chance of being turned into a popsicle if I accidentally draw your blood."
"I don't think we'll have to worry about that," Matsumoto said with a confident smile. "You won't get close enough to cut me, but that doesn't mean you can't try!"
The friends moved apart, a silent understanding to throw themselves into the match until all of the muscles in the body were loosened, including the tongue. It could take a while, Matsumoto mused as she watched one of the most powerful captains in the Seireitei unsheathe his zanpakutō. Despite his reputation as a lazy womanizer, there were few shinigami brave enough to face Kyōraku Shunsui without quaking in fear and Matsumoto Rangiku was one of them.
Matsumoto had known Shunsui ever since just after her graduation from the Academy. She had been invited by some former classmates who had been transferred to the Eighth, Matsumoto had accompanied them to the bar in the fifth district of the Rukongai that the members of the Eighth often frequented. Having not known he was a captain at the time, she easily found a kindred spirit in the man who, draped in fluorescent pink, professed to love sake and women more than anything else in the world.
Matsumoto surveyed the handsome man across the table as he loudly flirted with the kimono-clad barmaid. She would have easily dismissed this apparent womanizer if she didn't notice the way his eyes, though they sparkled kindly in the flickering light of the bar, remained guarded. She recognized the look from her own mirror before she went out every night. He was looking to forget.
"Kyōraku Taichō!" a shinigami nearly tripped over his own feet in his drunken effort to reach his captain. Matsumoto raised an eyebrow. The man…Kyoraku Taichō apparently, glanced at her as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. Her face flushed, but not from the drink. They had been enjoying each other's company all evening. He had not informed her of his station, merely asking her to address him as Shunsui.
"It's an emergency, sir!" a female shinigami careened into the man in front of her.
"Yes, my ducklings?" the captain responded as they gazed on him with pleading eyes.
"We're out of sake, sir!" the female supplied, tugging insistently on his sleeve.
"And Yui says she won't spend the night with me if she doesn't get anymore sake," the man interjected desperately. The woman nodded her head vigorously. Matsumoto could tell from experience that the man would get what he wanted only if neither one of them had any more sake. Both looked close to passing out.
Shunsui seemed to see this too, as he grinned genially. "Well we can't have that, can we?" he gestured towards the barmaid. "More sake all around!"
This pronouncement was met with an ecstatic drunken cheer. Matsumoto raised her glass in a gesture so fluid that her arm seemed almost to be an extension of the liquid she was sipping.
Shunsui followed the gesture with an appreciative eye. "Come now, Rangiku-san," he said in a falsely pleading tone, "don't look at me like that."
"Taichō, huh?" she asked, taking a long sip.
"Kyōraku Shunsui, Taichō of the Eighth Division," he returned gallantly, tilting his hat in her direction.
"I didn't know Taichōs were in the habit of frequenting bars and flirting with barmaids," she remarked sweetly, flicking her much shorter hair out of her face.
"I see my reputation does not precede me," Shunsui remarked as though pained. "I'll have to rectify that. Perhaps, you just have not met the right kind of Taichō." Matsumoto giggled at his reply and watched with amused eyes as the barmaid returned with a tray brimming with sake which the gathered shinigami dove on like rabid hollows.
"That was kind of you," Matsumoto remarked, glancing to where Yui and her almost partner were passed out on the table together.
"They have been eyeing each other for months," Shunsui replied, taking a calculating sip of his own drink. "I believe that a couple's first time together should be something worth remembering. Able to be remembered. It may not last but I've found memories like that make the end less painful…" He looked at her with such a sad smile, that Matsumoto's enormous heart reached out to this man.
At the beginning of the night Kyōraku Shunsui had seemed like a man who lived life to the fullest. One who raised his glass to toast new beginnings and didn't dwell on endings. Now, though, it seemed as if he had seen more of the latter than the former.
On impulse, Matsumoto rose from her seat and crossed around the table, seating herself gracefully on the cushion directly next to his. "I think that's very wise of you, Kyōraku Taichō," she commented, pouring them both another cup of sake.
"It's my duty, isn't it? To protect my subordinates, even from regret, if I can?" He chuckled slightly and removed his hat, setting it down on the table. "It's a good thing that I ordered more sake," he sighed. "It's awful being the only nearly sober ones in the room, isn't it Rangiku-san?"
Matsumoto shifted sideways so that she could survey him better. She leant her elbow on the table, a move which was usually reserved to showcase her assets, but tonight was only for the purpose of supporting her tired head. She didn't really mind the familiar way he addressed her, as a part of her felt like she knew him already. She could see right through his loud flirtation to recognize that he too was searching for something…someone
He turned almost curiously and gauged the expression on her beautiful face. She had responded to his small smile with one of her own. A sad smile which turned her light eyes the steel gray of a winter sky that whispered of ceaseless betrayal. Matsumoto Rangiku's heart was bleeding as they sat drinking sake and Shunsui would bet one of his zanpakutō that it only seemed to heal whenever she was near the man who had wounded it.
He tried to lighten the mood with a joke. "Like what you see?"
"Yes," she responded, the answer holding no hint of flirtatious jest.
He raised an eyebrow over the rim of his sake glass, deciding to wait until their next meeting to ask what man had denied himself the beauty in front of him. "And what is that?"
"Someone who's waiting for something… Looking for something," she replied.
He regarded her a moment, surprised at the unexpected depth her bubbly manner and alluring looks hid. Their eyes met as one assessed the other. An agreement seemed to pass between the two that the answer they were searching for did not lay within the other. But it never hurts to have company on long journeys, Shunsui mused.
"Will you keep me company while I wait, Ran-san?" he asked, wrapping his arm around her in friendly manner.
"Hai," she replied, bringing a hand up to squeeze the one resting on her shoulder. "Because I'm doing the same thing."
The next day, Shunsui had glimpsed Ise Nanao for the first time…
A/N: Don't forget to review, or I won't give you chapter two!