but I do believe in you

Ise Nanao removed her head from the box and stared up at her Captain reproachfully. "Three hundred years, Kyouraku-taichou."

Her Captain was thoroughly habituated to reproachful stares, and merely waved a hand at her vaguely. "My lovely Nanao-chan is so efficient! When I think that if she hadn't organised a thorough cleaning of the Eighth Division compound, this box might have stayed here for another five hundred years . . ."

Nanao coughed. It wasn't difficult. The place was full of dust, a combination of enthusiastic house-cleaning inside and mats being dragged out and beaten outside. The Eighth was throwing themselves into the whole concept of cleaning the place with their customary enthusiasm. Especially after discovering the scope it gave them for 'checking out dark corners' or 'brushing the dust off your robes, particularly the bits on your chest and buttocks'. And it was a thorough distraction from recent events, such as those involving traitors, near-executions, and blowing up the Execution Scaffold with extreme prejudice.

(She was having nightmares about seeing the bill for it arrive in her Captain's in-tray.)

Indeed, her own Captain had been eager to help, and it had been with some difficulty that she'd persuaded him into staying out of the way and sitting on his couch and keeping his robes clean for the upcoming Captains' meeting within the hour.

As Nanao brushed some dusty hair back from her sweaty forehead, she couldn't help wondering who had got the better of whom there.

"Would my lovely Nanao-chan like some wine?" her Captain offered helpfully.

Nanao sniffed, and turned back to emptying out the last box. "Dossiers on Divisional pay," she enumerated the items as she piled them neatly beside it. "Annotated copy ofThe Carnal Prayer Mat --"

"I've been missing that for four hundred years!" Kyouraku-taichou exclaimed.

Nanao dropped it at his feet and tried to brush her fingers clean. "Bills. More bills. Basho. Shikibu. And --" She pulled the last thing out -- a bracelet composed of lengths of leather and chain, studded with small pieces of stone -- and then dropped it quickly, rubbing her fingers against her hakama with even more vigour than after handling the earlier book.

"Nanao-chan?" her Captain queried, abruptly serious at her reaction. "What's that?"

"Reiatsu-blocker," Nanao said briefly. She glared down at it. "An outdated model, but still effective if activated. I thought that all those things were kept under guard in First or by Covert Operations."

She couldn't help it. She didn't like those things. Everyone who'd been through the Academy had spent a short while in a reiatsu-blocked room or with one of the devices locked on them, briefly, just so they would know what it felt like, in case they were ever in an unusual environment or fighting some sort of Hollow that could somehow sap their reiatsu. Nobody ever enjoyed it, but those shinigami whose expertise was in controlling and directing their reiatsu (kidou experts, to be blunt) reallydetested the experience. It lent a whole new meaning to powerlessness.

"I thought that we'd got rid of those things ages ago." Her Captain shuffled a foot across, picked the thing up on his big toe, tossed it into the air, and caught it neatly in his hand. "It must have somehow got lost in the records, and spent the years here. Ah, the transience of objects --"

Nanao sniffed again. "Sir, will you please put that thing down."

"What's the matter?" He twirled it around his finger. "Doesn't my Nanao-chan find these things efficient?"

Nanao converted a shudder into a minor twitch. "Efficiency is hardly the issue, Kyouraku-taichou," she said crisply. "I have absolutely no interest in playing around with one of those things. Now if you will allow me to finish clearing up . . ."

"Playing around?" He gave her a sideways smile from under his hat. "But my Nanao-chan never gets enough time to play. Always hard at work, never a moment for herself . . ."

Nanao could feel her cheeks heating up at the amount of imputation he managed to get into a couple of sentences. "If Kyouraku-taichou would see to it that the work which I leave on his desk is done in time, I would be quite happy."

Her Captain sighed. "A present for my beautiful Nanao-chan. I'll let you drive me to my desk and won't even try to stop you. See?" He tossed the bracelet into the air, shook back his sleeve, and slid his hand through the bracelet as it pivoted and began to fall. "Now how does one get these things to work --"

The stones on the bracelet flared, and the thing shrank to the size of his wrist, fitting itself against his flesh as neatly as if it had been moulded there.

Kyouraku-taichou blinked. "It's been ages since I got to fiddle with one of these things," he said in tones of lazy scientific curiosity. His reiatsu was stifled like a blown-out candle, suddenly inside the borders of his flesh rather than filling the room as it always did. "Now I wonder if --"

"Kyouraku-taichou!"Nanao darted to her feet like a startled cat. "What have you done?" It was as if he wasn't there any more. The habitual brush of his reiatsu against her perception was gone. She had to restrain herself from trembling.

"Made it possible for you to bully me to my desk." He reclined on his sofa, draping his braceleted arm across his body. "I'm totally harmless."

Nanao looked at his deep brown eyes and swallowed. "This isn't funny, sir."

"Oh? I think it is. Look at me. Not a single little tiny pulse of reiatsu. I am your humble servant, lovely Nanao-chan. You could wipe me out with a flick of your finger."

She was torn between the desire to do so and the desire to scream at him. How could he do this to her? "Kyouraku-taichou," she said, very formally, "if I wanted a captain who was nothing but reiatsu, I would ask for permission to serve under Zaraki-taichou."

Kyouraku-taichou sat upright in shock. "You wouldn't."

"If that was all that I wanted, I could. But it isn't. Have I ever -- sir, would I ever -- suggest that all I wanted from you, all I respected in you . . ." She was losing track of the sentence. She started again. "If you think that putting that thing on changes the way I would behave to you, or what I think of you . . ."

Kyouraku-taichou reached out and slid an arm around her waist, tugging her close to him. Where his flesh touched hers, she could feel the pulse of his reiatsu as well as the warmth of his body. She tried not to press against it for comfort. "Nanao-chan, if I wanted a vice-captain who was nothing but reiatsu and capable of standing upright with Yama-jii losing his temper twenty feet away, I'd go and sign up Yachiru-chan and dose her with extra sugar."

"Zaraki-taichou would kill you first, sir," Nanao had to point out, while the other part of her mind tried to process what he had said. "And it wasn't just that. Sir. It was that I couldn't help . . ."

"But," her Captain said, very gently, "don't you think it matters to me that you tried?"

Nanao bit her lip. And a lot of good it did, was what she wanted to say, but it sounded petulant even to her. "I can think that, sir," she said quietly. "It's harder to feel it."

She paused, looking for further words, then stiffened. "And will Kyouraku-taichou kindly remove his hand from where he is trying to put it."

"My Nanao-chan's hips," her Captain murmured, "are as graceful as willows, moulded like the curve of a wine-jug, and I would go onto the subject of what lies between them, but I fear that my Nanao-chan will break my wrist if I do."

"Correct, sir," Nanao said coldly.

"See how well I know my lovely Nanao-chan!" He beamed up at her. "Now, about my wrist . . ."

Nanao released her death grip on his wrist and stepped away from him. She had to restrain herself from looking at him to make sure that he was still there, that nothing had happened to him.

"Think about what I've said, Nanao-chan," he continued. "There's more to you than -- this." He raised his braceleted wrist in demonstration. "I know it. You know it. Yama-jii knows it. Why do you think he wanted you out of there?"

That made Nanao blink. "Perhaps he just wanted to keep the Divisional paperwork in order, sir," she suggested limply.

"Him?" Kyouraku-taichou snorted. "You really think that'd have stopped him? He may be a bean-stuffed mochi in some respects, Nanao-chan, but --"

Nanao closed her eyes to try to get rid of the image of the Commander General of the Gotei 13 as a bean-stuffed mochi. "Sir," she said desperately, "you have a meeting with that very person in ten minutes."

"So I do," Kyouraku-taichou said cheerfully. "I suppose I shouldn't be wearing this thing, though. It might give people the wrong idea about what we get up to here." He gave her a look from under her eyelashes that made her flush all the way down to her neck. "So if my lovely Nanao-chan would pass me the key . . ."


"Key," he said. "You know, the --"

"Key," Nanao said, and began going through the remaining fragments of paper and dust in the box desperately. "Key, key, key --"

Kyouraku-taichou blinked. He leaned across to look at the box. "Key?" he said hopefully.

Nanao turned the box upside down with an effort. A last few drifts of dust fell out, but nothing else.

"Not to worry," Kyouraku-taichou said soothingly. "I'm sure I remember how to deactivate these things manually -- oh, wait." He paused, struck by the idea. "I suppose it is only logical to make it so that they can't be deactivated by the wearer, isn't it?"

Nanao was torn between the options of finding a hammer and chisel, sending a hell butterfly to tell the assembled Captains that Kyouraku-taichou was down with bubonic plague and alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, or checking Seireitai legalities on the strangling of captains and then going ahead with it.

"You'd better go in my place and tell them that I'm ill," Kyouraku-taichou said, relaxing back onto the couch. "Nervous prostration. Try and sound sincere, Nanao-chan. It really wasn't deliberate on my part, after all."

Nanao glared at her Captain. "I seem to remember you putting it on quite deliberately, sir."

He looked wounded. "Well, how was I supposed to know that the key wasn't in the box with it? I am innocent, lovely Nanao-chan. For once."

Nanao swallowed. She remembered the red ink on the formal message very well. "I should remind Kyouraku-taichou that this is a triple-urgent meeting to discuss the wartime situation, and that Yamamoto-soutaichou added a note to say that if any captain failed to attend on this occasion then he would not be amused. Whatever the excuse. Including mass breakout by experimental specimens, teething of vice-captains, or attacks of nervous prostration."

"Hm." Kyouraku-taichou thought about it. "Oh well, you'll just have to take it off me."

"But we don't have the key," Nanao pointed out through clenched teeth.

Her Captain smiled. "Nanao-chan. I've never yet known a kidou master who didn't work out a dozen ways of unlocking or disposing of one of these things on general principles. And I find it very hard indeed to believe that you're not one of them."

Nanao coughed. "Yes, sir, well . . . but that is purely theoretical! And this is an outdated model! It's four hundred years old and I've not seen one like it before -- and -- and --"

She took a deep breath. "Will Kyouraku-taichou kindly give me his wrist and let me see what I can do."

Kyouraku-taichou smiled an extremely annoying smile and laid his hand in his lap. She knelt down next to the sofa to peer at the kidou worked into the bracelet, sliding her glasses down her nose to squint over them at it.

Ah. Now this actually was rather interesting. A nine-level lock that was meshed to synchronise with the body's own reiatsu output, using a feedback mechanism to simultaneously harmonise the internal and external pulses, resulting in lockdown on the physical surface with --

Her hair was falling in her eyes. Why was her hair falling in her eyes?

Her hair was falling in her eyes because Kyouraku-taichou had pulled the slide out of her hair and was playing with it. "Sir," she protested, "I am trying to pay attention to this control device --"

"You do that, Nanao-chan," her Captain reassured her. "I'm just enjoying running my fingers through your beautiful hair."

Nanao set her teeth. "That is not making it any easier to unlock this, sir."

"That's not my fault," he said blandly. The fingers of his free hand stroked through the length of her hair. "You just need to relax."

Mentally consigning her captain to the Avici Hells, Nanao bent her attention to the bracelet. She was beginning to get a sense for its power flows now. So if she simulated the unlocking impulse by blockinghere andhere while bridging the power gapthere, and --

Her Captain cupped the back of her neck in his hand, and bent over to drop a kiss on the back of her head.

"Sir," she said. "Sir. May I kindly remind my Captain that I am about to direct the energy of a thousand lightning bolts to a point two inches away from his groin and that it is a very bad idea to distract me."

"My dear Nanao-chan," Kyouraku-taichou murmured, his voice doing uncomfortable things to her stomach, "you manage that every day with your every movement. Or even closer."

She decided that the thing that was disturbing her most was not being able to feel his reiatsu. Yes. That was it. She was used to it; it was like sunlight, and now that it was gone, she was that much colder for its absence.

"Hold still, Kyouraku-taichou," she said. She slid one hand under the bracelet, supporting his wrist, and began to move the fingers of her other hand across it, touching the linkage points and shifting the reiatsu balances.

"You know," her Captain commented, "I imagine Yachiru-chan would probably be trying to gnaw that thing off my wrist right now, or maybe cutting it off . . ."

"Many people have wondered about the chemical composition of Yachiru-chan's teeth, sir," Nanao answered without particularly thinking. She had almost got the secondary field diverted --

"Charming girl. Very sweet. Some day she'll make a marvellous captain."

Tertiary trinary links all matched and inverted. "Yes, sir," Nanao agreed, trying to hold the separate points steady while she overlaid it with her own reiatsu.

"But, you know . . ." Kyouraku-taichou reached out with his free hand and tipped her chin so that she had to look up at him. "You'll be a captain yourself first, Nanao-chan. And I'll be very sad to lose my vice-captain. But I'll be very glad for you."

The careful structure of reiatsu frequencies wobbled in her mind, and her hands trembled as she met his eyes. "Captain . . ." she said, and didn't know what else to say."

He released her chin. "There. Now if my Nanao-chan could finish letting me free, so that I won't have to go to the meeting like this?"

Nanao swallowed, looking back down at the bracelet. With a couple of quick gestures, absurdly simple after all the previous work, she finished the unlocking kidou, and the bracelet slid off her Captain's wrist to dangle loosely round his spread fingers.

His reiatsu washed out over her in a great warm wave, free again. She bowed her head, feeling it round her, and relaxed into it for a moment. He was there.

"Wonderful!" Kyouraku-taichou rose to his feet in a ripple of robes, pausing only to ruffle her loose hair (and disarrange it thoroughly, did the man have no sympathy?) and drop the bracelet into her lap as she knelt there. "I'll see you soon, lovely Nanao-chan. Don't go away --"

And he was gone, vanishing from the Division. He'd probably make it in time for the meeting. There were still thirty seconds to go.

Nanao took a moment to get up. She tossed the bracelet onto the couch, and spent the next five minutes combing her hair and pinning it back into place. It kept her hands occupied and stopped her having to think about anything else.

Because . . . there were things that all vice-captains dreamed about, but never said. Not even to each other. One wondered and one hoped and one worked and one got on with life, and maybe some day there would be that step of understanding and mastery that meant bankai. But maybe there wouldn't.

But he believed in her.

Her hands were steady now. She picked up the bracelet again, and dropped it into a courier's pouch, sealing it and addressing it for the attention of Ukitake-taichou in Thirteenth Division.

After all, she was sure that Ukitake-taichou would know how to unlock it.

And if he didn't -- well, her Captain knew where to find her.