It was spring, and there were cherry blossoms.

This was not unusual in itself, of course. In Soul Society, there were entire orchards dedicated to the stunning pink trees, and the bushels of gaudy pink petals they produced.

She knew the location of every cherry tree within a five mile radius from her office, and every orchard within the Seireitei. She needed to, if she was to get any paperwork past her lazy captain.

The cherry blossoms cloaked everything: a thousand shades of pink, floating in the wind. The air seemed to swim with them, so thick you could inhale not only the scent of the cherry blossoms, but the texture and taste and quiet rustling sound. It was an assault upon the body, a siege to the senses: who could work while such beauty blew by on the quiet spring breeze? Who could help but stop and watch, filled with wonder (and a strange sense of paranoia, if the passer-by had been unfortunate to spar with Kuchiki-Taichou recently)?

Nanao knew better then to let something as silly as a few flower petals distract her from her job, her duty. That was for people who were lazy, or irresponsible. Idiotic.

No matter how good those people might have looked spread out of a curtain of fallen petals, haoris mingling so close with the pink that it was difficult to tell where fabric ended and nature began.

She walked a little slower than usual, held her papers a little more loosely by her side – but held nonetheless. Nanao was a vice-captain, and had a responsibility to her squad. She couldn't stop for something as normal as spring. Not when the yearly finance report was due, and this year's spending for sake was double that of training equipment and company housing. Together. She could be dazed by spring as much as anyone else, but she simply didn't have the luxury of not working. Then again, neither did Kyouraku-Taichou – it was his papers that she carried, after all - but that certainly wasn't stopping him.

Flowers were frivolous. They were distracting, disorderly, unruly. They certainly didn't do paperwork.

They were peaceful and gentle and gorgeous, and like him in every way, if she were being completely honest with herself.

He sprawled out across the ground under a large tree – one Nanao knew to be his favourite – watching the sakuras fall. It was impossible for him to drink the sake in his hand, what with the number of flowers falling into the cup on its way to his mouth, but he was making an effort: a Captain never abandons his cause. It would set a bad example to the junior members of the division.

Or so he often said. Nanao had her own opinions about his idea of being an 'inspiring role model of a captain.' They were often summed up with a rather hefty blow from her book.

If he would put that much effort into something worthwhile, like (pursuing her) running his division, it wouldn't be this difficult for her.

He greeted her with the customary Nanao-chan!, but even his traditional teasing seemed a little more tranquil today. It was too beautiful a scene to disturb with loud and boisterous flirtations, after all. And beauty was something Kyouraku-Taichou understood.

Understood well indeed, and pursued. Like that curvy young woman from the sixth division, or that quiet new recruit in the ninth. Or that red-head who had just joined their own squad. Or any other of the countless women who joined him for a night or two. Any of the countless women she refused to be.

"Your paperwork, sir. It needs to be completed before the end of the day. All of it." She glared at him as he tossed the (rather large) bundle of forms behind him, next to some of his used sake bottles.

"The paperwork isn't going anywhere, lovely Nanao-chan, but these flowers are leaving us forever." This took her by surprise – not the words themselves, it was so like him to use flowers as an excuse to skive off work – but his tone. It was sad, wistful. Kyouraku-taichou was old, and had seen many (people) flowers come and go before him.

Sometimes his eyes would look so sad, it startled her. They seemed out of place when paired with his easy-going, lazy smile. She wanted to comfort him, to tell him that she wouldn't leave him. That it would take more than a gentle breeze to blow her away.

"There will be more cherry blossoms next year, Captain." Nanao's voice was clipped, frosty. It would hold her facade in place, even as her traitorous emotions led her to rather unprofessional thoughts.

"Nonsense, Nanao-chan. There will never be these blossoms, and this scene, and the same sunlight shining on my pretty Nanao-chan's face – why, that's even more beautiful then all these flowers put together! Not that nature's show isn't beautiful of course, it's just-" he rambled on, as he tended to do. Nanao was used to it by now, oblivious to the long tirades that somehow always managed to ended up with him teasing her.

She knew that's all it was – teasing. He was just trying to make her loose her calm, collected front. He didn't mean anything by it. She was just plain old Nanao, and he was Kyouraku-taichou. He couldn't mean anything by it. And she, as a vice-captain (his vice-captain), couldn't let him mean anything by it.

Despite her long years of practise, Nanao's patience with her captain's latest rant was wearing thin. This was the busiest season of the year, and that latest skirmish with the Espada had caused quite a backlog in the paperwork. Plus, there were still the financial reports. She didn't have the time for this. Not today.

"Kyouraku-taichou." He looked up, surprised. She usually waited until he paused for air, instead of cutting him off mid cadence. "These papers are important, sir. If you insist on watching the – what did you call it? – "spectacular display of the prowess and grace of nature around us", then you may do them out here. But they must be done. Now."

"Hmmmmm..." Shunsui thought about this idea – paperwork, outdoors? She'd never considered letting him do that before. His Nanao-chan must be getting desperate. She did look a little more pale, a little more tired, than usual. "Will my lovely Nanao-chan sit with me?"

"Just do the papers, sir." Nanao sat down next to him, her severe expression and straight posture looking out of place amidst the peaceful waves of pink. She made sure to give him her best glare, to enforce the fact she was not here because she wanted to be. The severe look was only slightly diminshed by teh soft petals that already covered her hair and shoulers. Shunsui smiled, and took the pen she offered him, before lazily grabbing the sheaf of papers beside him.

It was strange, to always be this close to him, and to always be so far away.

"Just because I'm doing paperwork doesn't mean we can't talk. Indeed, what better encouragement for me then the soft silken voice of my Nanao-chan, telling me how much she loves me and about what we can do after the paperw-" he was cut off rather abruptly by her fan. "Ara, Nanao-chan, that hurt..."

They sat there all afternoon, with the cherry blossoms all around them and Shunsui waxing poetic about the scenery and "his lovely Nanao-chan." In fact, under her watchful eye, he even got some of his work done. Even more incredulous – and far less noticeable, if she retained any vestiges of her pride – was the fact that Nanao had greatly enjoyed herself.


Exactly one year had passed since that peaceful day. A year of war, bloodshed, and losses.

Nanao looked out the window of the fourth division healing room, if only to avoid looking at the bed. Or, rather, the very injured man on it. Unohana hadn't been to encouraging, but she said that there was still hope. If he woke up in the next week, there was a chance that Kyouraku-taichou would live.

Shunsui. I never got the chance to call him Shunsui.

The clouds of fluffy pink cherry petals were falling, just the same as they had last year. It no longer seemed charming and magical, but wrong. The very trees seemed to weep for their fallen comrade. The silence was no longer peaceful, but oppressing, foreshadowing.

The calm before the storm - only this calm not only tells of evil to come, but also of the evil gone by. We are in a never-ending string of storms, and we will weather this one, too. We have to.

The pinks of the petals seemed a little to red, but that might have just been Nanao's imagination. The sight of the blood – his blood - was still fresh in her mind. It had been much less graceful then the falling flowers, but had cloaked the ground as effectively.

It was all she could think about, all she could see. She could still feel the heat of the kidou in her hands, and the weight of her zanpakuto; could still feel that overwhelming sense of loss as she didn't make it in time. She watched in horror, as he fell – slowly, as he did anything in life. She did not notice, did not care that he had managed to killed Tousen. She could still feel his head in her lap, as he mouthed, "your safe, my lovely Nanao-chan." Words were already beyond him, if the blood that bubbled from his lips was any indication.

Nanao had thought, not so long ago, that he was like the sakura blossoms: wild and gorgeous and lazily floating along; impossible to ignore, inspirational, gentle. Pink.

The cherry blossoms were like clockwork in the Seireitei. They came back, every year, at the same time, despite the deaths, or wars, or paperwork. They were inevitable. She'd said that last year, too: 'There will be more cherry blossoms next year, Captain.'

Kyouraku-taichou – Shunsui, she corrected herself – was like the cherry blossoms. He would come back to her too.

/AN: Okay, okay, I'll admit it. This is my first fanfiction, and I'm just dying of nervousness. A kind word is all I ask! Review, for the love of Ukitake! Constructive criticism is welcome, but flamers will be...I'm not sure. Glared at? I had planned for more to come, but now I'm just so scared about posting and realizing that I've done horribly. We'll see how much hate mail I get first, huh?