shelter from the rain
The rain was shifting from mild splatters to a full-blown soaking drench. The mild wind blew at the skirts of her yukata and rustled the leaves of the trees above, but even the sounds of wind and water couldn't drown out the noises from the hot spring ahead of her.
Ise Nanao's day was not going well.
It had started off quite nicely, with a multi-Divisional trip to the local hot springs and a very satisfying gender-segregated soak. But she had eventually decided that honour and duty demanded she take some wine round to her Captain. And Ukitake-taichou, of course. Who would be occupying the same pool.
Three guesses why.
Really, it wasn't that she disapproved or anything, or that they were indiscreet about it, or any sort of unsuitable remarks. It was the way that they seemed to think that she didn't know about it. She was sure they wouldn't have tried that on Shiba Kaien. (A sad loss. A very sad loss.)
But now she was standing outside the path which led down to the private pool that Kyouraku-taichou and Ukitake-taichou had taken possession of, a tray with wine-jug and cups in her hands, getting more and more soaked with every passing minute, and without even the pleasure of hot water to compensate for the soaking.
She was not going to walk in on what she could hear going on in the hollow beyond.
It wasn't particularly noisy. She wouldn't have heard it herself if her attention hadn't been caught by a prickling, briefly unsuppressed blink of reiatsu, a quick flirt of force that had been as quickly caught back and reined in. But now that she had heard it, the noises were -- unmistakeable. The hard breathing, the odd muttered word, the sounds of movement (because certainly they weren't going to do anything actually in the water, they had better manners than that), all of it.
She couldn't walk in on her Captain and Ukitake-taichou doing . . . that.
Which left her standing out here in the rain, reiatsu muffled down so as not to disturb them with her presence, trying very hard not to listen and not to think about it and not to imagine anything at all.
Imagination, traitor and betrayer, drew pictures in her mind. Line drawings, tinted elegantly, with all the length of limb and wide shoulders and lean muscle and tilted-back heads and flowing hair and parted lips and fierce passionate eyes and mouths locked together and the slow firm movements and hands on shoulders and the way that abandon would touch the face and the body would move and --
Nanao abruptly sat down and put the tray down and pulled her knees up to her chin and folded her arms round her legs and hugged herself so hard that she winced. This wasn't supposed to be part of it at all. It wasn't for her. She wasn't supposed to dream of it, to want . . .
The rain ran through her hair and down the back of her yukata. She sniffed resolutely.
Eventually, the noises stopped. A pause. Two splashes.
She gave them another few minutes (what difference did more rain make at this point?) before getting to her feet and walking down the curve of the path and around the trees, her geta squelching on the path. Trails of raindrops pattered down from the lank soaked ends of her sleeves.
"It's a fairy come down from the heavens," Ukitake-taichou commented, "and bringing us drinks." He and Kyouraku-taichou were both stretched out comfortably in the pool, arms and shoulders out of the steaming water, lower bodies (thankfully) underwater and hidden. The bending trees sheltered part of the pool from the rain, allowing them to recline in relative dryness and watch the rain hammer into the pool beyond. Their yukata and geta had been piled together in the shelter of a curving tree near the entrance, safely out of the rain.
"No, it's my lovely Nanao-chan," Kyouraku-taichou said without opening his eyes, "more beautiful than any heavenly fairy."
"I brought you gentlemen some wine," Nanao said. She knelt down on the area of bank between them, swatted her Captain's hand as he tried to stroke her calf, and filled both cups, trying not to drip into them.
Her Captain's hand traced the edge of her yukata, and he opened his eyes, looking up at her. "You're soaked, Nanao-chan," he said. There was genuine concern in his voice. "You shouldn't have brought this out to us with it raining that hard."
"It wasn't raining that hard earlier, sir," Nanao said, obscurely irritated by his protectiveness. "It's only a little water. I won't melt."
"I trust you to have the sense to come in out of the rain," Kyouraku-taichou said. "I expect that of you."
Nanao would have spoken to him quite sharply, but there was another Captain there, so she confined herself to a sniff as she put the jug down.
"You'll catch a cold if you walk back to the main springs in the rain," Ukitake-taichou said.
"It wasn't that sort of sniff!" Nanao said quickly. "Sir."
"I know it wasn't," he said, and smiled at her. "But there's nothing to stop you waiting with us till the rain's gone, is there?"
"Excellent idea," Kyouraku-taichou said, with a little too much enthusiasm. "I couldn't manage if my Nanao-chan were to come down with a cold. I'd have to look after her and nurse her back to health."
The very thought made Nanao quail. Something about the image of Kyouraku-taichou sitting by her bedside and reading her bedside stories . . . "I can wait in the shelter here," she offered. Now if only she'd thought to bring a good book with her.
"You can wait in the water," Kyouraku-taichou said firmly. "Don't look at me like that, Nanao-chan. Neither of us are going to make improper advances on your virtue, unless you'd like us to -- no? -- oh, very well. It's a big pool. There's room. You can even share my cup --"
"Please do," Ukitake-taichou said. He gave her that lovely smile again. It was as intoxicating as her Captain's wine. She wondered if he knew it. Probably. "I spend enough time having my lungs looked after, Ise-kun. I know about these things. Some hot water right now is just what you need. We won't look while you get in."
"Of course not," Kyouraku-taichou said. "Believe me, Nanao-chan, if I do ever look at you in that way, it'll be with your full knowledge and consent."
While it wasn't exactly expressed in a way that she wanted to hear, Nanao was sure of his word once given. And the hot water would feel so good on her body . . . "If you're sure that you don't mind, sirs --"
"Get in," Ukitake-taichou said. He leaned back and closed his eyes, folding his hands behind his head.
Kyouraku-taichou made an obvious show of rolling over to look to his right, leaving the unoccupied water to his left unwatched.
Nanao neatly stripped out of her yukata and folded it, leaving it a discreet pace away from the captains' clothing. She resisted the urge to put their stuff in order, slipping out of her geta and walking quickly over to the untenanted patch of water. She tried to keep her movements as quiet as possible, but she couldn't resist a quick sigh of comfort as she slipped into the water, sinking into it till only her head showed above the surface. The steam coated her glasses. A couple of feet further out, the raindrops were biting into the water and turning the surface to a dimpled ripple, but here beneath the shelter of the trees, everything was hot and warm and soothing. She could feel the tension begin to soak itself out of her body, the coils and knots of urgency in her belly and breasts slowly untie themselves and dissolve.
"Can I open my eyes?" Ukitake-taichou enquired.
"Oh!" she said, disquieted. "Yes, sir. Of course. Please do."
A splash to her right as Kyouraku-taichou rolled back again. "Shouldn't my Nanao-chan take her glasses off?" he asked.
"I'd feel naked without them, sir," she said. A moment later she realised just how stupid a comment that had been.
Both men laughed, but it wasn't cruel; it was a shared joke, one that was extended to include her rather than to shut her out.
Nanao sank an inch deeper. The water rippled over her shoulders and touched the point of her chin.
"I like bathing in the rain," Kyouraku-taichou said. "If we're really lucky, we'll get a thunderstorm."
"Ah, yes," Ukitake-taichou sighed. "A beautiful show. The lightning, the veils of dark cloud, the trembling air, the release of the wind . . . Ise-kun, what do you think?"
"I usually bathe indoors," Nanao said, a little primly. "Sometimes with a good book."
"Let me guess," Kyouraku-taichou said. "A kidou textbook?"
"Or the Tale of Genji?" Nanao snapped back.
He actually laughed at that. "Should I design you a garden, Nanao-chan?"
Nanao flushed, and hoped that her cheeks were already red enough from the heat that it didn't show.
"He's very good at it," Ukitake-taichou put in. "Why, he planned one for me."
And that -- could Ukitake-taichou be outright implying what he was implying, even if Nanao already knew it, but to say it like that -- Nanao wondered if sinking to above ear-level would demonstrate the proper attitude in response.
The heavens took the decision away from her. Lightning flashed, and with hardly a pause, thunder rolled. The wind shook the branches above, scattering a few drops down on the three of them.
"There you are," Kyouraku-taichou said comfortably. "I told you. This is much better than if you'd been caught by that on the way back. I don't suppose my Nanao-chan feels the urge to jump into my arms so that I can protect her from the storm?"
"No," Nanao said firmly. She thought about the weather. The growing sensation of warmth and relaxation made her add, "But you were right about the weather, sir. Thank you, Kyouraku-taichou, Ukitake-taichou."
"Just relax," her Captain directed. "That's an order, Nanao-chan. Lie back and enjoy the hot water. You don't need to prove anything more to me or Ukitake-taichou today."
That wasn't true, and she knew it -- there was always something more to prove, or to demonstrate, or just to do for him -- but the heat was so delicious, and so comfortable, especially after the cold rain, that Nanao found herself nodding and leaning back against the side of the pool, wriggling until the back of her head was supported in a position that left her breasts below the surface of the water. Well, mostly. Maybe a little bit of the upper slopes showed. She folded her arms over them protectively.
Lightning raced across the sky again, clawing its way through the thick dark clouds. The thunder seemed more muted this time, as if she were in a small bubble of safety here, protected and secure.
"You work so hard for me," Kyouraku-taichou said gently. He passed one of the cups across to her, and she had to uncoil an arm to take it. She wasn't sure if it was his cup or Ukitake-taichou's, but it seemed impolite to ask, and more impolite still to refuse it. "I don't tell you that you have to follow me, because I know that you always will. I'd like to think that you'd know the same; you don't have to worry about me, my Nanao-chan. I'll never worry about where you are, because I'll always know that I'll find you when I need you."
Nanao lowered her eyes, and sipped the wine. She wasn't sure how to answer something like that. "It's where I'll be, sir," she finally said. "You know I'm your vice-captain. Where else should I be?"
"Hopefully not out in the rain," her Captain said briskly.
Nanao sank deeper into mortification and hot water.
"Moderation in everything," Ukitake-taichou said. He gestured widely, showing off far too much muscular chest. Nanao tried to find a suitable medium between paying proper respectful attention and politely avoiding looking directly at his wet body. "In wine, in practicality, in privacy, in proper behavionr, in all things except for honour, love, and duty -- and could I have my cup back, please? Oh very well, yours will do, Shunsui, and pass the wine while you're at it -- in fact, moderation in moderation itself. Moderation in knowing when to come in out of the rain, and moderation sometimes in staying out in it. Thank you." He poured the wine for himself, then into the other cup (stolen back by Kyouraku-taichou while Nanao was distracted). "Here."
Rain lashed in whips across the surface of the pool. She could make out the dimples on the water, formed and then erased. Like lives, present, then gone, wiped away as though they had never been, and only preserved in the eyes and memory of the onlooker.
She felt like a raindrop falling into the ocean.
It must be the wine and hot water. She was never normally this philosophical.
"Thank you, sir," she said, and took the full cup back again. She could feel their presence, as warm and comforting as the water. "You gentlemen were right. This is much more pleasant than walking back in the rain."
"We'll corrupt my Nanao-chan yet," her Captain said gleefully.
She would have objected, but it seemed a shame not to drink the wine and enjoy the rain, and besides, Ukitake-taichou was already scolding him in a manner that was a pleasure to listen to.
And it was very good wine.