A/N: Hello there readers. This is my first foray into the Bleach fandom, and I hope I don't butcher it too badly. This fic is based off my initial reaction (read: outrage) at the fact that Nanao was nowhere to be found when everyone headed on over to the fake!Karakura town. I adore Shunsui and Nanao together, and so my inner-fangirl was rather distraught to see that they were not together.
I intend to write a companion piece to this that's HitsuMatsu, and then a sequel that follows up both. Reviews are appreciated, especially concrit!
All of Seireitei is abuzz with the word. It is a hive of nervous, anxious activity, the strange mix of excitement, hope, and fear almost tangible in the air. Soon, soon, is whispered in every corner until it seems the cold winter wind itself is screeching the word as it whips through the alleys.
So when Nanao hears the office door open as he returns from the Captains' meeting, and asks, "When are we moving out, sir?" she expects the answer to be soon, Nanao-chan.
Instead, she hears the door close, cutting off the answering wind, and she knows. She knows that soon, that procrastination, is no longer possible.
"Tomorrow," he replies, his deep voice tinged with sadness and something else she can't quite place. Her hand, which had been furiously scribbling away at paperwork until then, falters, and she carefully lays down her brush before looking up at him.
He stands in the middle of the room, no trace of his usual grin present, staring blankly at the wall before him. His broad shoulders are slouched – not from laziness, this time, but from a tiredness that no sake-induced nap would help. Something aches in her chest at the sight, but her pragmatism overrides it. She stands, the noise of her chair pushing away making her wince slightly – the silence in the office seems too important to be broken. But there is much work to be done, and suddenly so little time in which to do it, and she needs something to keep her mind off the buzzing of death war fear tomorrow–
"Sir, the – "
"I hate fighting, Nanao-chan," he says quietly, his eyes finally losing their blankness as he turns to look at her. She automatically opens her mouth to scold him for the informal nickname (the one she loves) but there is something in his eyes that makes her pause, and she decides that this time she'll let it slide.
"I know, taicho," she responds instead, matching his soft tone.
He gives her a small smile before turning away from her again, head tilted up to face the ceiling as if somewhere, in those shadows, there was a solution to everything.
"Do you know what I hate more than fighting, Nanao?"
She stiffens at the missing suffix. That alone would have put her on edge any day; combined with the fatigue on his face, she is suddenly afraid. Swallowing hard, she pushes the fear away, decades of practice at forcing down emotions (at procrastinating) making it easy.
He closes his eyes at her voice, sighing. Nanao wonders, vaguely, how such a small noise could carry so much weight.
"I hate fighting without my Nanao-chan."
She blinks – once, twice – as she tries to make sense of the strange statement, but the sheer impossibility of such a thing, of him fighting without her, allows for no solution.
Fight without – against – and not – side by side, always, always –
She almost asks him to explain himself, but she fears she won't like the answer.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you won't be fighting without me," she states, as if it's written in stone somewhere that Kyoraku-taicho will not enter battle without Ise-fukutaicho, ever. Squaring her shoulders, her lips pressed into a thin line, she practically glows with determination. "I'll have your back, sir. I'll always have your back, sir," she adds with a not-so-faint sense of desperation as he turns to look at her with sad eyes and a sad smile and she wishes she could hit him and wipe all that infuriating sadness away.
"I know, Nanao," he says, and for one breathtaking moment relief washes over her.
"But not this time."
The relief falls away, and her composure goes with it, leaving her dry and baking under a sun of fear and anger and hurt.
She blinks again, and this time it's in response to the tears that are forming.
"I...sir, what...why – " she chokes, and her voice sounds so weak and pathetic and there're so many doubts where before there was quiet confidence and control and she hates it.
"Yama-jii's orders. He wants you to be in control of Seireitei while we're gone. He seems to think that after putting up with me all this time handling Soul Society will be no trouble at all." He grins, but it's strained, and his attempt at levity falls on deaf ears.
She has never felt so angry in her entire life.
She's shaking; her hands have curled into fists, and she can feel her control over her reiatsu slipping. Shunsui is speaking, but his soothing baritone has been completely drowned out by the roaring in her ears. She would march down to First Division headquarters and tell Yamamoto that no, she would not stay behind, she belongs with her captain and she doesn't care about orders, orders are nothing next to loyalty, to friendship, to –
"Ridiculous, completely ridiculous," she mutters, pacing across the room. "He can't – I can't – I'm the best shinigami in all of the Thirteen with kido, he knows that, you know that – "
"Yes, Nanao – "
"I should be there, I can help there, I should be watching your back! The Espada – Aizen – aren't stupid, they'll be using all manner of tricks to try and – try to kill you, and I should be there – "
Her reiatsu is fluctuating wildly now – her carefully organized papers are fluttering all around the room, a maelstrom of paper and ink and she's so angry – she hasn't been this out of control in decades –
"What if you get hurt and I'm not there? Unohana-taicho will be in Hueco Mundo, and what if you – "
And then Shunsui is in front of her, and her face is in his hands, and her eyes snap up to his.
The papers calm, drifting slowly down to the ground, and the same stillness that settles after a thunderstorm settles over the office. She can feel the anger drain away under the rough calluses of his palms, the steadiness of his gaze. She's still trembling, but that's because of fear now, fear of tomorrow and of all the days after. Days without him.
She realizes belatedly that she's crying, but before she can muster up the nerve to feel embarrassed he's wiping the tears away with the pads of his thumbs, stroking gently across her cheeks. She watches him with a mixture of wariness and longing, wanting to close her eyes and sink into his touch but afraid if she does she'll open them only to find he was gone. So she continues to meet his gaze, and does her best to keep all those inappropriate feelings and thoughts and dreams (of him) buried deep where he (she) can't see them, the same way she's done for so long (but she's so, so tired of hiding, of procrastinating). She's not sure how well she can contain them now; her carefully groomed composure has fled, and she can't seem to summon it back, not while he's stroking her face like this and she's afraid like this and tomorrow is looming.
"You always worry too much, Nanao-chan," he murmurs. And he's right, she does – she worries that he drinks too much, worries that he sleeps too much, worries that he'll get hurt and he'll bleed and he'll die, all without her.
She worries that she'll have to live (love) without him, that this strange dance they've established (she's enforced) so well over the last few decades will fade away, and she feels selfish.
"I should be going with you," she croaks. Selfish selfish selfish.
"I know," he repeats, and a ghost of a smile graces his face. "I told that to Yama-jii several times. He threatened to have me stripped of my rank if I didn't shut up."
One corner of her mouth twitches, even as another tear rolls down her cheek. "He should have threatened your sake stash. You care about it far more than your captaincy."
Another brush of his thumb and the tear is gone.
"But if I lose my captaincy, then you will become someone else's fukutaicho. And that I couldn't allow," he replies, tone light and serious and so very him. "You're my Nanao-chan, after all."
And it's so true – she wonders if he knows just how right he really is, when he claims her as his own.
"There's nothing we can do about this, is there, taicho?" she asks quietly, already knowing the answer.
"I'm afraid not, Nanao-chan."
She steels herself – she must be strong now, because otherwise he'll worry about her in the same way she worries for him, except he's the one who'll get killed if he can't concentrate. She begins a mental list of all the things that still need to be done – forms, squad assignments, equipment checks, stock inventory – there's so much and tomorrow is right there and there's not enough time, and despite herself a feeling of panic sets in.
"I thought we'd have more time," she mutters. More time for me to love you and more time to fool myself that you love me back.
Shunsui gives her a studying look, one of the rare ones where you can really see just how sharp he really is under the flamboyant dress and lazy smile.
"Are you afraid, Nanao?"
She wants to deny it – she wants to scream no until her throat bleeds, but she can't. The fear is alive, twisting in her gut, and the only reason she hasn't given into it is due to the reassuring warmth of his hands on her face.
If tomorrow is the end of the world, then one might as well confess their sins while they still can.
"Hai." Her face heats up at the admission, and she tries to bow her head, but he still holds her and all she can do is turn her eyes away.
Of what. If he had asked her that just minutes ago, when it was still soon and not tomorrow, it would be the fear that she would spend the rest of her life watching nameless, faceless women walk in and out of his quarters, none of them her. The fear that her infuriatingly illogical feelings would one day get the better of her and she'd do something stupid, like tell him. And that he would reject her, crushing all her foolish, paper-thin fantasies.
But now, in a day's time, he could be dead, dying, and she wouldn't be there to die with him. She would never get to chase him across all of Seireitei, trying to get him to sign his paperwork, or never again get to smack away his teasing hand and the advances she secretly craves. She's afraid she'll never have to clean up his sake bottles, or drag him home after a night out partying.
And she's absolutely terrified she'll never hear him say my Nanao-chan again, and that her quiet fantasies are all she'll have left.
"Tomorrow." She speaks the word softly, with an irrational thought that saying it with any significant amount of volume will make it arrive all the faster.
There is a beat of silence, and her eyes shoot up of their own accord to see him staring at her with such intensity that her heart speeds up and she's not sure whether to flee or to cry or to take him then and there and damn the world.
Abruptly his hands leave her face, but before she can miss their warmth his arms circle around her and pull her towards him, hugging her tight to his chest. Automatically she starts to pull away (she can smell him and she can feel him and he's too close, too close to her), but she freezes as he speaks.
"Yare, yare, my silly Nanao-chan," he murmurs, and her eyes slide closed, the soothing deepness of his voice smoothing away the fear.
"Tomorrow should never be feared. Tomorrow is hope, a chance at something new. You should look forward to it." She feels him rest his head down on top of hers, and before she can think too much she relaxes into his embrace, resting her hands lightly against his chest. Underneath her fingertips, she can feel his heart beat, slow and steady.
"What if you die?" she whispers, countering the fear that wells up by focusing on the thump, thump, thump of life under her hands.
"I won't," he says, and he sounds so incredibly sure. Standing there, surrounded by him, she tries her very hardest to believe him.
"How do you know?"
He is silent for several moments, but she feels his pulse pick up, her own quickening in response.
"Because I have something to come back to," he says finally.
Her mind, so good at coming up with solutions, has a virtual field day at his words. There are so many things he could be referring to – hell, she thinks, somewhat bitterly, he could be referring to his sake stash – but above everything else is the heart wrenching hope that he is referring to her.
She wants to ask. She wants it more than anything, but the fear – not that he'll die, but that he'll laugh and crush the only thing she's ever truly dreamed of – is paralyzing.
So she doesn't.
And he doesn't elaborate.
She has never felt more cowardly in her life.
For several minutes they stand silently, his arms around her and her hands still against his chest, feeling the heartbeat that is her only reassurance. Until finally her composure returns, and it strikes her just how compromising a position she's in and how unprofessional she's being and how doing this just makes the loneliness in her heart all the more acute.
She pulls away sharply, swallowing and straightening her glasses. Such weakness.
"There is much work to do, taicho," she states without looking up at him (coward coward coward), relieved and disgusted to hear that her voice is its usual cool and composed tone.
"Of course, Nanao-chan," he replies smoothly, and she finally deems it safe to meet his eyes once more. His grin is a half-hearted shadow of its usual self, but it is enough for her to pretend that everything is back to normal, that their dance has resumed after an unfortunate stumble.
"I shall make my way to the Twelfth Division and organize our surveillance for Soul Society," she says briskly. "Unless there is something else you feel requires my attention at this time?"
His brown eyes are sad. She does her best to pretend she doesn't notice, but fails miserably.
"Iie, Nanao-chan. Go ahead."
"Taicho." She turns, heads for the door. Her fingers touch the handle, and she knows this could very well be her last chance before tomorrow.
She's procrastinated for so long. Soon, soon, soon, always soon, like some broken record forever repeating the same track. If she could only take that stupid, idiotic plunge –
She is trapped. Torn between the fear of tomorrow, of his death, and the fear of now, of his rejection.
So she procrastinates, because that is what she knows. She slides open the door without saying a word, and he does not call after her.
I'll tell him tomorrow.
Tomorrow comes, and they are departing. Standing at the gate, watching as the strike force leaves for the real world, her eyes meet his, and he grins.
"You're in charge here now, Nanao-chan. Try not to be too hard on everyone."
She gives him a flat stare from beneath her glasses. Last chance. "Now is not the time for jokes, Kyoraku-taicho."
He sighs with mock exasperation. "Yare, Nanao-chan, always so serious. Can't I get at least one teeny-weeny smile from you before I depart?"
She looks away. "You can have one when you return safely," she whispers.
His grin grows even wider, his brown eyes lighting up with a warmth she could drown in. "Now there's some motivation! A smile from my Nanao-chan!"
She glares at him, silent, but her thoughts are so jumbled and chaotic it would be a miracle if she could get anything coherent out anyways. Tell him now last chance tomorrow today yesterday fear death rejection Shunsui –
"Be careful, taicho."
It is the best she can manage, and she tries to reassure herself that he'll be fine as he smiles one last time before walking through the gate, pink haori fluttering behind him.
I'll tell him tomorrow.
And as the gate closes and fades away, it finally dawns on her.
Tomorrow has already come and gone.
Now it is today, and she has missed her chance.