Title: out, brief candle
Author: Owarinari
Pairing: Hints of Shunsui and Nanao, perhaps?
Rating: G
Summary: War raises all kinds of ghosts, sets them to walking among us. Nanao-centric.
Disclaimer(s): Bleach and all associated characters are not mine. Neither is Inochi no Namae.

A/N: I'm not sure how I feel about this one. This is in my own personal Nanao-canon, which will probably be proved wrong by Kubo-sensei in a matter of months, but that's what my creative licence is for, right? In my head, Kaien, Nanao and Rangiku worked closely together and were experts are driving each other insane. Inochi no Namae is just about my favourite song ever - I quote it at the beginning and a line near the end - the font is being iffy with me, I'm afraid.

The heart which is bound before the future
Someday, will remember its name
So loved that I want to scream, is
The one life, the place to return to
At my fingertips, an unvanishing summer day
- Inochi no Namae, Joe Hisaishi.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. The sky was clear, and the wind brought with it clear air and the soft warmth of late summer. It was a day for relaxation, a day when she would usually be trying to find Kyōraku-taichō in one of his many hideouts.

Before now, that is.

Ise Nanao lifts her pen from her ever-present tome, staring at the black lines snaking their way over the page with no real comprehension. Some people turned to drink (Kyōraku, Rangiku, the entire 11th Division...), others become self-destructive (the same culprits again) to try and cope, but Nanao? She simply fell into almost obsessive note taking. Perhaps it was a better way to deal with the strain, perhaps not.

She has lists for anything and everything. Lists for shopping, her favourite books, things to put in the office, paperwork that needed to be done. Little things.

Things to be done before war.

Things to be done in the event of her death.

Had it been anyone else, it could have been called fatalist. Melodramatic, even. But Nanao was simply being her uncompromisingly matter-of-fact self. Yes, it hurt to think about, but everyone knew that most would not being coming back from the field; even fukutaichō would not be spared.

War had come. Earlier than expected, but then Aizen was a good hundred year's worth of planning ahead of them. Even the drunken enthusiasm that defined the 8th was muted. They knew their fukutaichō was worried for them, terrified, even. And their captain's own distress affected them they way all his moods did. Never let it be said that the man who was their captain was an island.

Nanao stared down at the book that seemed heavier than it had ever been, sight unseeing, the neat lines blurring together.

Someone was standing behind her.

The enemy couldn't have slipped past the 2nd Division, nonetheless through the entire camp unnoticed, so how...Her hand slipped away from her zanpakutō, her soul's weapon thrumming quietly in the back of her mind. The reiatsu. She had read about Kuchiki Rukia's clash with the form-stealing Arrancar, so this reiatsu couldn't exist anymore.

Considering the culprit, this was completely unsurprising.

"What are you doing here?" She began, glimpsing a flicker of an ever-kind smile in the darkness "Kaien?"

"Will 'for curiosity's sake' do?" The shadows coalesced into a figure. Barely there. Unmistakable, even after the long stretch of time and the fickleness of memory.

"You know it won't." Dark hair flowed in a breeze that carried the smell of ash and blood towards her. The hard edge of steel. She swallowed hard, and became sickeningly aware that this was the forest where Shiba Kaien had breathed his last. "You're dead."

Who she was trying to remind, she wasn't sure. Nor could she force herself to turn around fully. She could see the blackness of his shihakusho and some morbid part of her was wondering if that last fatal injury would be visible, if she could find the heart to look.

"Tell me something I don't know, Nanao." The voice that had scolded and teased and laughed with her was weary now. Bitter. "You think I wanted things to end that way?"

"Yes." The answer, immediate, slipped off her tongue. Ise Nanao did not mince her words, nor did she apologise. "For a very long time." Not audibly apologise, anyway. "But I believe...I believe that I see now. It was something that had to be done."

The shadow's smile was so familiar her heart ached a little at the sight – a breaking pain, or a healing pain? Who knew. How long since the voice had scolded her for being boring, and stubborn, and a bit too proud? The one that had been all too happy to echo Rangiku and taichō's whining of 'cruel Nanao-chan'.

"Thanks Nana-o. Glad to see you're still as boring and level-headed as always."

"Kaien. You should have gone now, passed on." Why is she talking to a ghost? There's probably some regulation about this in a Seireitei rulebook. She should know, she's read most of them. "There's a betting pool on the idea that you are now Kurosaki-taichō's son, though how they intend to prove this, I do not know."

"Isshin's son? He had kids? That old dog, I knew he just wanted a body to skive off and have fun."

"Kaien." A sharp reminder to get back to the point jumped out without conscious thought. /So nostalgic I want to scream.../ She stared at the way Kaien stayed to the dark. The way half of himself seemed to melt into the shadows. His presence diving and flickering like a candle left near an open window.

"I'm just fragments, Nanao. A shadow of a memory of human consciousness. You remember the academy lessons, reiatsu imprints. Soul memory, that sort of thing."

"A poltergeist."

"Vengeful spirit? I guess. I'm not going to rest until that bastard is in the ground."

"Which one?" Aizen. Tosen. Ichimaru. All of them had lied, deceived, and broken someone's heart.

"Any." A vicious edge to his voice. So even after-death changed people.

"I'll try, Kaien." She promised the echoes of someone who had once been a dear friend.

"And remind Kyōraku he probably owes Rangiku for the thong episode." And a dire enemy.

'The thong episode'. Had that really been nearly sixty years ago now? The second kanji of 'Nanao' leading Rangiku to send her seven thongs during the week of her birthday. When she had found out Kaien and Kyōraku were in on it she had wanted to throttle both of them. "I got payback. He got so drunk Rangiku put him in the frilly pink one and took pictures. For Hisagi-san's paper."

Bright laughter echoed, time peeling away until it was just her and Kaien with their captains in the sunshine, that night in the rain a distant possibility. Summer days oh-so long ago. Everyone had been young, then. She kept the memories pinned down under her fingers, even when they hurt to think about, sometimes. For fear of what she'd be without them.

Kaien was fading. She caught dark eyes as the tips of his fingers began to dissolve, his arms dissipating in front of her. "I still miss you."

She hadn't intended to say it – Ukitake-san missed him. Rukia-san missed him. The entire 13th Division missed him. What was her loss, compared to theirs?

A smile that was fond, proud, sad. "Don't. We'll see each other again, right? In another life."

And Nanao was again alone on the hill, and the entire thing could have been a hallucination. If not for the footprints in the grass behind her.

"Nanao-chan!" she turned to greet her captain, catching the broad smile and the multitude of pleas in his eyes. Be strong, be fast, don't die (ohpleasegod don't die) "Were you talking to someone?"

"No one, taichō. Just..." Dark eyes. Blood. Rain. "A ghost."