Author's Note: I don't own Bleach.


She hasn't slept in days.

She wanders aimlessly about the office, but she accomplishes nothing. She shuffles some papers on her desk, walks across the room, does the same to a stack of unfinished reports on Kyoraku-taichou's desk, and then returns.

Third seat Enjoji Tatsufusa brings her tea to replace the full cup sitting in front of her that has gone cold. "Ise-fukutaichou, is there anything else I can do for you?"

Bring him back.

"Have the expense reports been filed?"

"Aa—about those, fukutaichou, Soutaichou has requested anything needing to be approved by the First division is kept until after… after he has returned, as to prevent a backlog of paperwork."

Her fingers tap the surface of her desk. "Any word on when that will be?" She sounds trite, because it is important that he know she is only concerned due to the paperwork. Liar, liar.

"Um, no, Ise-san." He fidgets slightly. "They will be back soon, I'm sure." It seems she is not the only liar, although she must commend him for having the heart to try and comfort her. "Perhaps, fukutaichou, you should call it a night. You look exhausted."

She stands and crosses the room, rearranging some things on a shelf. "Very well, Enjoji. I just have some things to finish here first. Go on, you are dismissed for the evening."

"Ise-fukutaichou…"

"Good night, Enjoji," she says decisively, turning and smiling. Her hand is shaking to the point that he can hear the paper she holds rustling from the movement. Her expression is so fake and empty, all he can do is back away and let himself out, leaving her once again alone in the eighth division's office.

He doubts she'll leave.

The shoji door slides closed.

There is silence.

Silence where once before this office had always been humming—her captain's reiatsu alone, if you were paying enough attention, which she couldn't help but do, emitted vibrations- a low, deep thrum like a single, low note on a Kokyū.

Her chest is heavy; she needs to breathe.

She stumbles backwards until the backs of her legs find the edge of Kyoraku's empty desk.

In the silence, she swears she can hear him whistling; lips sweetly caressing a tune.

She should be at his side—she should be supporting him, and if she wasn't strong enough to do that, then she should at least be lying broken and bleeding beside him.

Death would be acceptable, knowing it was for him.

Suffocating without him, waiting for his return that she's not sure will come, however, was not something she could live or die with.

Ice cold, white fingers grip the edge of the desk, and she sinks to sit—to catch herself before her shaky unreliable legs give out from underneath her.

He's whistling a waltz; one of her favorites.

She closes her eyes and pretends he is there. She has the feeling of his reiatsu memorized—he and she have shared an office for many years, and it's become so constant and familiar it feels as though she has been stripped of her own reiatsu while he is gone—and she can imagine the feeling of warmth, the musky smell, the thrum of energy, almost as if he is standing right before her.

To think that somewhere he could be lying dead—this great power forever silenced—stings her heart, and leaves her lungs burning.

A tear escapes the corner of her eye. "Kyoraku-taichou…"

The whistling stops. "Nanao-chan, what are you doing still awake?"

Her eyes fly open. "Kyoraku-taichou?"

He's standing in the doorway, and he looks concerned.

She sobs. She looks helpless and pathetic in front of her captain, but she can't help it. With every sob that escapes her, she gasps—gulping in air she's long been depraved of. Her lungs are full, but she's still empty. How vividly cruel is her imagination?

She feels his fingers beneath her chin, and she begins to doubt the illusion. She has too few memories of this to construct a fantasy, but the warmth from his touch is spreading to her cheeks.

"Yare, yare, my dear Nanao-chan. That's not quite the welcome home I had been expecting."

His voice is so typically light-hearted, but she's so desperate for him to be real, she's afraid that he isn't.

His eyes grow more serious and he tilts his head. "You look like you haven't slept in days."

She hasn't. How many days has it been? No wonder she's seeing things. She sniffs and tries to compose herself, sucking in large mouthfuls of air to stop herself from crying. He's gently stroking her cheek with his thumb, brushing away the tears.

"My Nanao-chan should not cry," he says gently. Sincerely. "She is making her Shunsui sad."

Something is not right with the way he calls himself her Shunsui.

It's too far from the truth. He's too untouchable. The words sound entirely influenced by her own wildest fantasies.

Her arms shoot up and she slaps away his hands from her face. "No!" she screams. He takes a wary step backwards. "You're not real. You're just an illusion! I'm too tired and too worried and I miss him." She covers her face with her hands and sobs again. "I'm so afraid."

He does not respond, and she thinks for a moment that she has scared the specter away, except that she can still smell the deep musky scent of him.

"Afraid of what, Nanao-chan?"

Of the way he makes her feel when they are alone together. Of how she can't seem to remember how to function now that he's gone. Of the distinct possibility that she may be in love with him, and never had a chance to tell him. "That he won't come back," she says. That he'll never know.

She hears the rustle of his hakama as he closes the distance between them once again. He is whispering something, but she's not listening. She feels his hands heavy on her weary shoulders; shoulders that have been burdened by exhaustion and love and war. She feels the stubble on his jaw as his face brushes close to hers. It tickles, and feels so unbelievably… real.

"Taichou?" She's grasping at her very last hope that this isn't some kind of dream turned nightmare. She's desperately grappling at the chance that man before her is not just the ghost of the man who had once been her captain.

She can hear her pulse in her ears.

She can smell his reiatsu, so close, so familiar.

She tastes his lips.

Oh, how could she have been so blind? No matter how well she knows him, no matter how well she has him memorized, no mere illusion could possibly be so—him.

The woman in her reels at the kiss; the lieutenant, reels in another way.

"Forgive me, taichou!" she exclaims, hands on his chest, pushing him away. She bows her head, and had he given her the room to do so, she would have flung herself at his feet.

After a short pause, however, his strained voice begs differently. "Why?"

Her eyes fly to his face. "I doubted you, sir. I was so afraid you had been killed." It is not until now that she realizes he is not wearing his pink haori, and the straw hat he usually wears is nowhere to be seen. Even in the darkness, being this close to him meant that she cannot miss the new scar on his chin, and she wonders how many more riddle his body. "I was afraid, sir," she utters, eyes wide in awe as she takes in his tired features.

A small, haunted smile plays on his lips. "So was I, my kawaii Nanao-chan."

"Sir…" Her heart aches to think he had to fight without her—that she was not there beside him in his time of need.

"I was afraid I would never see you again."

Her heart thumps painfully. She'll be there for him now. Her fingers clutch the front of his shitagi, and because she is standing so close to him she can tell his posture is not as tall and strong as it usually is.

They are both so tired.

He kisses her, because he can't be bothered to recite the poem he has been working on (the one about her eyes), and he doesn't have the energy to pretend she is a passing fancy.

She wraps her arms tightly around his neck and twists her fingers in his hair, because she's too weak to swat away the hands (rough, calloused, strong) venturing to her hips, and because she can't be bothered to pretend she doesn't wants this—him—more than anything else she can think of.

Except, maybe, sleep.