A/N: A drabble-y fic full of angsty Nanao that was inspired and quite heavily influenced by the song Fidelity, by Regina Spektor.

Spoilers up to the latest anime episode, which I think equates to somewhere around chapter 395 of the manga.


fi·del·i·ty / [fi-del-i-tee, fahy-]

noun, plural -ties.

1. strict observance of promises, duties, etc

2. loyalty

3. conjugal faithfulness.

4. adherence to fact or detail.

5. accuracy; exactness

"This is your home now. This is your family. This is the Eighth. And this…" The woman grins. "This is your taicho."

Nanao stands on tip toes. She catches a glimpse of swirling pink and a lazy smile, but then the crowd surrounds her again and she sees only black robes and white socks. She frowns petulantly at the ground.

There is a shifting sound, like a sea parting, and suddenly she is staring at a pair of hairy, sandal-clad feet.

She looks up, and her mouth drops open in awe. Above her towers a giant.

"So this is our youngest member?" rumbles a voice, all baritone and ease. "I almost didn't believe Lisa-chan when she told me someone so young had graduated. What's your name, little one?"

She clutches the book she carries closer to her chest, but stands up straight and cranes her neck to look him in the eye.

"Ise Nanao, Kyouraku-taicho sir!"

He nods. "I hope, Ise Nanao, that you like it here in the Eighth."

She's not sure when exactly it started. It may have been the day she walked in on him training, naked from the waist up, weaving his zanpakutos in a complicated dance that spoke of grace and utter ruthlessness. Or perhaps the time he forcefully confiscated her books and made her dance with him at the fireworks festival.

It doesn't really matter when, she decides. It's inappropriate, and unwanted, and she'll get over it soon enough; it's just a phase.

Surely, just a phase.

Sometimes, she imagines what her life would be like if she had never met Kyouraku Shunsui.

Well, she tries to imagine. She tries to go back to the day she got her acceptance letter from the Eighth, tries to replace the number on the seal with a thirteen or a ten or no number at all, just the cold, hard insignia of the Kidou Corps. But without Shunsui, there is no Jyuushiro. Without Shunsui, there is no Rangiku. Without Shunsui, there is no Lisa, and without Lisa there are no monthly readings of advanced kidou texts and no lending of fairy tails.

She tries, but without Shunsui there is no such thing as imagination, and so she fails.

"Do you regret it?"

"Regret what?"

"Loving him."

Rangiku gives her a searching look.

"No," she answers, finally.

Nanao frowns. "But doesn't it hurt? To love him and then have him leave like that."

"It does," Rangiku concedes. "It hurts a lot. But," and she fixes Nanao with a meaningful stare, "doesn't it hurt to sit back and watch?"

Nanao debates playing dumb, because she really doesn't want to acknowledge that what was once just a simple crush is no longer just a crush and it sure as hell isn't simple anymore. But Rangiku's giving her that look that says resistance is futile and it's only fair for Nanao to be honest with her when she's been so honest with Nanao. So Nanao considers her question for a moment, before she nods, slowly. "Yes. But surely it hurts less."

Rangiku grins slightly, and shakes her head. "Regret hurts most of all, Nanao."

Nanao doesn't get it.

The nights she can't sleep, she picks up some sappy romance and loses herself in the words until the fantasies morph into dreams.

The days she can't think, she hums snippets of love songs and uses the rhythm to help her focus.

The years she can't count, she promises herself that tomorrow everything will change and breaks her own heart with her lies.

It sickens her, how dependent she is on him. How she needs him, the same way she needs air to breathe. She has always prided herself on her independence, and now she finds that it quivers at his feet, prostrate and out of breath.

One day, she has heard one innuendo too many and is threatening to pack up her office and transfer at once. An empty threat, of course, but nonetheless effective, as Shunsui visibly pales.

"But Nanao-chan," he exclaims, "I need you!"

For a moment she wonders if he too lies at her feet, longing to breathe. Then she remembers her place, and is irritated by her own foolish fantasies.

To chase the ethereal notion away, she hits him with her book, the solid whapping noise it makes grounding her once more.

"I wish you'd let me love you," he whispers once, when he is so drunk he almost sounds sober.

"I can't," she whispers back, only responding because she knows he won't remember a word of this come morning.

"Why not?" he asks.

"Because there's so much to lose," she answers.

He laughs, then.

"My dear Nanao-chan," he says. "That's the point."

She stares at the monitor.

The Twelfth's surveillance equipment is state-of-the-art. The various cameras in the fake Karakura Town cost more than Nanao's annual paycheck, and they stream everything back to Soul Society, crystal in their detail.

She can see the blood droplets trailing in the air behind him as he falls, a brilliant shade of red against the perfect blue of the sky.

The room is absolutely silent. Some of the shinigami are looking at her, waiting for a reaction, while others just gape at the screen, eyes wide with a horrified disbelief.

Nanao does not react. Her face remains fixed in the same small frown it has worn since the battle started.

For the first time in her life, Nanao has no idea what to do.

There is a pain in her soul that weeps like an open wound, filling her with an awful numbing sensation that she's never experienced before. She has never felt anything like this, this, she doesn't know what to call it, she doesn't know what to do –

She knows what she wants to do. She wants to open a Senkai gate and run, run run run to him like she's never ran before.

But she promised. She promised him that she would stay and do what is necessary and that she'd have a warm bottle of sake ready when he got back. She promised the Soutaicho that she would defend Soul Society with her life.

The monitor abruptly flashes, flame exploding on the screen with such violence that some of the shinigami actually duck, before it fizzles out into static.

In the harsh, constant rasp echoing over the speakers she can hear every word he ever spoke and every excuse she ever whispered and all the promises that would go unfulfilled.

And Nanao wonders how it can hurt so much to lose something you never had.