Originally a drabble from one of my collections. I just really liked the idea, so thought I would expand on it.

Shunsui x Nanao

Running South

To the south, to the south,
My time is running out
Frank Turner

"Nanao-chan! Let's run away! Anywhere, let's go!"

"Of course, Captain. After we finish your back-logged paperwork, okay?"

It was those sorts of voices that came to her without warning when she paused: she could never ascribe them to any particular time. They remained just fragments of memories, the details forgotten- after all, she'd had conversations like that a thousand times with her Captain. She'd had thousands of conversations in general, she supposed, even if they all started to seem rather repetitive after a while.

People needed her to do something. Her Captain needed her to let him not do something.

It was pretty standard, but she was never swayed, and she never gave in- no matter how much, in her deepest hearts of hearts, she actually wanted to.

But then, that was always the way that she was, the way that she always had to be.

Responsible. Mature. The one that you can rely on. She was Nanao Ise, of the Eighth Division, and if you needed something done, you went to her. Sure, you might not have gone out for a drink with her, you would never ask her over to see a film, but you needed the steady, studious type- if just to make sure that eveyone else didn't have to be. That was her. The one who always had to do the things that no one else wanted to do. The one being the person that no one wanted to be: and she hadn't been sure for the longest length of time that even she wanted to be what she was. Frustratingly, her Captain was always exactly what he wanted to be, so much so that it frustrated everyone else- and oh, didn't she long for that recklessness, that selfishness, that total and utter disregard for her duty and for the bigger picture, the important things?

But she was Nanao Ise. She had things that she had to do. She always did.

"Nanao-chan! Why don't we go out, get out of the office?"

"No, Captain. Let's sign these reports, instead, right now. We're already behind."

Sometimes, she had to admit, it was appealing. Work was not fun: she enjoyed her job to an extent, but she enjoyed it more because she was good at it than because it was what she wanted to do. When she had been young, she'd had such a romantic image of what being a shinigami would entail: and it had been, at first.

To be young again, back before you appreciated what being young meant.

Before the promotions, when all she'd had to do was go on long patrols, often a little boring but invigorating. You were out there, when you were young and unseated and nobody thought you capable of anything important: you got to see the living world, to fight low level and easily defeated hollows. Battle without real danger. You could taste the air of the morning and the evening without being cooped in the division, chasing down an irresponsible and irritating Captain. But here, in the dim and dusty confines of her office, she could barely remember what it was like to wake up in bed and roll over and go back to sleep, to eat a meal that wasn't rushed or left half-finished when a more important task came along.

She felt as if her life was dusty. Everything in it went unused.

"Lieutenant! Lieutenant Ise! We need your help with this work."

This wasn't what she had dreamed of. She had hoped for dramatic fights and long, lazy days of safe patrols and laughter. The image had never included the growing frown-line on her forehead, or waking up before the sunrise to finish the work that her negligent Captain had not done the day before. She had never contemplated that first silver hair behind her ear, nor the realisation that she hadn't had a day off work in half a century. And she couldn't even remember why she was still trying so hard, when there was nothing keeping her here but her own stubbornness, and refusal to quit on a job.

Dreams had brought her here. Reality kept her.

Damn, but reality was a bitch.

She could just pack it all in, if she wanted to- and it would be so easy to do. She'd sit down at her desk (seldom used, she spent so much time running around chasing her Captain and helping out acquaintances and colleagues), pick up a pen, write a letter of resignation. It wouldn't have to be very well written, or triple signed, and she wouldn't have to work to any deadline other than the one she set herself. What a novelty that would be!

"Nanao, you don't mind helping me out with this, would you?"

She would leave it on her Captain's desk, somewhere he would see it the second he remembered that he was meant to be doing his job and wandered back to his division. It wouldn't really matter if he didn't see it soon: the backlog of work would inevitably alert the proper authorites before Shunsui Kyouraku willingly came into work. But if she gave in that letter, then that would no longer be her responsibility.

Then she would go home, take her time walking there, and pack a bag. She'd look at the sky for once, spend a moment warming her face in the sun. She wouldn't carefully plan out everything she'd need and then pack it was expert precision: she'd just grab stuff, throw it in, not care if it got crumpled or if she forgot it something important. That sort of stuff didn't matter, anyway, did it?

Only to people who care too much: only to people like her.

There wasn't much in her rooms that she cared enough about to take. Her furniture was pristine, and each room looked like something out of an interior design catalogue, the sort of elegant, beautiful décor that many people loved. However, that was because it had been decorated by a company, as she didn't have enough time to do it herself, and it was so pristine because she never spent any time there. There were no personal touches, no framed photographs- only a bookshelf full of worn and dog-earred books, the only sign of life in the place.

"Oh, don't worry, we can pass it on to the Lieutenant- she won't mind."

Then she'd walk out the door, lock it behind her, shove the key in her bag without intention to use it again for days, weeks, months, years. Then there would be the entire world in front of her, and her first move would be to get the hell out of the Seireitei. Through those gates, away from the people and the pressure and the work. She'd go somewhere calm and quiet where she wouldn't have to work or do anything other than what she wanted- because there would be no obligations. But that thought still wasn't quite right- because there was more to it than that.

There always was.

Because even though it would be beautiful, she would be alone, and the only thing about her life now that made her glad was that she had her Captain: he was always there, and she was always thinking about him… and not always because he had work that needed doing. Sometimes, it was just because he noticed her, picked her out from the lines of much more beautiful, and much more interesting women.

After all- there had to be a reason that she stayed there, even though it was so clear that she didn't have to. It wasn't her fault if her reason was... him.

"Ise, we can count on you, can't we?"

And it was more than just the threat of loneliness that kept her by his side- it was because he was everything that she longed to be. He was always so calm and so content, and never was concerned about life. They could fly south for the winter, if they wanted to: she knew that he wouldn't mind going along from place to place, without ever thinking of settling down or being responsible. Just running out the days however they thought might be best.

Following the curved roads carved out by ancient rivers. Tracing the journeys that clouds made. Chasing the winged paths of migrating birds.

They could follow the sun but never have to rise with it: see it set every night behind a different skyline. They would see mountains and cities and rivers, people and forests and incredible works of art. All the things she'd always wanted to, and had never had the nerve to do. Beautiful things, dangerous things: things that were both and things that were neither. There was so much out there.

And he'd be there, with her.

She could be someone else, someone who didn't always have to frown, who wasn't always focused on paperwork and yelling and organisation. She would never think of folders, or deadlines, ever again. He would kiss the back of her hand when she woke at midday, kiss her jaw line when she was sleepy, kiss her neck when she was laughing.

"The excess will be dealt with by the Eighth Division"

He could come with her. If she asked him to walk besides her, off into the sunset, then he might say yes, and throw down his Captain's haori and his duty and just leave, as if none of it mattered. Her shoulders would be tanned and freckled, his words like silk against her mouth as they kissed and he told her how beautiful their own private world was, as if he could not pull back for even the length of time that it took to say such words. It felt so real that she could almost feel the rasp of his stubble around her mouth, the warmth of his hands on her body. She would sleep in his arms.

The winter chill wouldn't touch them.

"Lieutenant, I don't think we're going to make this deadline."

She would laugh. She would wear her hair down, and people would think that she was beautiful.

She would be so happy, and he would look at her in that way that he- and only he- is capable of doing, the way that made her weak in the knees.

"Lieutenant!"

She would be a new person. A better person. She could almost touch that Nanao-that-wasn't-her, so close, so far.

"Ise!"

It was too hard, real life, but if she was with him, if they were always together, then they could be happy, and…

"Nanao!"

And… and… and…

"Nanao?"

And then she opened her eyes, and took a deep breath, and remembered that she was just plain, irritable Nanao Ise, who had nothing but her work to look forward to tomorrow and nothing but her grey-tone responsibilities to get her out of bed in the morning. Outside, the first flakes of the winter's snow were falling, already piling up. The dark was setting in. She had been in the office for too long today, and she was tired already, too tired to care any more that she had drifted off into a daydream and there was still work to be done.

It was cold, and she shivered, but before she had a chance to wrap her arms around herself she felt the warm weight of her Captain's pink kimono falling around her shoulders.

"Nanao-chan, you need to stop spacing out."

"Sorry, Captain."

A quick kiss, pressed to her forehead; for a moment she could almost feel the southern sun on her skin.

Then she picked up her pen, and carried on with her work. From across the room her Captain smiled to himself as he shut the door behind him, wondering when the day would come that his lovely little Nanao-chan would remember that she had a duty to herself, as well as to her work. The day when she realised that she was allowed to care about things other than paperwork: that she was allowed to be in love.

Shunsui ran a hand through his hair.

He was looking forward to the day that she did.