A/N: BASED LOOSELY ON THE BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF WORK BY CELULIND at dA BY THE SAME TITLE.

I DO NOT OWN THE CHARACTERS OF THIS STORY, ALL MISTAKES ARE MINE ALONE I MAKE NO MONEY FROM THE WRITING OF THIS STORY.


Pray

The war was over.

Soul Society could breathe a sigh of relief that very few casualties could be counted on their side.

Like many who had been left behind gathering at the Senkaimon gate that was opened to transport the battle weary shinigami home, Nanao Ise waited to see who survived and who had perished.

She had every confidence that her Taichou would be among the survivors but there were seeds of doubt. War of any kind was always a game of chance, one big gamble. Her Taichou would never fail. He was too strong, despite his lackadaisical manner. All of them were supremely strong. They trained for times like this. They were the Gotei 13 after all.

A loud cheer rose from the crowd as the first survivors stepped through the gate. More commonly called 'the walking wounded'. They were the ones who could still move under their own steam, whether they should be walking on their own was another story.

The cheering soon turned into a hushed gasp as the more seriously injured were being transported in on stretchers.

Nanao's heart began to thud loudly in her chest. One stretcher passed close by held someone with long flowing slivery-white hair. It could only Ukitake Taichou: confirmed when squad thirteen's two third seat's began to run, shouting loudly in it's wake.

The Sou-Taichou came next; his white beard hanging limply over the side of the stretcher. His Fuku-Taichou following closely looking quite sorrowful.

Unohana Taichou was efficiently directing everyone in squad four, as usual to help in anyway they could, they were running circles around the injured.

Still there was no sign of Kyoraku Taichou. She felt a panic attack building; what if he never returned?

Suddenly she saw his familiar form stagger through the gate. She began to run if only to confirm that it was his soft wavy hair, his solid body, his playful smile that she was actually seeing. His usual easy gate was labored and awkward, and just as she reached his side he stumbled, tilting toward her. She did her best but the sheer bulk of him was too much for her own petite size and they collapsed to the ground.

"Taichou?" she tried to scramble out from beneath him. Blinking in surprise when several people including Zaraki Taichou lifted him off her prone form, she hoisted her self upward and brushed the dust off her uniform.

Bowing several times she watched as he was loaded on a stretcher and hauled off to the medical squad building. She quickly followed.

Once they laid him out on a table it was determined that he was in no immediate danger and could wait. Nanao almost thought of complaining but knew deep down that it would be futile.

She pulled a chair next to the table and took his large hand in hers and waited with as much patience as she could muster. She vowed to be strong like her Taichou and strong for him also.

It took several attendants to lift him so his wounds could be bound, and when stretched back out he groaned in pain even though he was unconscious. Nanao thought her heart just might rend in two, this was not the same man who flirted and teased her, the man who lazed about refusing to do any sort of work if he at all costs could avoid it. There was no way this wreck of a man was the same one.

Reaching out she ran a finger down his whisker covered jaw in a gentle caress, then moved on to brush the softly curling forelock back from his face. Sighing mostly to herself she had to admit that he truly was a handsome man. It hurt to see the few remaining flecks of blood, and stained bandages.

A firm hand rested on her shoulder, rousting her from the light drowse she had drifted into, looking up she found Unohana Taichou was smiling reassuringly, "He'll be fine Ise Fuku-Taichou..as you know he's a strong man,

But even the strongest can pass their limits and it seems that's just what Kyoraku-san has done this time." she lifted the hand away, "He just needs to rest,"

"Yes, of course, I know you're right ma'am, it's really difficult to see him like this."

"Indeed." Unohana moved on to the next bed; which held Ukitake Taichou.

As the hours passed Nanao drifted in and out of sleep several times, occasionally a moan drifted up from the bed and she became instantly alert. It was a fitful sleep, but any sleep was beneficial.

A few point, as she was resting her head on the side of the bed she was pretty sure she felt a hand ghost over her hair several times, but that wasn't at all possible so she brushed it off as a bit of imagination. But wishful thinking could make for some wonderful dreams; which is what was happening at the moment.

His restless slumber continued for several hours more, waking her on more than one occasion. A few whispered sighs even sounded like her name on more than one occasion, swearing under her breath she promised herself that if she found out he was having perverted dreams she'd smack him, hard after hearing a whispered "Nanao-chan" followed by the corners of his mouth curling upward.

Then there was in inadvertent kiss: she had woken with a start when his hand brushed across hers causing her to jump. She then patted her cheeks to wake up a bit more before heading to the bathroom for a quick break, before walking away she bent forward to whisper in his ear that she was leaving his side for only a small moment, when his head rolled to the side suddenly and their lips touched ever so briefly. Her face flamed with embarrassment as she jogged to the restroom.

Upon her return she noticed that Zaraki Taichou was standing next to the bed, chuckling softly. His Fuku-Taichou was doing a bad job of sitting still on the chair Nanao had just vacated and hopped up seeing that she had returned. Once settled back in her seat Yachiru climbed up on to her lap, holding out a book.

Sighing Nanao opened the book: where the bookmark was placed. It reminded her of way back when she would do the same with her squad's former second in command. Remembering when she would crawl onto Lisa's lap or snuggle next to her when they would read together. It left her feeling sadly nostalgic.

She spent the next hour reading out loud as the tiny pink haired girl curled up happily on her lap. Occasionally she glanced over to were Zaraki Taichou was still speaking with Ukitake Taichou; it wasn't fair in her estimation, Ukitake was gravely wounded yet he was awake and chatting normally with those around his bed, but her Taichou was still laying unconscious. How was that even the tiniest bit fair?

Normal visiting hours came to an end, and those who were visiting began to filter out, including Zaraki Taichou and his lively Fuku-Taichou

Just before bouncing out the door: she turned, smiling broadly, announced loudly, "Don't worry, it'll be okay, Ken-chan said Shun-Shun's just faking cause he's enjoying how much attention you're giving him, Nana." she waved and giggled as she followed her Taichou out the door.

Glancing around the room, Nanao noticed several things.

Unohana Taichou had a knowing, serene smile on her face.

Ukitake Taichou, had ducked under his covers doing a horrid impression of being sound asleep, the near convulsive shaking of his shoulders was a dead give away.

A loud snort which turned into a low rumbling chuckle drifted up from the bed she was next to.

"Taichou?"

"Damn Zaraki needs to mind his own damn business."