in the archives

Normally Nanao would not have been particularly annoyed by her Captain's whistling - well, not that annoyed, at any rate - but in the absolute dusty silence of the library, the long echoing corridors and the high ceilings, there was something a little ominous and forlorn about his whistling. It was the sort of music that occurred ironically in ghost stories about phantom children and horrible bloodshed.

And she was depressed anyhow. Given recent events, it was hard not to be depressed, not to mention paranoid.

"Anything up there, Nanao-chan?" her Captain paused to enquire.

"Only the records of the Mobile Corps surveillance on Districts Fifty to Sixty for three centuries back," she reported. "Could you move along to the right, please, sir?"

Kyouraku-taichou amiably strolled several paces to the right, halting when she tapped him on the shoulder. She turned back to the shelves, then paused at the sound of steps.

Ukitake-taichou entered the room, holding his sleeve against his face as the dust wafted around him. "I wondered which room you'd got to," he said. "Ise-kun, why are you sitting on Kyouraku's shoulder?"

Nanao suppressed a sigh. "We couldn't find the stepladder, sir, and Kyouraku-taichou said that this would be more efficient than having to cling to the edge of the shelves to look at the records." She directed an unobtrusive glare at the top of her Captain's hat. She was sure that he would be conscious of it, even if he couldn't see it.

"Very practical," Ukitake-taichou said. "Have you found anything yet?"

"Nothing relevant," Kyouraku-taichou answered.

"Though we are assuming that any records would be here under their own name and identity," Nanao put in. "If whoever left them here decided to disguise them as the annals of the Sixth Division Debating Society or the kitchen finances and servant documentation . . ."

Kyouraku-taichou patted her leg, taking a little too long about it for Nanao's peace of mind. "Don't worry, Nanao-chan. If they did do that, then we're going to have to search every single document in this building, and it's already a lost cause. Let's assume that there is something to find, and work on that principle."

"It still feels very slapdash, sir," Nanao muttered, turning back to peer at the shelf. She blew more dust off the covers of the stacks of scrolls, and slid a couple out to check their titles.

"We can't always be precise, Ise-kun," Ukitake-taichou said. He was always pleasantly formal with her in work situations, even situations like this when there was nobody but the three of them alone in miles of library. Nanao found it very comforting. It was good to know that it was possible to keep personal life and professional life separate. She had to do it herself, after all. "We will just have to - take a guess."

Nanao twitched inwardly, just a little bit, but said, "Yes, sir," properly.

"Now you've said it," Kyouraku-taichou said mournfully.

"Said what?" Ukitake-taichou asked.

"The guess word. My beautiful Nanao-chan doesn't believe in guessing." He patted her hip again, and she restrained the urge to rap his knuckles with the scroll she was holding. "What's more, she's thinking how much easier it would be to get on with the work if she were allowed to do it alone, without the two of us helping her. I could sigh." He did.

"And is your Captain correct, Ise-kun?" Ukitake said. He wasn't asking it too seriously, but there was a note of concern to his voice.

Nanao paused to adjust her glasses. "It isn't hard to see why you two gentlemen were assigned to check the archives for anything that Aizen Sousuke or Urahara Kisuke might have left here or been investigating," she said diplomatically. "After all, you two and Unohana-taichou - and Yamamoto-soutaichou himself, of course - are the Captains who've been present in Soul Society for a lot of things that might involve what those two were researching. You'd spot things that Hitsugaya-taichou or Kuchiki-taichou wouldn't know about."

She didn't say the other part of what she was thinking. And perhaps there are things down here, past secrets and private quarrels, which Yamamoto-soutaichou doesn't want even other Captains knowing about, which is why someone like Hitsugaya-taichou gets sent off to babysit Karakura, rather than read about the bits of Soul Society's history which aren't for public view, while two of the most dangerous men in Soul Society get kept here to do research.

And was she trusted to know those bits of history? A Captain was responsible for his vice-captain. Kyouraku-taichou was responsible for her.

She would die before she let herself be a burden on him again. She felt it weigh her down.

"Assuming we can find any records at all to investigate," Ukitake-taichou said, with a nod that seemed to her to say that he understood her choice of words. "I have an unfortunate feeling that both gentlemen will have cleared their choice of documents well before anyone even thought of looking."

"Optimism, Jyuushirou," her Captain said determinedly. "After all, if they didn't know something was here, they couldn't have removed it."

"Is that why you came to this area, sir?" Nanao asked. She slid back the current scroll tube and pulled out another one. "It's, er, not one of the rooms I expected to be investigating. I thought we'd be trying the Twelfth Division record areas, or the Covert Operations high security area -"

"Yama-jii's still negotiating with Soifon-chan about getting at those ones," Kyouraku-taichou said, and she could just tell that he was smirking under his hat.

"Negotiating?" Ukitake-taichou said. He didn't sound very surprised, though.

"I believe the phrasing is something along the lines of, you are technically my captain commander, but I will see you dead and sow the ground with salt before anyone without proper clearance puts so much as a single finger on my private records, and the suggestion that Aizen Sousuke might already have run his hands all over them while disguised under an illusion is unworthy of your dignity. With due respect, sir."

"The respect is very important," Ukitake-taichou agreed. He was working his way along the shelves as if he was looking for something specific, and Nanao couldn't help watching out of the corner of her eye. After all, if he was going to discover something extremely relevant to the current situation, she wanted to get a look at it too.

"And in answer to my Nanao-chan's earlier question, we have been down here in the past," Kyouraku-taichou said. His hand hovered but didn't quite pat her leg. "We are, after all, Captains. We have done research before."

"We even did it as Academy students," Ukitake-taichou agreed. He slid out a particular scroll case and put it down on one of the tables to open it.

"Academy students allowed down here?" Nanao said, surprised. "You must have been at the top of your classes!"

"Well, nooo . . ." Kyouraku-taichou gazed into the middle distance. She could tell from the way that he tilted his hat. "Let's just say that telling Academy students that something is out of bounds, forbidden, and absolutely not to be attempted tends to have precisely the opposite result. Wouldn't my Nanao-chan remember that?"

"Rules are to be kept," Nanao said in her frostiest tones. "I'm sure there were very good reasons why Academy students should stay within bounds and shouldn't go poking around among forbidden books. Why, even if I'd been tempted -" She bit it back.

"And what would have tempted my lovely Nanao-chan?" Kyouraku-taichou inquired hopefully.

"Secret forbidden kidou of massive power," Nanao said firmly.

"Under the circumstances, perhaps not the most apposite daydream, Ise-kun," Ukitake-taichou said delicately.

Nanao blushed guitily. "But that was when I was much younger," she said hastily.

"Well, we all do rash things when we're younger." He smiled at her forgivingly, and once again she had to think what a lovely smile he had. "That was one of the reasons Shunsui and I came down here, after all."

"To research secret forbidden kidou of massive power?" Nanao said. She couldn't quite envisage it.

"More in the nature of having a private discussion," Kyouraku-taichou said blandly. "My Nanao-chan herself knows how hard it can be to have a private discussion. Sometimes one has to go to great lengths to get the proper privacy for a properly private discussion."

Nanao blushed hotly. "The poor books," she muttered.

"Well, it is why your captain knew where to start looking, Ise-kun," Ukitake-taichou said. He drew a scroll out from where it had been slipped into the cover of the case, separate from its other contents. "We even -"

"You didn't," Kyouraku-taichou broke in, staring at the scroll. It looked a couple of thousand years old. "You told me you'd lost that one."

Nanao had a moment's blazing irritation at a man who could remember a paper from his student days thousands of years ago, but forget the paperwork from yesterday that was all over his desk. It was quickly submerged by curiosity. "What is that, Ukitake-taichou?"

"I'd quite forgotten it was here," Ukitake-taichou answered Kyouraku-taichou. "It wouldn't have been any use to Aizen or Urahara, even if they had found it. Would you like to see it, Ise-kun?"

"Please," Nanao said, and prodded at Kyouraku-taichou's shoulder, hoping that he'd put her down.

He didn't. Instead he walked across to where Ukitake-taichou was standing, so that Ukitake-taichou could pass the scroll up to her.

Nanao took it with a slight wince, and a polite smile of thanks to Ukitake-taichou. She unrolled it gently, turning it to get the best of the light.

She recognised the poem at the bottom - it was Izumi Shikibu, one of those classic love poems which could be found in most collections, though written in a hand she didn't recognise at first. The sketch above it was hardly as classic. It was simple pen-and-ink work, showing a young man dozing under a cherry tree overweighed with the load of its flowers. The young man was in Academy uniform, and the first hopeful tufts of beard were showing on his chin.

It took her a moment to see the sheer familiarity of the way that the young man was sleeping, and how his large hands lay loose and careless, how his bare feet rested on the grass. And then she blushed as she read the poem again.

No bone-chilling
autumn wind
could pierce me
like this spring storm
scattering blossoms.

Nanao honestly could not think of a single thing to say. Her throat closed up and she swallowed. It wasn't even the poetry. It was the intimacy of the poetry together with the picture, and the act of sharing it with her.

It was, she thought, perhaps a way of reminding her that she was something more than just a burden to them. She would like to think so.

When she could speak again, she said, "Thank you, Ukitake-taichou. I'm . . ." Honoured to have seen that felt wrong. "I wish I could have known you both when you were younger."

"We've matured with age," her Captain said gleefully, "like a good wine. May I?" He reached up to take the scroll from her.

"I might have chosen a different poem if I were quoting it today," Ukitake-taichou said, leaning over to look at the scroll with Kyouraku-taichou. His hair brushed against her leg, lying white as snow against her black cotton hakama.

"Bah," Kyouraku-taichou said. "I like it when you're being melodramatic."

"That's not normally what you say at the time," Ukitake-taichou said. "You're usually positively cutting about it -"

"Pragmatic," Kyouraku-taichou corrected him.

They almost seemed to have forgotten that Nanao was sitting on Kyouraku-taichou's shoulder.

"Maybe something referring to maple leaves," Ukitake-taichou said, "but without the usual autumn melancholy."

"You can't disregard the classical forms like that," Kyouraku-taichou objected.

"You just want to stay with the spring images."

"Can you blame me?"

Nanao coughed. It would have been rude to actually say something, but a cough was one of those convenient management tools to use on divagating captains.

"Think of it as encouragement," Ukitake-taichou said, closing the scroll again. "After two thousand years, I manage to lay my hands on this. In comparison, we're almost certain to find Aizen and Urahara's traces."

Nanao wasn't quite sure that the logic on that held, but she let Kyouraku-taichou take her back to the bookshelves and began searching through them again.

Five minutes later, she dropped the scroll she was holding.

"Nanao-chan?" her Captain asked, a note of concern in his voice.

"There wasn't any dust on that scroll. There wasn't any dust on that scroll!"

A noticeable silence came from Ukitake-taichou's direction.

"Yes," Kyouraku-taichou said thoughtfully. He reached down, making her sway as she struggled to keep her balance, picked up the dropped scroll, and passed it back to her. "I noticed that too, and I think that deserves a free and full discussion this evening. However, we really need to be concentrating on our work now. I never thought I'd have to remind my Nanao-chan that we should be focusing on the current task, but -"

"Annals eleven to fifteen of the reports on Districts Sixty to Seventy," Nanao snapped. "Move along, please, sir."

Definitely they would be discussing it this evening. She smiled to herself, just a little bit, as she pulled out another scroll.

(The Izumi Shikibu poem was translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani.)