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Title: Midnight Garden
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: T
Status: Ongoing, Chapter 2 of 7
Contains: Spoilers through Bleach manga chapter 520, canon-typical violence.
Summary: When a relaxing vacation goes wrong, Nanao must confront the danger within.
Notes: This is my second entry for the Week of Love giveaway happening July 6th - July 12th at the shunsui_nanao community at Livejournal. My pieces are written as chapters for this story, and I'll be posting chapters each day, finishing on Friday, seven chapters in all.
Prompts for the whole story: Romantic getaway, vacation, travel, and resorts

Back to Chapter 1.

Nanao left her quarters, locking the door behind her. It was an hour after dawn, and the air was still pleasantly cool. Captain Kyōraku probably wouldn't be ready yet. He'd become much more prompt since they'd come to the First Division, but he was not traditionally an early riser.

She stepped out into the courtyard of the First. Perhaps she should wait for him here, instead of going to his house. She didn't want to intrude. But she did want to get going early, so—

"Good morning, Nanao-chan!" Captain Kyōraku crossed the courtyard to her, a bag slung over his chest. He was in his uniform, which relieved her. She'd debated about wearing a yukata, but had decided to wear her uniform until they were at the resort. If she was accompanying him in a professional capacity, it would be inappropriate to dress casually, at least in front of their troops.

"Good morning, Captain." He reached for her bag and she handed it to him, knowing that arguing about it would be pointless.

"Nanao-chan's bag is so cute," he said. She'd debated about that, too, but had chosen to pack a casual bag in purple oilcloth instead of a First Division bag. "Do you have cute things in here, Nanao-chan? Like a little bikini?" He grinned.

"I've packed appropriate clothes for our possible activities." It was strange to be here like this, talking about their vacation. Being too professional might damage the restful vacation she wanted him to have, but being too intimate with him was worrisome, too.

"You're really running away with me, Nanao-chan." He slung her bag up over his shoulder. A man who wore a pink kimono regularly probably didn't spare much concern for being seen carrying a feminine bag. "I can hardly believe it."

"Me neither," she said, arching a brow.

"Stay close to me when we go into flash step. I'll lead the way to the Lakes District."

She nodded and followed him into flash step. They made good progress, although she knew he was going slower than he could. But they were heading to a resort, not a battle, so speed wasn't really critical.

He paused on a high hill after several flash steps. "Do you want a drink?"

"No, I'm fine. How much farther is it?" They were well out into the South Rukongai.

"It's still pretty far. We've only gone about a quarter of the way. But it's worth the trip, Nanao-chan, I promise." He leaned down, close to her. "We're going to have such a good time, just you and me."

Nanao's lips quirked up. "Just you and me and a squad of elite Second Division ninjas." She hadn't been sure back in the courtyard, but once they'd left Seireitei she was certain that they were being followed.

He chuckled. "It couldn't really be helped. But they're from the Kuchiki clan, so it's alright." The Kuchiki clan was loyal to him, and it couldn't hurt to have some protection available. Although Captain Kyōraku couldn't spare any worry for his life, Nanao had enough worry for both of them. "I'm sure they'll be very discreet, Nanao-chan."

"Discreet?" She frowned at his implication. "They won't have anything to be discreet about," she snapped. Nanao had no intention of ending up in a compromising position with him.

He held up his hands in a placating gesture. "I only meant that they wouldn't be taking any pictures of Nanao-chan's bikini or anything like that. But I might," he added with a sly smile.

"You will not. Your camera will suffer an unfortunate accident if you try, Captain." She nodded for emphasis. "Shall we go?"

"Sure, Nanao-chan." But he didn't move, instead murmuring in her ear, "I won't need to take a picture to remember you on this trip. I always remember my Nanao-chan." He jumped into flash step before she could respond, which was probably for the best.

They continued until Nanao judged they were more than halfway to the Lakes District, but the atmosphere had been changing slowly from the crisp morning to a thick mist. Shunsui stopped suddenly, catching her when she slipped out of flash step to follow him.

"Do you feel it, Nanao-chan?" he asked, looking around slowly. The area was now shrouded in fog, even the ground barely distinguishable from the air. It had changed so slowly and subtly that she'd hardly noticed. When they stopped the fog rolled in quickly, and she could now feel the threads of power faintly around them.

"Yes. I'm not sure what it is, but it feels almost like the dangai." She stepped back from his hold, alert. "Where are the ninjas?"

"They were following a few steps back. They'll probably come through soon, unless this is something that could break their formation. It's almost as if this place has been superimposed over the area. I can feel the nearby towns, but it's badly muffled."

"Captain?" She could feel a strong spiritual pressure approaching, although the nature of it was odd. It was like a Hollow, but it felt off—oily and stuttering.

"Stay back, Nanao-chan." He dropped the bags, his hand resting on the hilt of one of his swords.

She shifted to a fighting stance behind him, reaching into her sleeve for her tantō. He didn't want her to be in danger and she didn't want to distract him. But she would be ready for whatever was coming.

What appeared wasn't the huge and intimidating Menos Grande she'd expected. Instead it was an octopus-like black creature, four feet high and wide, sliding along on tentacles, leaving an inky trail behind it. It had a Hollow hole filled in with gray putty and a rusty clockwork mechanism. "Hello! What are you?" Captain Kyōraku asked genially.

It let out a scream at his greeting that was all Hollow. Nanao unsheathed her tantō.

"That's answer enough, I suppose." Captain Kyōraku drew his swords, tensing to strike.

Suddenly the Hollow creature jumped into the air at sonido speed, pulling its tentacles in and aiming itself like an arrow. But it wasn't aimed at her Captain; it was aimed at Nanao.

"Don't ignore me, it's rude." Captain Kyōraku flashed in front of the odd Hollow, cutting it in half with one strike.

The Hollow fell to the foggy ground, but didn't disintegrate right away. Instead it broke into thin, wet strips. Nanao stood, watching it. She slipped her tantō back into her sleeve. "It's so strange. Almost like something that would come out of the Twelfth Division," she said.

"Don't get too close. You might be right, Nanao-chan." He sheathed his swords, stepping back.

She took a small step forward, leaning down. "Do you think the Central 46 would have done this? It's very underpowered, if they expected it to harm you."

He put a hand on her shoulder, urging her back a few more steps. "We can't be sure. The ninjas will be here soon, and they can take some samples as evidence."

The strips of Hollow broke down even farther, into small pieces. "What is it doing?" The pieces were small and pointed, almost like darts or arrows. In the time of one blink, hundreds of them rose into the air and shot straight at Nanao.

Kyōraku slammed into her, shoving her out of range of the darts and to the ground before they could strike her. The darts fell to the ground, some of them already disintegrating, and disappeared into the fog in the next blink. "Sorry, Nanao-chan. Are you hurt?" he asked, pushing himself off her.

He'd knocked the breath out of her. It took her a moment to gather enough air to answer him. "No, I'm fine, I was just—Captain, don't move."

He froze, following her eyes to the front of his uniform. One of the darts of Hollow was creeping across his chest like a worm, barely visible against the black fabric. Nanao raised her hand, intending to snatch it and throw it off. "Don't, Nanao-chan. It could be dangerous. Let me do it."

She ignored him, but before either of them could act the Hollow dart twisted suddenly, burrowing through his skin and disappearing into his chest. "Captain?" She grabbed his uniform, ripping the sides apart.

"Nanao-chan, I appreciate your desire to take off my clothes, but I think that you should get away from me. I don't want you to get infected if this is something that can be spread." He spoke carefully, as if it were difficult, tugging her hands away from his skin.

"There's no wound. Why isn't there a wound?" She scanned his skin frantically, her eyes rising to his. "Does it hurt? Can you feel it?"

His breathing slowed, his hold on her hands fading. "I can feel it. But it's not my body. Nanao-chan, get out of here. It could be dangerous. You could get hurt."

He fell back onto the foggy ground. His skin was paling, his breathing labored. But it was all so fast, too fast. Nanao knelt beside him, her fear rising. "Captain?"

He smiled slightly. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I don't think we're going to make it to the resort this time."

"The ninjas will be here any second. We'll get you back to the Fourth for treatment. Where does it hurt?" She held onto her calm by her fingertips, but it wouldn't help to panic. She summoned a diagnostic kidō to her hand, running it over his chest.

"It's not—inside. Katen—" he broke off, his eyes closing.

"No, no—Captain, wake up, please," Nanao said, frantic. The kidō wasn't reading anything useful; if there was damage to his body, it wasn't showing up.

Movement behind her had flames flickering into her other hand, but it was the Second Division ninjas. "Captain Commander!" one of the ninjas said, hurrying to Nanao's side.

"We were attacked. A piece of the Hollow has gone into the Captain Commander." Nanao met the ninja's eyes. "There are only three of you?"

"We were stopped by this odd fog. The rest of my men are outside it, most likely unable to enter. It took us several minutes to find this opening into the area, and I believe it closed behind us." The ninja studied Kyōraku's still body. "Can you heal him?"

"There's nothing wrong with his body." Nanao closed her eyes, thinking. Inside—Katen—what had he meant? Inside. But not inside his body. He'd started to say the name of his zanpakutō. "I believe his Inner World is being attacked."

The ninja's face was grave. "There's nothing we can do for him if that's the case. My team will search for an exit, to make a quick return to Seireitei."

There were forbidden kidōs meant to break down the Inner World, destroying the soul from the inside. Nanao had only read about them in books. But it would be a smart way to attack someone as powerful as Captain Kyōraku, someone that could undoubtedly defeat any direct attack. And the Hollow had cleverly struck for Nanao both times, driving her Captain to protect her, to put himself in the path of harm.

Was there a counter to an attack this insidious? The answer came to her, and she flinched. It was too dangerous—she was afraid to try it, and afraid of what would happen if she didn't. "There is something I can try." Nanao pulled out her sheathed tantō. "I'm going to connect to his Inner World through mine. If I can stop the damage, he might be able to recover."

"That's a very dangerous proposition, Vice Captain Ise." The ninja looked dubious.

"Yes. But the life of the Captain Commander is worth risking my life. Even if I fail, I may be able to gain enough time for him for the Fourth Division to save him." She looked up at the ninja, and saw that he knew sacrifice of this kind very well.

"I understand. My men and I will continue to look for an exit. We'll get the Captain Commander out of here, whatever it takes. Good luck, Vice Captain Ise." The ninja rose, bowing, and ran off into the fog.

Nanao unsheathed her Captain's swords carefully, laying the blades between the two of them. She drew her tantō and placed it on top of his swords. She lifted one of his hands and placed it over the handles of the tantō and swords. Hesitating, she bent over him, smoothing his hair back gently. "Captain, I'm going to help you. So please, please let me in." She took a deep breath and pressed her hands down on his large hand on top of the zanpakutō handles.

She was hardly in a state of deep meditation, but sometimes a zanpakutō responded to urgent need instead. She closed her eyes, seeking.

On to Chapter 3.