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Bleach Fanfic: Midnight Garden, Chapter 3

Title: Midnight Garden
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: T
Status: Ongoing, Chapter 3 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 third 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.

"This is a monumentally terrible idea."

Nanao opened her eyes. She was sitting on a branch of a fat tree in her own Inner World. The trees rose high into the clouds, the ground so far below it might not exist at all. Each treetop was an island in an ocean of clouds—dark and rumbling now. She looked up. "I appreciate your thoughts, Sūkikyō. But I need to do something, and this is all I can do."

The striking red cardinal huffed, as much as a bird could huff. "If you go into his Inner World, you'll be at the mercy of his soul. Do you understand what that means? Every Inner World has its own rules and truths. Gravity may be zero. You may not be able to draw a sword or do kidō. I might not be permitted to accompany you or able to help if I am with you. The danger is incredible. If you die in there, the connection between your Inner World and his will be broken, your consciousness lost, and your body will never wake again. You'll be comatose forever."

"I understand. Thank you for your concern, but this is necessary. I must help Captain Kyōraku, no matter the risks. Can you make the connection?" Nanao asked.

Her zanpakutō was a willful and difficult bird, but he'd never failed her in a critical situation. "Is he worth your life, Nanao?" He fluttered down to her eye level.

"Yes," she said and her resolution was absolute. Sūkikyō wouldn't act for anything less.

"If you must do this, I will help." He flew off, his bright feathers flashing in the sunlight.

Nanao closed her eyes, waiting. The air around her grew colder, the light darker. She didn't move.

Finally she heard Sūkikyō's voice, ragged and tired. "It's done."

Nanao opened her eyes. She was sitting in a field of tall flowers. Overhead was a night sky, lit up with streaks of fire and flashes of thunder. She stood, but the flowers were much taller than she'd expected, reaching her chest instead of her waist. But it wasn't that the flowers were tall; it was that she was small. Her uniform was gone, replaced with a cheerful purple yukata. She looked down at her hands, flipping them over. "I'm a child?"

"I told you, you're at the mercy of his Inner World. He's a child here, so you're a child." Sūkikyō perched on her shoulder.

"He's a child here?" Nanao asked, surprised.

"Look at the sky. Can you see the cracks and the storms? This Inner World is breaking down. His soul is splitting apart. It looks like his zanpakutō is trying to hold the center together, but this is an outer ring, an abandoned area. There will be more rings like this one, I suspect; Katen Kyōkotsu is strong, but she's losing pieces of him constantly."

"Pieces of Captain Kyōraku?"

Sūkikyō made an impatient noise. "What is a soul, Nanao? It's a collection of memories and emotions and power. Your Captain is being attacked here, and he is losing. His memories and emotions and power are breaking up, and it's a mess. She's disregarding the oldest memories first, which is a sensible decision. Look over there."

Nanao turned in the direction Sūkikyō indicated with his wing. A small boy with curling hair stood in the distance, staring at the sky. "He's really a child here?"

"Only in this ring. That must be the dominant memory here, and so you'll match what he expects to see in this memory. If you go deeper into this Inner World, you may meet other memories before you reach the center. That's where your Captain will really be, fighting off this invasion with his zanpakutō."

"That's where we need to go. It might be best not to interact with his memories if we can avoid it. There could be consequences. I don't want to give him memories that don't fit properly with his existing memories of his life."

"Yes, but there may not be any choice. This is his Inner World, and the rules may be different from what you would prefer," Sūkikyō said.

Nanao shook her head. "Maybe, but I would like to be careful here. Please lead me toward the center, Red Bird." She froze. Why had she called him that? She hadn't used that name for Sūkikyō since she'd learned his real name, as a student at the Academy.

A child.

"I warned you." Sūkikyō fussed with his feathers. "Different rules. The air here has odd currents, I'm not sure if I can fly through them."

Even if she was a child, she would still push forward. "Please try. I'll follow you." Sūkikyō lifted off her shoulder and flew in a graceful arc toward the heart of the storm. Nanao ran after him, stretching for flash step and finding it gone. It wasn't a huge shock that she couldn't use flash step; if she was the child she appeared to be, she hadn't been able to use flash step at this age.

She ran on for several minutes, getting winded. But of much greater concern to her was that the landscape of the flower fields didn't change at all. If she was making progress, she couldn't see it.

Sūkikyō flew back to her, landing on her shoulder. "You aren't moving. You're running, but you aren't going forward. I don't believe you'll be allowed to move on without his permission." The bird flapped at the small boy with curling hair in the distance.

"What should I do?" She wanted to save Captain Kyōraku, but she didn't want to do any damage to his soul. Making contact with his memories risked damaging him. What if he remembered meeting her as a child? Wouldn't it be difficult for him to reconcile that with his existing real memories of her?

"If you aren't willing to hurt him, we should leave. There's no point to being here if you won't act."

Nanao shook her head. "If I do nothing, he'll die. I have to take the risk."

"Ruthlessness may be required, Nanao."

"I will do whatever I need to do to save him."

She ran towards the boy's back. When she was closer she could see that he was a little taller than her and dressed in muted blues. "Hello!"

The boy turned, facing her. She was relieved to see that he looked normal, his dark hair curling over his forehead, his face bright with health and his gray eyes curious. "Hello. I didn't expect to meet a girl here. I'm Shunsui. What a great bird! Is he your pet?"

Nanao stepped closer to him, hesitating. She needed him to bring her deeper into the Inner World, but she didn't know how much to tell him. "My name is Nanao. This is Sūkikyō. He's not really my pet—" Sūkikyō let out a chortling sound that dripped with disdain, to Nanao's ears. "—but he's traveling with me. We're trying to get there, do you know the way?" She pointed at the storm raging in the center of the Inner World.

"Why do you want to go there? There's a bad storm there, it could be dangerous." Shunsui-kun smiled. "We could stay here and play instead. I know a lot of fun games, Nanao-chan."

"I would like to play with you, Shunsui-kun," she said, and it was true. As a child, she would have dearly loved to have a friend as warm and playful as him, and she felt that longing now in her small chest. "But I think someone I care about is in trouble there, and I really want to help. Please take me there." She held his gaze, watching his eyes flash with conflicting emotions.

"Something very bad is happening here, Nanao-chan," he said, and she could see the seriousness and insight that would make him Captain Commander one day. "If I take you over there, I'm worried about what will happen to you."

"Thank you for thinking of me, but Shunsui-kun—" her words were interrupted by a high-pitched screech. She turned to see a tear opening in the sky, and small copies of the octopus Hollow dropping like wet ink into the flower field.

"It's not safe here, either." Shunsui-kun grabbed her hand, running with her toward the raging storm. He was fast, and she could barely keep up, her small legs working hard.

She glanced behind them and saw the miniature Hollows ripping apart the flower field. "They're destroying it?"

"The infection delivered by that Hollow intends to destroy everything, Nanao." Sūkikyō dug into her shoulder with his small claws, holding on tightly. Shunsui-kun didn't react to Sūkikyō's words, so Nanao guessed he wasn't able to hear the bird talking.

Nanao focused on the ground in front of her feet, breathing heavily. The long grass of the flower fields yielded to rich black earth and moss.

Shunsui-kun slowed, looking behind them. "It'll take them a long time to destroy everything there. The forest will give us cover. Are you alright, Nanao-chan?"

"I'm fine." She tipped her face up and saw that the sky was obscured by thick trees. The breeze had an oddly melodious sound here. She realized a moment later that the sound was caused by the wind rustling through thin bones hanging from the tree branches. She gasped.

Shunsui-kun followed her eyes. "Don't worry, that's normal. This is Katen Kyōkotsu's forest. Those are her bone chimes." He squeezed Nanao's hand. "Are you afraid, Nanao-chan?"

There was always darkness in him—Nanao had known that for a very long time—but it was strange to see it hanging from the trees above the friendly boy holding her hand. "No. I'm not afraid."

He studied her face, his eyes serious, before he broke into a grin. "That's good! This isn't the only place where she has decorations. If you were scared here, I don't think you could go all the way to the midnight garden."

"The midnight garden?" Nanao asked.

"It's in the middle. It's the best place. Katen Kyōkotsu is usually there. That's where the storm is coming from."

"I want to see it," she said. "Will you take me there?"

"I'll try. I'm not sure if I can go all the way with you, Nanao-chan." He tugged on her hand, moving forward briskly. Nanao hurried to keep up. "I know you're in a rush today, but maybe if you're not on another day, we can play some games together."

"I'd like that." She smiled. It would have been wonderful to have a friend like him when she was this age. She'd spent so much time alone as a child in the Rukongai and then at the Academy.

"It'll be a lot of fun. There aren't any other kids at Yama-jii's place."

"No other kids?" Nanao asked with her eyes wide. Had the notoriously friendly Captain Kyōraku spent his childhood without playmates?

"No, at least, no one else that has to stay here all the time. My family thought it was best if I didn't come home anymore." He smiled, waving his hands to press off any sympathy. "They visit sometimes, and Yama-jii shows me a lot of really cool stuff."

Nanao nodded. His family looked like a touchy subject, so she left it alone. "What kind of cool stuff?"

"Do you know what kidō is, Nanao-chan?"

Kidō had been a favorite subject of Nanao's all of her life, and she dived into it with enthusiasm, gesturing animatedly. It was so easy to talk to him. He was clever and fun and warm. Nanao hadn't forgotten her purpose here, but it fell to the background. She was really enjoying the chance to visit Shunsui-kun. She was very sure of one thing: if they'd met as children, they would have been friends.

"It'd be a lot of fun to play games with you, Nanao-chan. I can tell."

"Did Yama-jii teach you games?" she asked. It didn't seem likely.

"No, I learned them from her—from Katen Kyōkotsu. It's fine, though, we don't have to play with her rules," he added quickly, and Nanao wondered what her rules were.

"What are your favorite games?"

They talked idly as they walked through the forest, the bones singing out a sad and sweet melody. Nanao was glad to have the experience of meeting Shunsui-kun as a boy, but she felt a stinging needle of guilt at the possibility that this memory could cause damage to his soul later, when his soul was whole again and this memory didn't fit into his existing memories properly. But she could worry about that after she pushed out the Hollow infection.

The forest was thinning out, the ground changing again to hard-packed dirt. At the edge of the forest, Shunsui-kun stopped. "I can't go any farther, Nanao-chan."

She stilled, turning to face him, still holding his hand. "Why not?"

He shook his head. "Things aren't right here. I should be able to go on, but—" His brow furrowed.

"This may be the edge of the outer ring, Nanao. He may not be able to pass into the next area, if there's another memory dominant there," Sūkikyō said.

"I understand. Thank you for taking me this far, Shunsui-kun." She smiled. "I'm glad that I got to meet you."

He smiled brilliantly, his worry clearing. "Me too. I want to meet again soon, if you'd like that, Nanao-chan."

She released his hand, nodding. She waved goodbye and turned away from him, running across the hard-packed earth. "What will happen to him, Sūkikyō?"

"You mean when the infection reaches him? I would presume that the memory will be destroyed with everything else."

"He'll die?" She paused in her running.

"You can't help him now. He can only be saved by pushing back the Hollow infection," Sūkikyō said firmly.

"But that will probably be too late for Shunsui-kun. The Hollows were closing in."

"If you go back now, you might not make it to the midnight garden in time. Sacrifices are sometimes necessary, Nanao. Katen Kyōkotsu is willing to lose pieces of this soul to save the whole. Are you?"

Nanao's throat felt tight. The warm and friendly boy she'd met would likely die. The memory might be destroyed forever. But she would remember him, remember this meeting. "We go forward, no matter what." She ran, fast and purposeful.

Sūkikyō flew up into the air, circling. The storm crackled, louder and closer.

On to Chapter 4.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 15th, 2013 04:05 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! It's so cute and adorable, and I'm really happy that you were inspired by my story! ^_^
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )