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Bleach Fanfic: Midnight Garden, Chapter 4

Title: Midnight Garden
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: T
Status: Ongoing, Chapter 4 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 fourth 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 tripped suddenly, falling to her knees. It felt as if her foot hadn't been where she expected when she landed. "What?" She stood, brushing off her red hakama, and froze. Red hakama? She wore a neat Shinigami Academy uniform, and she wasn't a child anymore—she was older and nearly as tall as she was as an adult. "An adolescent?"

She'd been a child at the Academy, but Sūkikyō had said you'll match what he expects to see. She was fitting into a different memory.

Sūkikyō landed roughly on her shoulder, almost tumbling forward. Nanao steadied him with her hand. "Are you alright, Sūkikyō?"

"I'm fine. It's just challenging for me to fly here. The air currents are very fierce."

For Sūkikyō to admit to finding something challenging was unusual; Nanao assumed he was actually having tremendous difficulty with her Captain's Inner World if he said anything. But he wouldn't appreciate it if she mentioned that. They were very alike in some respects.

The storm over the midnight garden was closer, but judging the distance was impossible due to the way the landscape continually shifted. Even from above it couldn't be measured clearly. There was also no way to know how much time was passing in the world outside and if the ninjas had found a way out. She couldn't be sure of how long her Captain would last under this sustained attack. The only thing she could do was make it to the storm at the center of the Inner World as soon as possible. "I just need to find Captain Kyōraku's memory here, and get him to lead me closer to the center, yes?"

"That's right. He's sleeping under a tree inside the courtyard there." Nanao followed Sūkikyō's pointed wing to a gate that resembled the Shinigami Academy's as it was when she attended, but was different enough that she was sure this was not the modern Academy. The sunlight was cheerful overhead, marred by the flames of the storm in the distance.

"Thank you." She walked through the gate, surprised to find a book in her hand. Advanced Kidō Techniques: An Introduction was the title, and she smiled to see it. Captain Kyōraku had told her once that the kidō instruction at the Academy hadn't changed in a thousand years, and it seemed that was true. She'd carried a copy of this book for nearly her entire time at the Academy.

In the shade of a willow tree a tall boy lay using his arms as a pillow. He wore the blue hakama of the Shinigami Academy uniform, breaking the uniform code by not wearing tabi. He had some small bits of hair on his chin that might be fashionable but that Nanao didn't care for. Sūkikyō chirped out an impatient call and the boy cracked open one eye. At the sight of Nanao he sat up comically quickly.

"Excuse me," she said. "I'm trying to get somewhere, but I'm having trouble."

The boy stood, his short hair rolling into his eyes. "A beautiful girl in trouble? That won't do at all. Please allow me take you to your destination." He cuddled up beside her, his hand at her waist. "I'm Shunsui Kyōraku."

Nanao pried his fingers off her waist in a way designed for maximum pain. He didn't shriek, which was an accomplishment. She shifted her book to the side where he was pressing close, shoving the spine into his ribs. She had a lot of useful experience with managing inappropriately affectionate men like Captain Kyōraku. "I'm Nanao Ise. I'm trying to get over there, to the midnight garden." She pointed at the storm, which was flaring louder and angrier than before.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Nanao-chan. I'd love to help you, but there's a nasty storm over there. Wouldn't it be much nicer to pass the time here with me?" He smiled winningly, rubbing the sore spot on his ribs.

Nanao frowned. "If you don't know the way, I understand. Thank you for offering your assistance, Kyōraku-kun." She walked away from him, calculating that this was the best way to get him to help her, although it was a bit of a gamble. If he didn't find her interesting enough he wouldn't come after her.

But his steps echoed after hers and he spoke over her shoulder. "Please call me Shunsui, Nanao-chan. If you're determined to go to the midnight garden, I can bring you there. A sempai should help others, after all." He made a face that Nanao supposed was meant to be dashing, but looked ridiculous.

She laughed. "My sempai? What makes you so sure of that?" She raised an eyebrow in challenge.

He grasped her elbow, guiding her in the direction of the storm as they walked through the huge courtyard. "You're such a delightful and fresh girl, Nanao-chan. I'm sure I would have noticed you if you were at the Academy in the winter semester." His hand strolled away from her elbow, tiptoeing toward an area of her body he found more interesting.

She slapped him in the face with the book without thinking, the same as she would have done to her Captain if he'd tried such an obvious move. But Kyōraku-kun was not her Captain, and she'd hit him pretty hard. "Are you alright?"

He wiggled his nose gingerly. "I'm fine, Nanao-chan! Yare, yare. You have such excellent reflexes. Do you study martial arts here?"

He didn't seem offended, which was a relief as she needed his cooperation. But he'd really deserved a physical rebuke for his behavior. "It's not my primary area of study. Mainly I focus on kidō."

"Kidō? Is that how you got that bird to sit on your shoulder?"

She gave him a sidelong glance. "Did you only notice Sūkikyō now?"

He shrugged. "It's a very handsome bird, but everything fades in the face of a girl as lovely as you. Which housing block are you in, Nanao-chan? I'm in Four, if you'd like to visit me later."

"That would be inappropriate. How long is this courtyard?" She added the question under her breath. This was a much heavier dose of flirting than she'd expect from her Captain. Perhaps he really had learned some discretion over the years, if only to cut down on the amount of blows to the head he took.

"It's a very large courtyard, made for the training of the Academy students," he said cheerfully, although she hadn't meant him to hear her question. "What level of kidō are you taking?"

She turned the book so that he could see the title.

"Advanced kidō in your first year at the Academy? That's impressive. You must be very talented."

"I work very hard," Nanao said primly.

"What do you do when you aren't working hard?" he asked, obviously seeking an opening.

"I go to the library to study other subjects. What do you study here?"

He waved his hand airily. "A little of everything."

"Everything? Isn't there anything you're serious about?" She narrowed her eyes at him. How had he ever passed his classes at the Academy, with an attitude like that one?

"I could be very serious about you." He gave her that bright grin again.

"I didn't come to the Academy to study boys." But it was fun, bantering with him like this.

Kyōraku-kun considered that for a moment. "Did you prefer to study girls?" he asked.

"What?" She blinked at him. "Oh—that's not it."

He wagged his eyebrows. "That's good, Nanao-chan. It's a really nice picture—" She glared at him ferociously. "—but I would be heartbroken if I didn't have a chance with you."

"What makes you think you have a chance with me now?" she huffed.

He leaned down to her ear. "If I didn't, you wouldn't be enjoying this so much. We have a spark, Nanao-chan."

She couldn't deny that, but she wouldn't admit it, either. "It's irrelevant. I need to study."

"Your dedication is remarkable, Nanao-chan, but everyone needs to relax sometimes. I could help you with that." He tried to look innocent and helpful. She didn't believe it for a moment.

"I need to study. I do not need to relax." She'd slipped right back into her mindset at the Academy.

"But Nanao-chan, stress is almost dripping off you." He put his arm around her shoulders as if comforting her. She elbowed him hard in the ribs. His arm retreated. "The same spot as before. You have amazing aim, Nanao-chan."

"Excellent targeting is a prerequisite for effective combat kidō."

"So talented and beautiful, I'm in love." He pressed his hand over his heart dramatically.

"Don't say that so frivolously," Nanao snapped.

"It's not frivolous." She turned on her heel to glare at him, and he gave her a surprisingly serious look. "Today I met a girl with bright indigo eyes that can wield a book like a weapon. She can tame animals and takes advanced classes in her first year. Doesn't that sound like someone special, Nanao-chan?"

She adjusted her glasses, her cheeks warm. It was his fault. Indigo eyes? Who said things like that seriously? "I can't tame animals. Sūkikyō is unique."

"Don't bring me into this," Sūkikyō said.

"Nanao-chan is unique, and I really want to see you again. When do you normally go to the mess hall? I can meet you there. We could get some monaka and take a walk under the moon." He walked backwards confidently, so that he could look at her face.

"No." She saw his eyes widen out of the corner of her eye. "Dango."

"Dango?" he asked.

"Dango is my favorite," she said, pressing her lips together. Maybe she should have left it at a hard refusal, but this memory would become one of his when his soul was healed, and she didn't want to give him a bad one. There was a part of her that thought if they had been at the Academy together, before rank and propriety and duty had come down heavily on both of them, she would have walked with him in the moonlight eating dango. Not the first time he asked, of course; maybe not even the tenth time.

But eventually, she would have said yes to him.

The two of them were always moving towards yes. Even in the First Division, even with the weight of their responsibilities heavy on their shoulders, they were always moving towards each other.

"Dango is sweet Nanao-chan's favorite? Then we'll get dango, of course." Kyōraku-kun grinned, his pleasure obvious. "Nanao-chan—"

He was interrupted by a screaming rip in the sky, the oily octopus Hollows leaking out, larger and more menacing than the ones she'd seen in the flower fields.

Kyōraku grabbed her hand, running with her through the courtyard. "You should get out of here, Nanao-chan. It's dangerous," he shouted.

"I need to get to the midnight garden. I can't turn back!" She wondered if he heard her over the cries of the Hollows.

At the far gate of the courtyard he stopped. Nanao ran into his back, hard. "I'll keep the Hollows here. Go on to the midnight garden if you have to, Nanao-chan. Run, and please meet me later for dango under the moon." He smiled, stepping back into the courtyard, the Hollows close behind him.

"Thank you, Kyōraku-kun. We'll meet again." She raised her hand in farewell and then turned, running for the storm roaring closer and closer.

"Don't look back, Nanao," Sūkikyō said softly.

"Him, too? I want to save Captain Kyōraku. I have to save Captain Kyōraku. But I really—" She swallowed. She'd liked Kyōraku-kun, liked his brash manner and easy grin and even the warmth of his arm over her shoulders. She didn't want him to be lost.

"I know, Nanao." Sūkikyō tapped her shoulder with his foot. "We don't know what will happen. Maybe what's been taken by the infection can be recovered."

It was an unusual piece of optimism for Sūkikyō, and Nanao knew it was for her benefit. "Thank you, Sūkikyō."

On to Chapter 5.