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Bleach Fanfic: Midnight Garden, Chapter 5

Title: Midnight Garden
Pairing: Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: T
Status: Ongoing, Chapter 5of 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 fifth 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.
I also added a bit more to chapter 4, because Shunsui and Nanao needed more flirting.
Prompts for the whole story: Romantic getaway, vacation, travel, and resorts

Back to Chapter 1.

Nanao reached for flash step again and found it still missing. Perhaps she wouldn't be able to use it at all here. "Sūkikyō, can you please find the next memory of Captain Kyōraku?"

The cardinal flew off, flapping hard at the wind. The brutal storm in twisting flares of fire and lightning was close, but the landscape of refined buildings and rolling hills didn't resemble a garden at all and there were no signs of battle, so she hadn't arrived at the midnight garden yet.

Sūkikyō circled back to her, his wings stuttering in mid-air. "Sūkikyō!" Nanao ran forward, lifting her arms to catch him. When she brought him down her sleeves had changed from the Shinigami Academy uniform to an elaborate brocaded silk. It was an elegant kimono, not that she cared right now. "Sūkikyō, are you alright?"

The bird scoffed at her, but it was only bluster. She could see that he was faltering. "It's nothing. I just need a moment to recover. Your Captain is in the second street of the town by the entrance from the West."

"Thank you, Sūkikyō. Please rest now." Nanao cradled the bird against her bright obi, walking through the streets of an empty town on wooden sandals. Her hair tinkled when she moved, her hair ornaments in glass and silk swaying. Nanao and the town were both dressed for a festival or a celebration of some kind. Lights hung in paper lanterns, pushing back the evening sky, and colorful banners edged with flowers hung across the buildings. The trees were decorated with paper wishes.

She rounded the corner of the street Sūkikyō indicated and saw her Captain's back, clad in a pink haori, his hat on his head. "Captain!" she called, her relief overwhelming. But when he turned she realized he wasn't her Captain. He was a younger version, a memory of Captain Kyōraku's. His beard was really only stubble and he didn't have lines under his eyes or around his mouth. The haori had a different pattern.

"I hate to see a beautiful woman in distress on a happy occasion like this one. I'm Shunsui Kyōraku, Captain of the Eighth Division. Please tell me what I can do for you." He'd landed in front of her with a flourish, flash stepping to her aid as soon as he'd seen her.

It was so like him that she smiled, despite the situation. "I'm Nanao Ise. Sūkikyō and I are trying to get somewhere, but we're having trouble."

"Having trouble?" He moved closer, his sleeves brushing hers, bending to see Sūkikyō cradled in her hands. "Let's take a look." His hand lit with kidō and Kyōraku ran his fingers gently over Sūkikyō's wings and chest.

"I'm fine," Sūkikyō snapped in brisk chirps.

Nanao shook her head. "You're not fine." She watched Kyōraku apply healing kidō to Sūkikyō while Kyōraku watched her face.

"Is Sūkikyō your pet cardinal, Nanao-chan?" Kyōraku asked. He was very close, almost touching her body with his. He smelled just the way he should, like the outdoors and soap and his favorite sake. She knew he wasn't her Captain—he was a memory, like the others—but she tilted her head, breathing deeply. If she closed her eyes she could pretend that she was at the Tanabata festival with her Captain and nearly believe it.

He was staring at her and she realized that she hadn't answered him yet. Her cheeks pinked with the embarrassment of being caught sniffing him, but a quick glance at his eyes to gauge his reaction deepened her blush. His eyes were silver and glittering, intensely focused on her. Her Captain looked at her this way sometimes, but it was different. There was always the pull of their duties and history together tugging against the pull of their attraction to each other. She was a stranger to this Captain Kyōraku, and it was an oddly liberating feeling.

His free hand rubbed Sūkikyō's head and then dipped down, caressing her cupped hands, his palm pressing against the back of her hands as if to help her hold Sūkikyō up, but that wasn't what this was. She licked her lips, suddenly nervous for reasons unrelated to her mission.

"Is Sūkikyō your pet, Nanao-chan?" he asked, softly this time. She met his eyes and felt hot sparks leaping through her.

Sūkikyō made a disdainful sound that was nearly a quack of rejection, ruining the moment.

"No, he's—he's been with me for a long time. We're friends now, I suppose." Nanao couldn't see if the kidō was having an effect on Sūkikyō; being in this Inner World was like not having any spiritual powers at all.

"Is that better, Sūkikyō-chan?" Kyōraku stopped the kidō. Sūkikyō pecked him once, sharply, in rebuke for the –chan, no doubt.

Sūkikyō flew up to Nanao's shoulder, perching there.

Kyōraku waved his hand to ease the sting. "He bites."

"So do I," Nanao said, easing her hands away from his. She had to remember her purpose, and not get carried away by her feelings.

Kyōraku laughed. "Maybe that's an enticement to me, Nanao-chan."

She ignored him. "Are you feeling better, Sūkikyō?"

"I'm fine. Stop coddling me," the bird said, grouchy.

Nanao smiled. She tipped her face up to Kyōraku's. The lanterns cast flickering shadows over his face. "Thank you for your help, Captain."

He looked surprised and then smiled widely. "You're welcome. I'm always happy to help when I'm rewarded with such a lovely smile."

Nanao arched her brow. It was a familiar line from him, but the warmth in his voice was real, as it always was when he said it to her. Was he always sincere in this sentiment? She'd heard it dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. "I need to be going. Thank you, Captain."

"Don't leave yet, Nanao-chan. Where are you going? I'll escort you." He offered her his arm.

She considered for a moment and then wrapped her hand around his biceps. "I need to go to the midnight garden."

"It's dangerous to go there right now, Nanao-chan. Isn't there anywhere else you'd rather go?"

"No. I know it's dangerous, that's why I need to go." She started to lift her hand off his arm but he covered her hand with his much larger one. She permitted his touch without comment. His help was important to her, but that wasn't why she tightened her hold on his arm.

"There's nothing I can say to change your mind?" She shook her head and he nodded. "I knew that already, but I thought I would try. If I let you go there without trying to stop you, I'd regret it." He smiled again but his eyes were serious.

"Will you take me there?" she asked softly.

"Yes. It's safer if I bring you instead of letting you go alone." He started walking with her in the direction of the storm.

"Thank you." Nanao was relieved that he wouldn't try to stop her.

"You're a very stubborn person, Nanao-chan."

She glanced up at him, her eyes wide. "What? Can you draw such a conclusion about me already?"

His face and voice were contemplative. "It's strange, but as soon as I saw you, I felt that I knew you."

"Are you really using such tired lines, Captain?" Nanao forced amusement into her voice.

"No. It's not a line. I knew you, and you knew me, too. It was in your voice when you called for me and in your face when you saw me. Wasn't it, Nanao-chan?"

She turned her face away. "The situation is complicated."

"I'm sure that it is. The midnight garden is of my Inner World, but you are most definitely not of my Inner World. You don't have to explain it to me," he said when she opened her mouth. "Just tell me if what I saw in your eyes was for me." His fingertips traced her cheekbone.

She swallowed. What had he seen in her eyes? How much of this encounter would he remember later, when his soul was repaired? But she couldn't, wouldn't lie to him when he asked her so seriously, with longing laid heavy in his voice. She wanted to tell him, because longing had welled up in her, too. "Yes," she said in a bare whisper.

If they'd met as strangers at a festival, they would have been lovers.

He didn't speak for a long moment. "Thank you, Nanao-chan." He stopped, lifting her up into his arms bridal style. "Hold on to Sūkikyō."

"What?" Nanao drew the bird into her lap just before Kyōraku leaped into flash step.

He took only two steps, landing on the bank of a river. He set Nanao carefully on her feet. "The midnight garden is across this river." The storm howled, frighteningly close. There was a long wooden bridge several feet away from where they'd landed.

"Thank you for bringing me here, Captain." Something in the water caught her eye. She drew in a sharp breath when she realized the object was a white skull bobbing in the strong current. As soon as she recognized the skull she realized there were many more bones in the water, and that what she'd thought was the burning reflection of the storm's fire on the surface was not that at all.

The river was running blazing red with blood.

She nearly asked if this was an effect of the Hollow's attack, but she knew that it wasn't. This river was a natural part of his Inner World.

"Are you afraid, Nanao-chan?" he asked, his voice even and curious.

"No," she said immediately. She knew him, and he would never hurt her, no matter what his Inner World looked like.

He didn't smile but his eyes were dark with pleasure. "I'm glad. Come with me." He pressed a hand to her back, guiding her to the bridge. "On the other side, be wary of the shadows and don't play games with anyone but me."

Nanao nodded. She was so close, and there was still time to save him. She took one step onto the bridge.

The sky behind them tore open, the oily ink of the infection Hollows pouring out. They were the same size as the one they'd met in the fog and screeched in oddly mechanical rage. Kyōraku glanced back. "It looks like I can't go with you, Nanao-chan. Run across the bridge. The garden is there."

"Thank you." She spun to the bridge.

She felt his lips on the nape of her neck in a ghost of a kiss and shivered in reaction. "We'll meet again soon, Nanao-chan." He didn't ask this time; he was certain.

"Yes." She ran across the bridge, hearing the sound of his swords behind her. The bridge was much longer than it appeared from the bank of the river. The roar of the storm and the roar of the river were deafening together.

She looked back once, knowing she shouldn't, and saw one of his swords crumbling to ash in his hand. She held back a cry.

"Don't look, Nanao." Sūkikyō shifted to her shoulder. "Nearly there," he said, and the determination in his voice propelled her forward.

The storm burned at the edge of the bridge, the force of the heat shattering one of the delicate glass ornaments in Nanao's hair, the silk flowers shriveling and falling. "We keep going forward, no matter what happens." She cupped a hand over Sūkikyō protectively and pushed on.

She could barely move against the pressure of the hot wind, and closed her eyes against the flying sparks. Breathing was painful—her lungs burned from the ash. Still she kept going, even when she thought her skin would crackle and flake away like broken porcelain. After an eternity of burning she broke through the storm with so much force that she fell to the ground.

Her hands caught in the rich black soil, her fingers brushing something firm. Bone. A cheerful skull grinned up at her from the earth, a moonflower blooming out of one eye socket. She'd reached the midnight garden at last.

On to Chapter 6.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 12th, 2013 06:16 am (UTC)
These chapters are so enticingly bittersweet and dark. This story is wonderful. A huge fan of your writing and it's good to see you're back and still in the game.
Jul. 15th, 2013 04:22 am (UTC)
This story has some exploration of what could have been and what may yet be, and I think that gives it that bittersweet flavor. Yes, I'm still working along on several things, including Practicing Marriage. I'm glad you're enjoying this story, and thanks for your comment! ^_^
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )