The short fic in this post is for an exceptional entry in Lady Compassion's challenge on dA. The art is "An Enchanting Night" by American Dork HERE. This fic is a gift for him. Please check out his gallery here. The IshiHime contest ends this Wednesday the 24th and although this last entry puts my own to shame, please keep those submissions coming--remember that the winners are fandom!
Also, in case any of you missed this gorgeous realistic portrait drawn for Lady Compassion's birthday this year, here is Uryu by Nateese. Her Bleach Gallery is a delight.
Onto my fic. No warnings. Short. IshiHime. Current timeline, set the night before chapter 546 takes place.
A Dream in the Ice Palace
Inspired by this lovely fanwork http://americandork.deviantart.com/art/An-Enchanting-Night-386447112
Rated PG, K+, Ishida/Orihime, sort of romance, short one-shot, current Thousand Year War arc spoilers maybe, a little violence not much.
A/N: I’ve written pieces that canon facts would crumble into fanon mulch after Kubo wrote new chapters, and I’ve written pieces that have held up well over the years to the official time-line. Some speculations, like my story about Ryuuken’s wife, are still my favorites, even if canon dissolved them; others I can’t even look at because details like the wrong Romanization of names annoy me. All I know is that I’m happy to be writing Bleach fic again because this Quincy arc has me pumped, and the various incongruous details of American Dork’s art—the Arrancar arc clothes and the current arc ice backdrop (haha, I’m reminded of an ancient fic of mine before we knew the make-up of Hueco Mundo and I made Ishida enter Aizen’s Ice Palace of torture, rape and freezing temperatures) and the fascinating Christmas lights felt so much like a dream scene that I knew I had to fic this art. American Dork’s enchanting art is so much more than technical proficiency; his romantic scene is a promise for us IshiHime shippers who have been hoping for a resolution for our ship in manga canon for so long. If we get it, great. If not, there’s always fanwork.
Ishida awoke right away, as he usually did, without the preamble of fog or wondering if he was still dreaming. He knew he was awake. He was lying in a huge bed in his spacious bedroom in the Ice Palace, but the last time he had been conscious he had been in the king’s room.
So much has changed. My powers, my purpose, my—
The last thing he remembered was Haschwalth-san telling him that it was time to rest. The last feeling Ishida remembered was a satisfaction that all was going according to plan and that every risk he would take would be rewarded. He felt now that his hope was lying as he was in bed—not quite safe but treasured, cared for, resting.
My first night in the Ice Palace. Tomorrow His Majesty said the Quincy would act. I need to go back to sleep.
His hand rose to touch his right cheek. That was where his asymmetrical forelock lay, and he pushed the hair away.
There’s no wound.
His Majesty had not stuck Ishida hard, and at the time Ishida had known that the backhanded swipe was meant as the mildest of rebukes; still, the surprise and the sting of the blow had made him wonder if there would be a welt. Ishida’s cheek had burned for several minutes, and he’d wondered what the other Stern Ritter would think if they saw the prince with a red mark on his face.
Then it occurred to him that His Majesty had struck him where the long hair would disguise any mark.
“Don’t say my name,” His Majesty had said in a calm voice. “I told you in the ceremony that my name is for ritual purposes only. Call me Your Majesty. Or if you wish, Uryuu, you may call me Holy Father.”
Ryuuken had never once hit his son. Not with his own hand, that is. With arrows in training and with words meant to humiliate, chastise, and cut deep.
Ishida lay in bed with his hand covering his cheek. Maybe there was no swelling but there could be a slight bruise, a discoloration? It would be indulgent to get up to look in a mirror.
It doesn’t matter. Everything is forever changed.
Even as he lay in the softest bed he’d ever slept in, surrounded by the most posh accessories and knowing that a servant stood outside his front door ready to fetch food and towels and that she would cut off her own hand if he so commanded, Ishida felt deeply aware of having been protected and coddled all his life.
His fingertips would not leave his cheek. What Holy Father strikes his son’s face? What would Sensei have said? Ishida Souken went through holy training, and yet his grandson could not remember him ever having swatted a fly. Everything about Souken was gentle; the man would not even break noodles over a pot. He would hold a block of noodles over the steam and allow saturation to run its course. Once the flour was wet and the noodles were limp enough to conform to the size of the pot, Souken--his fingers red from the hot water--would drop the noodles in.
Tomorrow will be a blitzkrieg. The Quincy will attack before Soul Society even knows what is happening.
Ishida’s fingers brushed down his face, curled into a fist at his jaw-line and dropped to his neck where he felt the sheer, relaxed collar of clothes he had not been wearing when last awake. The awareness that someone must have changed him into this night-shirt annoyed him. The more he thought about it, the more this particular violation disturbed him because it happened while he was unconscious.
It’s fine. I’m very strong now. It will all be over soon. No time to think about any—
He had been sprawled on the cold marble floor of His Majesty’s most sacred sanctum, what felt like sweat or blood pouring from his eyes and nose, the most dense kind of reishi like wool filling his lungs, nothing Earthly to grasp or inhale but the power!
“Tell Uryuu he needs to rest,” the king had said, and somehow Haschwalth-san was there, trying to stop Ishida from sitting up.
“No, soldier--forgive me--my prince.” Haschwalth had grabbed his arm. Then in a whisper: “It is time to rest. There is a time for everything.”
Ishida shut his eyes. There would be time to feel awkward and horrified later. If he survived the last battle, that is. If he didn’t, then there would be only the mercy of True Oblivion. As a Stern Ritter, all he had to give were his best efforts, and right now he needed to include efforts towards detachment, serenity and rest.
He imagined that he could hear the servant girl outside his door breathing with measured patience. When he could see her, slumped against the wall, her hat shadowing her face, Ishida knew that he was dreaming.
He walked the halls of the Ice Palace, dreaming what he remembered from his first impressions of only yesterday but feeling the familiarity of generations in his blood.
I know this place. I’ve dreamed it before.
Ishida dreamed that no one could see him. Or maybe he was not worth recognizing. Was he not the Quincy Prince? The Chosen Successor? The servants and guards went along their business, chatting and passing beverages among one another, not giving the ghostly prince in pajamas a first glance.
Of course this is a dream. I wanted to observe this very way, but His Majesty anointed me his heir and made me the Most Watched.
The balcony doors opened to the cold night, and Ishida expected to see the solemn architecture of the ice palace, the translucent ice pillars and clock faces shining like moons that he had seen from His Majesty’s night-time window but ….
The billowing waves of grass. Ishida had travelled here before too. The scent was Spring. There were great distances between towns and only the vaguest hint of morning in the humid sky.
He ran. He didn’t know why he was running or what he was running towards, but Ishida felt that he was escaping the cold at the very least. His bare feet smashed long grasses down and left a trail. Somewhere in Soul Society he had made another path and tried to learn what it was he wanted to protect. He had never known what it was like to care about comrades in battle before. He had learned the meaning of sacrifice once inside the walls of the Seireitei. He had climbed up the Shinshinrou, convinced that he was going to rescue Kuchiki-san, happily leaving a trail of his blood on the steps.
Ishida tripped on a root and fell on his face. By the time he rose to his elbows, the landscape had turned to sand.
The air was still bitter cold, though.
There was no mistaking the high-pitched voice.
She was standing some thirty yards away, waving her arms over her head the way she would if she’d just spotted you at a festival or across the Karakura gymnasium. She was wearing her Arrancar dress. Only it wasn’t ripped as Ishida had last seen it. It was the darkest, blackest night in Hueco Mundo but the dress shone in immaculate white. Puffy sleeves she had once described as looking like “a princess’ in a storybook” graced her shoulders.
“Inoue-san!” He knew she couldn’t hear him at this distance. “You’re--you’re all right!”
She was laughing. A sound like bells. “Oh I’m fine!” She did hear him. Right, this was a dream. She was running toward him, all smiles, her eyes showing none of the pain of Hueco Mundo. He had wanted to save her there, but his strongest memory of her always would be one of her holding her bare shoulders where the sleeves were torn, her head bent forward as she shook with grief.
He had felt her failure as deeply as his own at that moment. I could not save you.
She was kneeling beside him, her hand on his shoulder. “I’m fine, but what happened to you? Are you okay?” Her voice dripped with solicitousness the way it had not on the dome, even when she had healed his mangled body. “Oh look at you, you’re never clumsy--what happened?”
Ishida rose to his knees and surveyed himself. He wasn’t wearing the stupid transparent nightshirt anymore, thank goodness. He was in a Quincy cape much like the one he’d worn to Hueco Mundo. The tunic was made of a heavier cloth and longer--the hem reached his knees, but he still felt cold.
“I don’t know what’s happened,” Ishida said plainly. “Everything has changed.”
She frowned. She could be acute when she wanted to be, and she was searching his expression.
Ishida tried very hard not to give her anything to find.
She leaned over and adjusted his glasses. “You’re okay,” she said. “You’ve just had a bad fall. I think you need to lie down and rest.”
“Inoue-san, I don’t need---”
She put her hand on his chest and insisted. “Lie down, lie down.” And before Ishida knew what was happening, he was lying on his back in the Hueco Mundo sand.
“Nothing.” Ishida looked up, expecting to see the flat black night of the hollow world with the odd dull moon that hung there like a paper cut-out, but clouds were gathering, colliding into one another like cream in black tea. The sky swarmed with entertaining nebulae. There was a distant tinkling of wind-chimes, the muted shouts of children at play.
It was less cold now. Ishida’s feet in his shoes and his hands in gloves still felt chilled, but a warm breeze touched his face.
Was that water pouring on his cheek?
No, it was Inoue-san’s hand. “Who hurt you?” she asked.
“It’s just two little stripes but they’re finger-shaped. If I could sense the reiatsu--”
“I fell down the stairs,” Ishida interrupted, and Inoue-san smiled slightly.
During the brief silence that ensued, Ishida remembered the many nights he and Inoue-san had spent together in Soul Society, sometimes separated by a hanging blanket, always surrounded by the scent of spring. He had come to cherish her presence then, and even now, although she was sitting so close to him, he could not imagine her any closer. All he knew is that if she were to go away, the darkness would fall over the world, over all dreams and waking days and nights, and the light would never return.
“Ishida-kun, look! Madarame-san strung Christmas lights all over the trees!”
They were in the Seireitei, somewhere near the 11th division barracks where grew an orchard of young trees constantly pruned by reckless swordplay. Sometimes--actually OFTEN the soldiers had parties, and decked the area with flower wreaths (Yumichika-san made those), animal skulls, and electric lights.
“Those aren’t Christmas lights,” Ishida observed. “Christmas colors are red and green, and these bulbs are blue.”
“Christmas can be any color you want it to be,” insisted Inoue-san. “Blue isn’t always the color of sadness.”
There was the strong scent of various 11th division intoxicants in the air but no sign of anyone from the squad. Ishida felt warm where he lay. The sweet tall grasses of Soul Society were sweeping against his body. “Where is everybody?” he asked. He didn’t feel like sitting up.
“Over there,” said Inoue-san and gestured with her head.
Ishida turned his face and saw them in the distance--piles of passed-out revelers. Some still held flasks. It must have been Yachiru who had put flowers behind their ears and strewn the ground with candies that shone like jewels in the dark night. A gentle roaring sound emitted from the pile of bodies--it took a moment for Ishida to realize that it was the synchronized snoring of the soldiers. Even in sleep, they breathed as one body.
Ishida’s heart froze.
“Hmm?” She was smiling at the flowery lump of warriors.
“Inoue-san, you’re not supposed to be here. It’s not safe. It--it looks fine now but …” There were no words to explain what would happen. “There’s an ice age coming.”
She smiled at him. “You’re not supposed to be here either, okay? Will you stop worrying about me?”
She was stroking his forehead, literally pushing back the hair there and moving her fingers across his scalp. Why was she touching him so much? Because he wanted her to. He didn’t want her to go away, but if she didn’t go away now, she would be covered in the ice. If the ice didn’t return, then the darkness would never blow away.
“Who hurt you? Your head is full of someone else’s silly ideas.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She was very close. “I know you’re trying to hide things, but you can tell me. If you don’t tell me where you were hurt, I won’t be able to fix you. That’s how my powers work.”
Too close, too close. Her hair was falling against his shoulder. Her hand was flat against his chest. She pressed over the exact place where Ryuuken had shot him to restore his Quincy powers.
“Who hurt you there?”
He met her eyes. What large brown trusting eyes they were. Could he lie to her?
Ishida’s voice did not sound like his own. “My father--” he began. “My father never wanted to hurt me.”
“Oh he doesn’t seem like a bad guy,” Inoue-san said, still not removing her hand from where it pressed with a delicate insistence, as if wanting to coax Ishida’s heart to some new awareness. “He’s the type who only acts cold because he’s hiding things. He’s like you in a way, you know. I like him.”
The 11th division trees had turned into the solemn pillars of the Shadow Realm, the electric blue lights still strung around them, but the bulbs were going out one by one, crackling to death in the impossible cold.
“Ahhhh, beautiful,” cooed Inoue-san.
“This is where the Quincy are,” Ishida heard himself say, and he was too tired to even disguise his pride. His head felt too heavy to lift. He needed to rest. He was lying in a pillow of snow now, and Inoue san was kneeling with the snow past the tops of her thighs. Snowflakes were falling on her bright hair and forming a small pile on her lap. “See over there? That’s the Ice Palace. No one can leave except for short periods of time, but I can still leave whenever I want.”
“I always knew you were somebody special, Ishida-kun.”
The words struck him as odd, and Ishida remembered that he was dreaming.
Ice formed spectacular loops and slides and intricate geometries around pipes, crevices, and overhangs of buildings. The streets were ice. Windows were sheets of ice framed by blocks of ice and dusted with snow. The world could not be colder, but it was growing colder with each passing moment.
“You may--” Ishida struggled to rise to one elbow. “You may have my jacket, Inoue-san. We have to get out of here.”
“Sssh.” She pushed him back down with that insistent hot little palm of hers. “We don’t have to go anywhere. I’m not afraid.”
“No. We have to go.”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible, Ishida-kun. You have to rest, and I’m not going to leave you.”
Then she did an amazing thing. She lay down next to him—no, she lay right on top of him, her shoulders and head over his chest, and she pulled his arm so that it covered hers and wrapped around her waist. “Like this,” she said. “You can keep me warm like this.”
They were drowning in snow and ice.
Ishida put his gloved hand on her other shoulder. He felt the ache of Hueco Mundo’s failure again. “Inoue-san, this … won’t work. We’re going to die here.”
“Sssssh. You’re not always so smart. Have you forgotten what I’m capable of?”
He had indeed forgotten.
She was warmth herself. Even if she didn’t know who had hurt him or where or why and she could not reach the pain, she could sense the coldness that he used to cover the pain, and she was willing to lie there, in that stinging ice, in his arms.
“But I’m only dreaming,” Ishida whispered.
“That’s okay,” Inoue-san said. She turned her face to look at him with the kindest eyes he’d ever seen. “I’m dreaming too. We can get through this together. I will never let anyone hurt you again, Ishida-kun.”
His gloved hands tightened his hold on her as she said those words because he did not want her to say such things; he should be the one protecting her. As his embrace grew warmer, the snow and ice fell away.
“Not even doing my healing bubble,” Inoue said brightly, “and looky.”
The Shadow Realm fell away, as it was destined to turn tomorrow morning, and the Seireitei was revealed. The grass broke through the snow. Hidden spring flowers shone perfectly preserved inside ice-caps. The festive string of blue light-bulbs was on the ground now, each light miraculously aglow and glistening with wet snow.
“You can rest now, Ishida-kun,” said the beautiful girl in his arms. “I’m safe. You did well. Ssssh. Ssssh. It’s okay now.”
And when Ishida closed his eyes this time, the only darkness that fell was dreamless sleep.
In other news, the very reliable superior translation by cnet has come out and Orihime's speech differs greatly from what Mangapanda and Mangastream showed us. http://mangahelpers.com/t/cnet128/releases/38367 Orihime seems to be imagining a world re-set into one where a war did not occur at all. As with Shunsui's "very low" probability that Ichigo will not be able to return to the human world, Kubo seems to be telling us that just the opposite is a certainity, that Orihime can not seven-dragonball whatever horrors are to come by wishing them away. She's already done all her wishing for over a decade of manga. It's more than time for her to fight and act.
Trust me on this one.
Note--icon drawn by Pikeish for me a long time ago. I miss you so much Pikeish. Colored by Yorleni.
ETA: I blame a cold, but I forgot to thank nehalenia for looking over this manuscript. Her writing advice is invaluable.