A/N: I'm so sorry I haven't been updating, life was supposed to get easier, but decided to instead become more hectic. I'm attempting to create some semblance of a schedule, updating somewhere between Thursday and Sunday. Here's hoping it works. When in doubt, check my profile!
Background: Basically, this story is how I thought Bleach would overlap with Spirited Away if Memories of Nobody happened and Aizen was also defeated. There has to be some overlap between the worlds of Spirits and Yōkai, if they aren't the same world. This is also my explanation as to what the shadows that Sen sees are. Apparently weird things happen when you mix City of New Orleans by Arlo Guthrie and World of Midnight by Minako Obata, from Black Lagoon.
Disclaimer: I don't own either Bleach or Spirited Away; rights go to Tite Kubo and Hayao Miyazaki. No infringement was intended, no money is being made off this work. I own the plot and any similarities, which I don't know of at this point in time, are completely unintentional.
It's been a while since he's seen a real human. A person, not just humanoid (not that he has anything against such people – he'd be a hypocrite if he did), but in birth and nature and not somehow related to the world of spirits, yōkai (1), and gods. The last ones that were still living in the sense of "having to draw a breath and having blood pumping through their veins" were those two twins, something or another - ba, who had brought the memories of his sisters to mind. Of course, that was years ago, and they've rarely ridden the train since (neither has a reason to – since he'd ferried the older one to her bathhouse for good).
He guesses it's a good thing that he's able to still feel surprise. It's been too long. Too long alone, though his spirits are a comfort and prevent him from going completely mad. Too long since he last felt the Air, free from containment of any kind. Too long since he's last smelled the cherry blossoms… Too long since he's last felt comfort.
He can agree with Zangetsu and the dumb Sekkokuboku (2) he's been stuck with for years about the time spent imprisoned by this World. The long-felt irritation between his "twin" and he can't even break the apathy that's wrapped around him like the malicious strands of a spider-web. Ironic, since the only spider he knows has been trying to get him out of the business for years.
Zangetsu is the one who has the honor of collecting the tickets from those who need them. He doesn't need to speak and the dark shadows that obscure his face from the living allows him to have what necessary contact he needs, even if he looks stupid in the uniform, particularly the hat. No one can tell anyways. Even if they could, those who'd cared are gone to the three spirits.
Shiro is the lookout today. The breeze produced by the train at least gives the illusion of freedom – something the spirit has never truly known. He can't blame his twin. He's not sure he's even known freedom either, but at least now he's seemingly in control of where he's going.
They settle, the girl and her entourage (really, a Nopperabo (3), a midget bird, and a chubby hamster/mouse are her companions to see a feared witch? Not that he has room to talk as Shiro reminds him through their weird telepathic-parallel link. At least they aren't trying to invade a hostile society with limited training and a cat. Although, given the atmosphere around the group, he's inclined to believe that it isn't such a different situation). Zangetsu, content to disappear again after having communicated the requisite stop with the push of a button, settles onto his favorite pole in a world of three.
He starts the train again, letting it glide over the tracks, which are really just for display.
It's entertaining to see the girl's reactions to her fellow passengers. He's sure she isn't aware of the exact nature of the train's usual "patrons." The stops wouldn't help her realize it, either. Perhaps that's for the best.
Shiro starts to whistle. Why he's going on about the City of New Orleans, he isn't sure. But most of what Shiro does still doesn't make sense to him. The reverse is true as well.
He's still not sure how he landed the job. When the Soul Society had explained the concept of Senna as a conglomerate of memories (regardless of the fact that the only real thing he remembered about her was the way she liked hair ribbons), he'd been pissed to learn that the entire episode could have been avoided. So, like the idiot he was, he'd opened his mouth to give a suggestion. Somehow, people took his suggestion to mean that he was the one who should implement it – take responsibility and all that jazz.
So, maybe he did know how he ended up in this position, transporting memories to lands where they would thrive until they finally faded away. Even memories die.
It might have helped him "receive" his position as the conductor of the Spirit Train that he was so powerful, too powerful. In fact, as much as his younger self would be horrified to see his current apathy, driving a train beat languishing in prison, rotting in the lowest cells of the Maggot's Nest. Being considered a loose cannon did have its downsides.
There was a reason there are no other Shinigami (4) in this World and it isn't just about his power level (he ignores the whispers that point out that it is about his power, just not the one that everyone thinks of at first; he ignores the whispers that say how his once-famous strength has failed him). Not that Central 46 would have allowed them to come. Not that he'd ever tell them where he was. Not even the lonely weeping cherry.
Slowly the sun moves across the sky, simultaneously darkening the shades that surround his living passenger and hiding them further in the Dark. They see her Light. They know that they cannot stand its presence, fractured as they are, so they retreat even as they yearn for a similar light. No memory wants to die.
Swamp Bottom is the last stop that he makes, the girl nodding off along with the bird and hamster leaving the Nopperabo to stand guard. That creature at least has seen enough of the world to know that even though there are few dangers to the girl on the train, those dangers still exist. He's comforted by the knowledge that someone in that group isn't going in blind.
The train stop appears in the distance, and loath as he is to wake them, he presses the button to engage the recoded message. The Nopperabo gently nudges the girl, waking her, and indicates the approaching stop. Yawning slightly, the girl nods and gently pokes her two smaller companions. They wake and move to ride on her shoulder.
He pulls alongside the dirt path, marked by the Lantern (5), releases the doors, and leaves the girl to face the old, likely bitter, woman who once rode "his" train with such joy. Some vague remnant from a half remembered Grammar or Literature class conjures itself with the explanation that if this was a story, the trek and confrontation that will occur would be the Katabasis, or something like it. It tests if the heroine is strong enough to truly succeed, the test that may very well be the quest itself. He shakes his head, dispelling the memories, and, just for the sake of the remaining curiosity his heart holds, allows some of his power to slip free.
Searching, remembering the feeling of the strands of fabric that indicate a person's power, he reaches out with invisible hands, guided by equally invisible eyes. There in the darkness he sees, among the oddly colored strips of her companions, a pure white ribbon with just the hint of silver as it waves in the non-existent wind.
He smiles to himself and the clouds break a bit in the world of three, confident that the shimmer he caught a glimpse of would be sufficient to sway the old woman. Silver, after all, meant a change in path and purification, among the many meanings it held.
It was the color that once reflected the light when he saw his own spirit ribbon all those years ago.
(1) yōkai – creatures from Japanese folk tales, typically with some "monstrous" countenance, and generally intertwined with daily life. Depending on the source, they can be anything from helpful and benevolent to terrifying and incredibly destructive and hateful.
(2) Sekkokuboku – Snowberry, according to Google translate. Hey, if Ichigo is Strawberry, Shiro can be Snowberry. Apologies if someone else had the same idea.
(3) Nopperabo – the Japanese name for the yōkai, translated as No-Face
(4) Shinigami – Death God, Soul Reaper
(5) Lantern – I don't know what its technical name is so it is Lantern.
I'm going to try and finish typing the next chapter of Moon and Shield, so please bear with me! I have a few other plot bunnies running around so more one-shots may also appear.
Please tell me if I made a mistake somewhere and specify where, if I did! I appreciate all help, since this is self-betaed.