Summary: Nova wants to know about souls, especially his own modified soul. His answers lie within the Soul Society, and the people that have the answers are the same ones with orders to destroy all mod souls. Eventual Nova/Chad.
Before he died, someone else's memory flashed in his mind. It wasn't his, and yet he knew it was. Then he ceased to be.
In that body, at least.
He awoke later inside a stuffed body. Nova tried to remember what he'd seen, but the image was fleeting, as elusive as a dream. It was nothing he remembered in his short time living in this world yet it felt like his own memory.
"Ririn? Is that you?" Urahara asked, seated cross-legged in front of the table, peering at him.
"No," he said, shaking his head.
"My mistake," Urahara said, striking him with the butt of his cane.
Nova awoke again, this time in the body of the stuffed turtle that had come to be his. He sat up. Ririn's and Cloud's stuffed animals were lifeless on the table. The table was bare except for their stuffed bodies and two cups of tea. Urahara's hands were folded neatly in his lap.
"Where are the others?"
"Destroyed, I guess," Urahara shrugged.
Nova's eyes stretched wide on his plush face. Urahara answered the question that he saw there.
"We looked for them in the debris, but we couldn't find them. With that level of attack, I'm not really surprised. Your gigais were completely destroyed."
Nova nodded numbly. Urahara sat with him a moment longer, but he soon left as the silence reigned. He looked down at the two stuffed animals that had been Ririn's and Cloud's. They looked as if they would sit up any moment, talking, animated, full of life. But they weren't going to, he knew. Their eyes were wide and dull. They were a doll's soulless eyes. Even if they were just modified souls, they still gave those eyes life.
He was just a sensor, a mod soul in existence only because of someone's whim, but Nova found himself relieved to still be alive. He was alive without his companions, though, and that made something inside him heavy. He could hear them, see them in his mind, squabbling, rambling, holding conversation that he could never find the words for. To think that they were gone, Nova couldn't reconcile that in mind yet.
Nova looked down at the plush bodies of his companions then to the door that Urahara slid shut behind him on his way out. He narrowed the red eyes on his stuffed body.
How hard had he looked? They were just sensors. What did that mean to them, to them who had souls and their own, real bodies? To them who created the ones like him, Ririn and Cloud? Nova knew very well what it meant because once it meant the same thing to him. It meant that they were only good for what they were made for. It meant that their existence was not as valued as others. It meant that their life was not really theirs, and that they shouldn't get too attached to it or anything within it. And so, he hadn't. As much as he had wanted to call Chad a friend, Nova kept him at a distance: he enjoyed his company, but he made sure that it would be nothing he could live without. What Nova hadn't realized, though, was that he had grown attached to his companions. He always thought they would die together. He never imagined he would be the lone survivor. And he didn't think he was. Nova glared at Urahara in his mind and then jumped off the table, grabbing Cloud's rabbit ear and Ririn's blue hood. He hoisted one body under each one of his stuffed arms and teleported them through the door, and it took most of his strength to even go that far in that body.
Nova took off running, through the hallway, to the store front, and out the open door where Ururu and Jinta were cleaning up.
"Hey, where ya goin'?" Jinta called.
Nova kept running, straight out of the lot and down the sidewalk.
"Hey! Wait! You can't go out like that!"
Their brooms dropped to the ground, clattering. Ururu appeared suddenly in front of him.
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you go out like that," she said.
"Yeah. Do you have any idea how freaked out people will be seeing a little stuffed animal running around?"
Nova half-turned, narrowing his eyes at Jinta. That was all he was, a stuffed animal not even allowed outside anymore. Nova held tighter to Ririn and Cloud's body and teleported across the street. Ururu and Jinta were there with him in an instant. So Nova teleported again, inside the store, out into the alley, up onto the fire escape, onto the roof, onto the roof of the other building, into a tree, on to the ground, further, and finally into a drainage pipe. He ran in, his plush feet splashing in the small puddle held in the pipe. He was so tired already. Teleporting had expended almost all of his energy, but he needed to keep going, wanting to put as much distance between him and his pursuers as he could because he could never outrun them and if they found him now he wouldn't be able to escape. So he followed the pipe through, slogging through the dirty water, past the intersection that sloped downward, and he came out on the other side in a ditch. Nova trekked through the mud and up the side, coming out by a lake near a neighborhood that he recognized. He hadn't gotten very far, but it was far enough for him.
He started running again, around the lake and around the neighborhood, trying to stay hidden in the ditch until it finally leveled off. Nova ran through the back alleys, hiding behind dumpsters, trashcans and cardboard boxes when he saw people. He ran until he could go no further, feeling the very threads of his body close to breaking. Nova didn't want to seat himself next to the dumpster lest he get confused for trash, so he stumbled into a door that someone left open while they took out the garbage. He dropped down behind two large crates and an empty glass cage.
Nova needed to keep going, to get to the place where they had fought the Arancar, to look for Ririn and Cloud. But he felt that his stuffed body would give out soon, feeling the threads loosening and his limbs ready to fall off, stuffing already coming out of the seams. This body was reaching its end.
"I need a new body," he said aloud, looking around the storage room for something he might use.
There was nothing in there that he could use. Nova tucked his companions' bodies out of sight and wandered out into the actual store. There were birds in cages and on perches, snakes and lizards in glass encasements, fish in tanks, ferrets, gerbils, hamsters, rats, rabbits, kittens and puppies. Nova didn't want to wander too far out, too afraid of being seen, so he stayed in the corner where no one was and peered inside the cage in front of him. There was an iguana in it, staring at him. Nova stared at it, wondering if he could use an animal's body while at the same time dismissing the thought. Animals had souls, didn't they?
"Are you just going to stare at it all day?"
Nova jumped at the voice, looking behind him for a human, but there wasn't anyone around.
"Up here," the voice said.
Nova looked up. Two shelves higher was another iguana, a much larger iguana. Nova reached up and grabbed the ledge of the next shelf, pulling himself up. He did the same for the next shelf, feeling more threads rip as he swung himself up. There was just enough room between the glass cages for his body to fit between.
"I've never seen anyone in a doll before. What are you exactly?"
Nova looked away. He was something looked down on, he'd come to realize, and he was almost too embarrassed to even admit what he was.
"A modified soul."
"Ah, last I heard there was an order out to destroy all the mod souls. Did they change their minds?"
Nova shook his head.
"Well, I guess that's good. I used to travel with someone who donated to that project. It's nice to see at least one of you is still out there. Do you know who you are?"
Nova's eyes drew down questioningly.
"Nevermind. It's not really important. I'm just talking. What brings you here?"
"This body can't go much further. I need a new one."
Tokagi flicked his tail.
"I see," he said. The spines on his back flared for a moment. "What do you need it for?"
"There are two other mod souls that I need to find."
Tokagi stood and stretched.
"I'll tell you what, let's make a deal. I'll lend you this body – that is how it works, right? - if you'll show me where you were found."
"I lost the person I traveled with shortly after we came here. I didn't much care what happened to me after that, so I've spent my years here. They feed me and give me a place to sleep, but it's a boring life. Seeing you gives me hope that you and your friends are not the only mod souls that have survived… There is one I would like to find."
"If you could help me out of this cage, I'd appreciate it," Tokagi said.
Nova closed his eyes and gathered up everything he had left in him and teleported Togaki out of his cage and out onto the floor. Nova jumped down beside him and they both quickly ran into the back and under the storage shelves where he'd tucked Ririn and Cloud's bodies.
"We need to get outside to do this. My real form is too big for this room."
The door was still open from earlier. Nova grabbed the two stuffed animals and followed Tokagi outside. The iguana turned and faced him.
"So, uh, how do I get you out of that body, Nova?"
Nova looked down at the ground.
"You need to reach into…" he gestured at his mouth and throat.
"And pull out the pill. I see."
Tokagi stood up on his hind legs and reached his front claw into Nova's mouth, politely ignoring the gags that Nova tried hold back. He felt his claws touch something round. He grabbed it and pulled it out, watching as the stuffed turtle fell to the ground. This was certainly weird, he thought, but he popped the green pellet into his mouth. He felt his soul form shoved out from his body.
Nova fell onto all fours in the new body. Tokagi stood in front of him, barely contained in the alley. There was a mane of black spikes around his neck and his scales had become a darker shade of green with black designs on them that reminded Nova of waves and stars.
"Thank you," Nova said.
Nova picked up Cloud by one of his ears and Ririn by her back tail feathers with his mouth.
Nova took off running down the alley, stumbling over the four legs at first, but quickly adjusting to the new body. Tokagi ran behind him on the rooftops. He avoided the crowds still, taking the back ways, until he reached the site. It must have been an office building because there were no bodies, they were all at home and tucked away in bed when their battle ensued. Nova stepped over the fallen sign of the company's logo that had once stood just off the sidewalk and looked up at the building. Only half of it still stood, the rest was in a scattered pile on the ground now. Desks, chairs, cabinets, doors, toilets: all of it was in the rubble, and some were still perfectly intact in what was left of the building. Shattered pieces of glass littered the ground and the debris.
"Is this the place?" Tokagi asked.
It was going to be a monumental task, almost impossible. Nova could see how Urahara could have missed the others. He didn't know how Urahara had even found him in this. But he was going to find them.
Nova drew his paw along the ground, feeling for the pill, moving dirt out of the way in case it had been half-buried. He carefully overturned the sign, sifting carefully through the rubble underneath. Tokagi snorted and mumbled to himself. Nova was sure he heard him say, "You've got to be kidding me," but he began digging through the rubble as well. Nova eyed him and promised himself that he would double check the arena Tokagi looked. They worked like that all day, crawling along the ground, lifting blocks and wriggling into tight corners, searching methodically. Nova worked into the night even as Tokagi curled up and went to sleep, snoring. Nova rolled the broken back of a porcelain toilet out of the way and pulled a U-shaped pipe out of the ground. He looked into the hole he'd pulled it out of and then inside of it. It was full of dirt. He knocked the pipe with the palm of his hand, but the dirt wouldn't budge. Nova tossed the pipe aside and continued on. He looked back at the pipe, thinking about the dirt inside it. He went back to it and stuck his tail into it, poking the dirt out. Nova sifted through it, but there was nothing.
He thought one of them would be there. He felt them. He always felt them. Was it just his imagination now? Were they really gone?
Nova lay down on the ground, exhausted. He just needed to rest a moment.
"Ririn," he answered. He was in his dimension, his black dimension. On the outskirts, he could see his exits, people and places. "Where?"
"It's a game, Nova. It's called Hide and Seek. I hide and you seek."
Nova looked all around, frustrated. She wasn't in her gigai, making it even harder for him to find her.
He followed the direction he thought her voice was coming from.
As he woke, something flashed across his mind, a bloody fight and a sword, a scream, the smell of sweat and nature.
Tokagi nudged him awake. Nova opened his eyes to a bright sky.
Nova stepped away from Tokagi as he tried to talk to him. He reached out for Ririn and Cloud's spiritual energy. They were so small, almost too small to feel with everything else in the air. But he had felt them all yesterday, he was sure. He just couldn't tell where. Nova opened up his dimension and stepped into it, feeling them out. Here he could see better, see what he was feeling for, and he had to do this fast before he lost their feeling in the waves of the world and the real souls. He spotted Cloud and pulled him in. He couldn't find Ririn, though. Nova concentrated harder, but that only brought in more of the outside world, of the people with real bodies and real souls, not the modified soul of his companion.
Then he saw her. Nova pulled her quickly into his dimension and then dropped them all out by their stuffed bodies. He dropped Cloud and Ririn into their respective stuffed animals. They both sat up.
"Nova? Is that you? What are you doing in that body?" Cloud asked.
"It's a long story."
Ririn pulled her knees up under her chin.
"The Arancar, it destroyed our gigais, didn't it, Nova?" She said it more as a statement.
"Our gigais…" she murmured and then suddenly began to cry.
Cloud wrapped his ears around her in a hug.
"There, there. I'm sure we can get Urahara to make us new ones. Don't you think so, Nova?"
"Oh, do you really think so?" Ririn asked. "Yeah, he could make us new ones."
"Even better than before," Cloud agreed.
Nova looked away. He didn't think Urahara would be making them anything.
Ririn stepped in front of him. She suddenly through her arms around his scaly neck, hugging him.
"You came back for us!"
"Ah, yes!" Cloud wrapped his ears around Nova and Ririn. "You saved us. Thank you, thank you!"
Ririn released him.
"Hey, come on! Let's go! We need to talk to Urahara about getting new gigais."
"Ah, Nova, who's your friend?" Cloud asked.
Tokagi introduced himself and told them about meeting Nova in the pet shop and the deal he had made with Nova to let him borrow his iguana body. Nova didn't say anything as they rode on Tokagi's back all the way to Urahara's shop. Ririn directed him. Nova wrapped his tail around his borrowed body. He didn't tell them that he didn't think Urahara would make them new bodies, nor that Urahara had left them for dead. They had no place, no meaning, not to Urahara. Nova worried that Urahara might take them all from even their stuffed bodies now that they were no longer useful, that he might return them to the same non-life he'd created them from.
After all, they were just mod souls. They weren't real. But what were mod souls that he and his companions weren't considered real?
Author's Note: I know that there are many out there who hate this arc because it isn't cannon. It's filler, as are some of the characters. However, I grew very fond of Nova and the relationship he had with Chad. They seemed kindred. I searched for stories that explored their relationship, but so far I've come up empty-handed. So I decided to write a story myself. However, in thinking about the mod souls, I found another story that needed to be told. Bleach doesn't dig too far into "souls." I will. I'll tell both stories. (I believe Nova has so much potential.)
Also, as fair warning, Ririn and Cloud will be in this story. They are inseparable from Nova, as much as I wish otherwise. My biggest obstacle now is to see if I can like them so that I might write them for you to like as well.