tasogaretaichou: (Rukia Strawberry)
[personal profile] tasogaretaichou
OMG I split the chapter. I NEVER have to split chapters. Fekking canon-rehash... Anyway, here is Ch. 7 of SoS, the 2nd part should be forthcoming, as in hopefully I'll get to finish it tonight and post it up bc there are 11 chapters total in the fic and I'd REALLY like to actually finish a long-running chaptered fic for a change rather than having 4 or 5 of them ( ADROS, SoS, GD, Genesis, GWE, PH ) all running at once because I'm a tool who takes forever to actually finish something I start. Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys, it's fun and interesting to look at Rukia's memories and past through ichigo's eyes. And anyone who has a problem with me referencing the children and events from Fade to Black can suck it. I don't care if they aren't truly 'canon' or if they are marysue or whatever anyone thinks. I enjoy them, as I enjoy Kusaka and Senna and all the other movie and OVA and filler characters, and I generally use all such events in my Bleach head-canon, simply fitting them in as I see fit here and there.

Shards of Spirit
Fandom: Bleach
Characters: Ichigo X Rukia
Rating: R
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach, now go read.
Spoilers: Up to Rukia's fight with Arroniero. SoS takes a slightly alternate path and follows the idea that after everyone's initial fights, they were able to retrieve Inoue and return to Karakura. Obviously, anything in canon since then will not be referenced here.
Summary: Do we ever get a second chance? An option to redo what we did wrong? And if we did, would we know what to do when it was given to us? When a mistake threatens to cost Ichigo the thing he never realized was most important, how far will he go to get it back?
Gravely injured, hovering at the brink of death, Rukia remains trapped within her mind, a prisoner to her own inner demons, while Ichigo, determined to restore her, faces not only her own darkness but the fears and illusions in his own heart by journeying into her mind itself to find her and bring the pieces of her soul back together.

The darkness seemed to permeate, to worm it’s scintillating way into every facet of his mind, the only thing keeping him from madness being an odd sort of whispering that echoed off of the figurative walls of his subconscious. The whispering -- if it could be called that -- drew at him, pulling and prodding at the fringes of his consciousness in an ever-increasing pitch and volume. It raised, lowered, and undulated with sound, as a new voice added it’s notes, followed by another, until the faint murmurings seemed almost deafening and he felt the urge to cover ears he didn’t have with hands that he also didn’t possess.

Recoiling from the internal noise, Ichigo fought the overwhelming throng, heaving a mental sigh of relief as the edge of consciousness broke over him with a wash of golden light, sweeping away the tormenting voices as he hesitantly cracked open amber-hued eyes. The torrent of light and colour assaulted his vision and with a groan, he rolled over on his side as he blinked back tears at the sudden onslaught.

Someone get the number of that truck...?

He expected that ice-tinged voice to break into his musings as she always tended to, reading his thoughts as though she owned them and finding some sarcastic quip to add. Shirayuki, he was convinced, got some sort of sadistic pleasure from his discomfort, given the way the zanpakutou spirit’s red-painted lips always seemed drawn in some sort of little half-laughing smirk whenever he did something stupid. Only... this time it didn’t come. There was no haughty, superior-acting zanpakutou spirit waiting to mock him for his frail human sensibilities and the audacity of actually NOT knowing everything that was going to happen and did happen in this world, as the little girl seemed to like to pretend. He knew it was pretend because he knew that knowing the future was just so much bullshit, even if you were a spirit.

Pushing himself slowly to his hands and knees, he shook dust from orange hair, spitting out the dirt that had somehow managed to get into his -- Pausing, he blinked down at the packed brown earth beneath his hands. Dirt? But they’d been in that water-filled room, the vaulted antechamber that had seemed more like some sort of temple than anything, with it’s carved butterfly-shaped stepping stones and that red-rimmed dais at the top. They’d been at the top, but then...

Sitting back, he rubbed his aching head, trying to put the pieces of his own thoughts together into some semblance of order and sense. That was right, they’d been in that creepy place with the faces in the water, faces that had looked like him, that had tried to grab him and drag him down with them, and then that... that thing had shown up, and..

With a muffled curse, he was on his feet immediately, one hand reaching for Zangetsu as amber-brown eyes scanned the surroundings for any sign of the black-washed version of Shirayuki with it’s mocking Hollow’s face. Instead of the Hollow, or even the now-familiar surroundings of the dim, watery chamber, he found himself staring into a familiar sight; the streets of Rukongai, what he vaguely recognized as Inuzuri, where Rukia had once told him she’d grown up. The dusty ground, the shabby buildings and tenements, knotted cords strung from window to window, hung with washing in various colours, most of it faded and frayed at the edges. It was like opening a door and walking back into Soul Society. And with Rukia missing, it was eerily reminiscent of the last time he’d had to search for her there, when the two Hollow children had nearly destroyed Soul Society in their attempt to turn back time and keep her with them forever.

But the thing that seemed the most unsettling, the thing that had him the most on-edge, was the complete lack of any signs of life here. Like the snow-crusted village they had first encountered, this facsimile of Inuzuri seemed deserted, abandoned. A light breeze blew sporadically, the only sound the faint flapping of coloured scraps of cloth as the laundry caught and translated the breeze into a fanciful play of colour. Ichigo shuddered slightly -- the village had been creepy enough, at least THERE he didn’t know there were supposed to be people wandering around -- as he took a few steps forward, his senses searching for any sign of life. Or for Shirayuki, for that matter, as there had been no sign of the  white-garbed little girl spirit since he’d woken up.

Great... now I’m stuck here and my guide somehow decided it’d be a great time to go wandering off somewhere.

Raising a hand to rake it through mussed orange hair, he spun as he caught the faintest flicker of motion at the fringes of his perception. Narrowing his eyes, it took him a moment to spot the small figure crouched in the shadows of one of the buildings, studying him with huge violet eyes as she sat on her haunches like a small rabbit. Though, he had to admit it was fitting, seeing as the little girl’s head was adorned with what could only be a pair of long white ears, twitching slightly with the breeze, pale blue flowered kimono offset by the dinginess of the world around her. With a start, he recognized her as the little girl from earlier, the child-version of Rukia who had appeared to them at the start of their journey.

Dropping his hand from his head, he strode over towards her, only to scowl slightly as she darted away from him like a frightened animal, ducking behind the edge of the building to peer out at him. Scratching his head, he sighed. He wasn’t really good at this kind of thing, kids always thought he had a scary face.

“Hey.... you don’t have to run away. I’m not gonna hurt you.”

She drew back further, eyes still locked on him.

“Hey... say something. You got a name or something? Come on, I need your help since your grouchy big sister’s vanished.”

Frowning, he made a grab for the child, who scampered around him with a small bleat of fear, pressing herself into the narrow corridor of an alleyway he couldn’t get into.

“I am not grouchy, Kurosaki-sama. And you are wasting your time. She will neither come to you nor speak to you.”

Spinning around, he found the familiar figure of Sode no Shirayuki standing there, white garments somehow untouched by the dirt and dust of this portion of Rukia’s mind. His subconscious pointed out that it had been that way wherever they’d gone, the white-garbed little girl’s kimono -- not to mention her long, trailing hair -- always neat and pristine, unsullied by anything around them, be it water, dirt, or even blood. Must have had something to do with the fact that she was a part of Rukia or something like that. Scowling, he gestured to the cringing figure of the little rabbit-girl who slipped out of the crack in the wall and skipped further down the road to stop in the center, a small figure standing there almost as if waiting for them.

“So then what the hell am I supposed to do? You said she was a piece we’re looking for, right?”

Shirayuki nodded, the pendant gems on her headdress dancing with her motion. Casting ruby gaze towards the girl, she watched as the small child stiffened slightly, her expression changing fractionally as she responded to the silent command. Satisfied on some level, she turned gracefully towards Ichigo, chin raised in her normal haughty countenance.

“She is the Keeper of Memories, Kurosaki-sama. Perhaps the most important piece, though not truly the one that we seek. She is the holder of Mistress’ heart, and the guardian of all the things she holds dear within it. Of all of us, she knows Kuchiki Rukia’s heart and mind the best, as she is the small core of innocence and purity within us all, that portion of our hearts and minds in which we secrete our most cherished wishes. This place...”

She gestured with a sweeping motion to the battered buildings and structures around them, the sleeve of her kimono sweeping in a wide arc as she did so.

“... is her domain. We are visitors here, and we should remember it as so. While she will not harm us in any way, do not forget that this world is comprised of memories. Memories can hurt. They can kill, if the need should arise. And they can reveal many things about ourselves that we would choose to keep hidden. Do not forget that this is Mistress’ heart. There will be things here that you shall see that are not meant for your eyes. Do not sully that with your own selfishness.”

He growled under his breath slightly, scowl deepening.

“OK, I get it. So what the hell do we do, then? You said she won’t talk to us, and we can’t catch her, so what do we DO?”

The zanpakutou spirit regarded him with a level stare for a moment. Really, he was such a stubborn man, and so caught up in himself that he obviously took leave of the simple things such as logic.

“We follow her, of course.”

With that, she summarily dismissed him, turning towards the little girl with a nod. Ichigo bit his tongue against the angry retort -- would it kill her to NOT do that crap where she acted so high and mighty? Growling slightly, he closed the distance between them to stand behind her petite figure.

“OK, let’s go.”

Shirayuki turned red eyes up to him as her form wavered, seeming almost to destabilize like a hologram turning to static.

“In this place it is difficult for me to maintain myself in a form such as you are accustomed to. I cannot follow, though I will be nearby should you need me.”

At that, her form faded, splashing down into a gush of chill water that froze into a star-burst of crystal as it hit the ground. Ichigo jumped back in startled surprise -- doing this alone wasn’t something he’d really counted on, especially when he had no clue exactly what he was supposed to be doing. His scowl deepened as he shook the remnants of frosted water from his hakama, looking up to where the small form with it’s rabbit ears stood waiting a scant 30 yards ahead. Well, at least she was still there.

Without hardly a warning, the little girl stiffened, her head shooting up like a rabbit who had just caught wind of a dog, ears pricked and erect. Her eyes widened fractionally and then she was off in a blur of pastel cotton and the faint sound of bare feet striking the packed, dusty ground. With a curse, Ichigo took off after her, As they ran, he could hear Shirayuki’s voice whispering into his mind as they rounded corners and crashed through alleyways.

Kurosaki-sama... be careful. Every passage that we travel through in this place will potentially take us into another portion of Mistress’ memories. Her thoughts. There will be things you will see, things you will be privy to, that you can neither influence, or change. You must understand this. While it seems innocuous... this is a dangerous stretch of our journey. Mistress, like anyone else, has demons in her past, darkness hidden in the recesses of her mind. There is a chance that we may encounter some of these, simply as observers, and you cannot lose sight of our true purpose.

He shook his head, as if by doing so he could somehow dislodge the voice the way one would dislodge a clinging veil of lace -- ironically enough, he’d just done that with some of the laundry they’d blundered into -- and snapped at her.

“OK, I get it, now shut up and let me concentrate on following her!”

Focusing his attention back on the running form of the little girl, he scrambled through a narrow alleyway, only to stumble into... somewhere else. Staggering slightly as he nearly slammed right into several people, Ichigo blinked in startle, looking around. This place... looked like Inuzuri, it was Inuzuri.... but it was the Inuzuri he remembered, packed with wandering souls as they milled about, some seemingly in a daze and others just going about daily lives. He absently made to step around people, muttering a ‘sorry’ here and there when he bumped into them, but none of them seemed to even notice his presence in their world.

Must be one of those memories that she was talking about.

It was... eerie, to be honest. Things looked the same, and yet... they didn’t. The sun was in a different place than it had been just a few moments ago, but beyond that, even the colours of everything were different. Muted, almost as though seen through a filter, their colours bleeding faintly together at the edges. As he pondered what portion of Rukia’s memories this could be, his attention was drawn by a familiar-sounding voice as it shouted. Spinning around from side to side, he looked for the source of the shout, childish and young though the voice was. He knew that voice, would know it even in his sleep.

Shoving people halfway aside, he was soon rewarded by the sight of a group of children who came barreling through the crowd, dodging around legs and kicks, purloined jugs of water clutched in dirty little hands as they ran from a rather large man waving a club. As they dashed past him, Ichigo felt his eyes widen in startle as he recognized one of them, unruly mop of crimson hair tied up into the same ponytail that it always was, dark brows drawn together over brown eyes, face absent of the tattoos that he was used to seeing.

“That’s.... Renji? Then that means...”

Searching through the crowd, he scanned the figures of the other children, looking for a small one with black hair, confused when his quick search yielded no results.

But I thought Rukia said she and Renji grew up together....

Ichigo’s attention was once more drawn to the cluster of children -- or more accurately, to the man with the club -- as a lavender-hued bullet darted into the mix, small foot outstretched to knock the man’s feet out from under him, young face pinched into a look that he knew well. Despite their current situation, and the true gravity of his presence here, it was hard not to crack a wry chuckle at seeing a young Rukia acting so, well... Rukia-like. She was still bossy, still an annoying brat as she stood up and demanded to know what the hell the others thought they were doing just standing there and gawking while the water-seller was getting back to his feet. And then they were gone, darting past him as though he wasn’t even there, and suddenly he noticed another black-haired figure trailing them, white ears pulled back against her head as she ran.


They were just kids, it wasn’t that hard to keep up with them, but they had a head start and beyond that, they knew this ground. And while he’d been to Inuzuri once before, that by no means meant that he’d memorized the layout of the sprawling district. Cursing under his breath as he crashed through a doorway, the people around him strangely unconcerned when their environs changed and shifted to accommodate his presence, he tore a grimy and faded door hanging from his face and continued after the 6 small figures.

Kurosaki-sama... there is no need to rush so. She will not leave you behind for long, should you fall behind her pace. Remember that any damage you cause in this world is damage to Mistress’ soul herself. That includes such mundane things as doors and walls.

“And if I don’t do all of this in time, then Rukia dies, right? I think that’s a bit more important!”

Whether Shirayuki agreed with him or not, her voice in the back of his mind fell silent as he ran, noting with a passing interest that the thick urbanity of the district was falling away, the houses -- if you could call them that -- spreading out as things became more rural. His lungs were aching, muscles protesting loudly by the time they reached their destination. Pressing palm to a nearby tree, he watched as the cluster of children ducked under a fence and scuttled like little beetles into the windows and doorways of a rather sizable -- for being a shack -- house that looked as though it was ready to fall apart if too strong of a breeze blew against it’s timbers. As he watched, a small face topped by long white ears poked itself out of one of the windows. dark eyes finding his and holding his gaze for a long moment before she withdrew into the house again. He shrugged, muttering under his breath.

“I guess that means ‘follow me’....”

Checking almost instinctively for the familiar weight of Zangetsu against his back -- not that this was even the real Zangetsu to begin with -- the orange-haired shinigami made his way over towards the shack, eying it with some degree of trepidation. Not only did it look as though it were about to fall apart if he breathed on it a bit too hard, but nearly all of the holes and windows that qualified as ‘doorways’ were the proper size for small, scrawny children. Not for a larger frame like his. There was a doorway, covered with a somewhat ragged hanging of blue -- or what had once been blue -- cloth, a shabby wooden panel leaning against the wall beside it, what he could only assume was a shutter designed to keep out the cold at night. He headed towards the doorway, then hesitated. Simply walking into someone else’s home uninvited wasn’t really polite, and while he could have cared less for that, neither did he really want to be set-upon by half a dozen children if they mistook him for someone who would harm them.

Have you forgotten, Kurosaki-sama? In this world, none will be aware of your presence, save she who guides us and myself. Do not waste time on petty concerns such as this.

“OK, I get it, I get it! Quit lecturing, you’re as bad as Rukia.”

He got the faintest sense of surprised amusement from the crackling voice in the back of his mind, still fighting the urge to shiver at the whisper-touch of her presence. He’d never liked the idea of someone else in his head, it was too reminiscent of the Hollow, how it felt to have that sinister other-self, that secondary consciousness twittering in the back of his mind during times when he should have been at peace with himself. And while the Hollow was a malevolent force and Shirayuki was not, the mere fact of her presence there gave him the same vague crawly sense, as though he had walked through an invisible spiderweb that he couldn’t seem to peel off of himself.

Reaching out, he hooked fingers around the worn linen hanging, surprised for a moment at how thick the fabric actually was, and pulled it aside, ducking his head to step into the one-room dwelling. Well... it wasn’t exactly one room. Looking around, he had a hard time not feeling a tad bit impressed at the ingenuity of small children. Here and there, they had rigged up wooden boxes and empty crates, leveling planks of wood across them to make a sort of catwalk of lofts and shelves. Here and there he could see the flash of colour from blankets and curtains that partitioned the room into a visual cacophony of individual sleeping areas. Thick ropes hung here and there, either tying together pieces that didn’t seem entirely stable, or serving as a quick means down from some of the higher platforms.

Wow.... this would have been a fantastic play-fort when I was a kid....

Perhaps a pastime for another time, Kurosaki-sama.

Shirayuki’s dry wit echoed through his thoughts and he scowled in response. He wasn’t hurting anything by looking, and hadn’t she said nothing he did here would be noticed by the individuals who made up this world? His thought must have reached her -- not surprising, it seemed all the other ones he came up with did -- because she responded with an equally unamused comment that such being the case, there was still not time for him to dawdle amidst his own childhood reminiscences.

Glancing up at a commotion, he watched as one of the older kids took something from a much smaller boy, holding the purloined item -- candy, he could see some of the star-shaped pieces fall out of the ripped bag as the older boy held it aloft -- and proceeded to mock the child, declaring that he didn’t need it, as none of them had enough spiritual power to need to eat. Growling to himself, he began to take a step in spite of the fact that they couldn’t see him. It wasn’t right, to take something from a child that way.

Before he even had a chance, Rukia was there, knocking the older boy down and pinning him in place, small frame straddling his chest as she scolded him, reminding him that they were all the same, that small pleasures and enjoyments belonged to all of them, not only to a privileged few.
As Ichigo watched, startled and -- he’d never have admitted it to Rukia -- impressed, the young girl in the purple flowered kimono knelt down in front of the small boy, patting his head before giving him her own portion of the treasured sweets. Ichigo found his eyes following her slight figure as she ducked out of the doorway, and before he even knew what had happened, he was following, watching as she hopped up into a tree, legs swinging idly as she watched the setting sun.

It was so strange to see Rukia this way, the Rukia he’d always thought he knew so well. It wasn’t that she was so different, because... really, she wasn’t. But seeing her like this, seeing that noble, proud carriage even amidst a world like this.... was like shining a different light onto a portrait he’d only ever viewed from one direction. He’d always assumed that the way she held herself, the way she treated others... that they were things she’d learned being part of the noble Kuchiki clan. That they were bits and pieces of the training that anyone in a noble family received in regards to how they were ‘supposed’ to act and treat others.

Mistress was not always as you know her, Kurosaki-sama. You seem surprised, though I know that you are familiar with that fact. So why does it strike you as so strange that she behaved as she does not out of training, but out of innate nature?

He... honestly didn’t know, and he said as much with a shrug and an unconscious mental response as he stood there, hardly conscious of the other children ducking out of the door around him, seeming to avoid crashing into him by some unknown method, even though they weren’t aware of his presence.

Come, Kurosaki-sama... it’s time to leave this place and continue on...

Nodding, even as his eyes remained trained on the figure of a young Rukia in the tree, watching as the slightly taller figure of Renji came out of the house and addressed her. It was strange, but... he wanted to keep watching, to keep observing as she turned her head to remark to the redhead, smiling and nodding.

I’ve.... never seen her smile like that...

The thought bit at him, more than it should have, but he forced himself to turn away, to where the twin figure with the rabbit ears stood on the small path, seemingly awaiting him. Sighing, he regarded her with a somewhat irritated glare, to which she responded by twitching one ear before taking off at a run again. Ichigo cursed under his breath and followed, the laughter of the children and the house with the blue door fading slowly into the background.

The pathway widened, then narrowed again, and he dodged around a wall that hadn’t been there before, as their surroundings changed again, reverting back to a different part of Inuzuri, a portion that seemed even more familiar to him. Skidding to a stop, he stood in the center of the packed-dirt road, frowning. This.... this was....


Spinning around, he cast his eyes about for something he’d only heard about from her words, and even those words had been vague and somewhat avoidant; a reminder of a past she didn’t like to talk about, a past that had brought pain. Amber eyes narrowed as he darted through the streets, seeking the edge of the urban zone, mind racing.

No.... this isn’t right. I know this place, but.... she said once....

Panting, he skidded to a stop as he caught sight of a flash of lighter colour, squinting to make out the two small forms darting through the legs of the crowd, one head topped by unruly platinum hair, holding the hand of a smaller child.


Ignoring Shirayuki’s voice as it began to speak in the back of his head, he followed his instincts, following the two small children as they made their way up a hill and around a bend. As he ran, the ominous roll of thunder split the air as the skies opened up and it began to pour. Ignoring the drenching rain, he kept going, following the children only to stop and hang back as they ducked into an old building. As the tattered tatami door slammed shut, Ichigo stepped out from under the shelter of what had once been an old shed. Now it was little more than a few upright timbers and a measly patch of roof that did little to keep the rain off of his head. Narrowing his eyes, he studied the structure in front of him. It wasn’t imposing, but it was likely that in it’s life the building had served some important purpose. His history teachers would have likely called it a castle, with it’s wide-spanning porch and multitude of tatami doors, each likely leading into it’s own room. In a way, it reminded him of a much more run-down version of the Kuchiki estate.

Heedless of the driving rain, he made his way across the expanse of sparse grass and pebbles that served as a yard, nodding to himself when another small figure detached itself from the fabric of the landscape and slipped into one of the doorways. Even though she wasn’t physically there, and was hitch-hiking a ride in his brain, he couldn’t resist cocking his head towards where she’d gone, as if to address Shirayuki with a ‘see? I DID know what I was doing.’

Perhaps you did. Or perhaps you are simply lucky.

Her response to his unspoken quip was icy and abrupt, before she resumed her silent parasitism of his subconscious. It was probably a bad idea, but he allowed himself the slightest smirk at her expense.

Shirayuki, for her part, was too proud to admit that she’d been surprised when the boy had deviated from the path, ignoring the trail that the Keeper was leaving for him and running off like some lunatic into the midst of Rukongai. Kurosaki didn’t know this place, he’d never been here more than twice and she knew for a fact that her mistress had never taken the young man to this particular location from her past. And yet... he’d somehow instinctively known where they were, what they were seeking. He’d found the children, and he’d followed them. It could easily be argued away as simple luck and little more, but.... some portion of her was reluctant to do so. Perhaps because if it were no more than luck... then this venture would only prove to end in tragedy. She needed it to be more than luck.

Slipping into the old ruin was easier than it would have been otherwise, in part because this time he remembered that none of them could see or hear him and that there was little reason for subtlety and secrecy. If they couldn’t see him, then it meant he didn’t have to sneak around and try to find a way to do this silently. The room was dimly lit, but it carried the sound of childish giggles and Rukia’s soft voice as she chided them, ruffling their wet hair with a spare cloth and scolding them for coming back drenched. In the faint light lit by the crack of lightning across the sky, he watched an older Rukia kneel in front of them, promising to give them names. Seeing the way they squealed and danced around, he felt the corner of his mouth quirk up slightly.

“I guess I never thought about it... how many kids die in the world. And they come here... and get reborn... and there’s no one to take care of them. No one... to even give them names.”

It was a sobering thought, and one that made him clench his fist in anger as the injustice of it all. He could almost feel Shirayuki nod in the back of his mind, her cold fingertips whispering against his shoulders as though she rode on his back the way Rukia often did, speaking softly into his ear.

It is the lot that many in this place share, Mistress among them. Had she not been cared for in her youth by Hisana-sama... then she would have been one of these nameless children, growing up in a place where everyone scrapes for survival, and those who care for any beyond themselves are few and far between. It is for that reason, that Mistress strove so hard to give them lives worth the living.

Watching as the two children danced around, finally tackling Rukia in a hug that she lovingly returned, he nodded simply to the spirit. This... was a pain he couldn’t share; that of not having a name. In truth... he’d always complained somewhat about his lot in life, until Rukia had shown up and showed him that what he’d always thought was more irritation than anything... could be a force for protecting those he cared about. And watching as she gave the two their names, he couldn’t help but feel that he was far from being the only one whose life she’d touched thusly.

He watched for another few minutes until he felt a slight tug at his hakama, glancing down in time to see the rabbit-eared child dart away from him with a beckoning look before slipping out the window. Sparing one last glance for the tender scene in the dimness, he followed her out into the rain... only to find himself on a grassy pathway, leading up a hill. Pausing in confusion, he couldn’t shake a sudden and inexplicable sense of wrongness, a sense of....


Glancing around his hand went to Zangetsu’s hilt as he pulled the gleaming blade from his back, dropping into a ready stance as he cast about with his senses, trying to pinpoint it’s location. Shirayuki’s voice whispered up from his mind, a tone of sadness tinging her words.

Kurosaki-sama.... this will be one of those times I spoke of. These happenings... they are in the past, and as such, they cannot be altered or changed. The things that happened, and the things that will happen along our journey... we are merely observers. They are pieces of Mistress’ past, pieces that have shaped her into the woman that you know. Not every piece is formed with joy. There are those formed with sorrow, with despair... and with loss.

He ignored her words as a scream split the air, followed by another, the childish treble and soprano mixing together into a melody of terror as the Hollow’s reiatsu flared again. Breaking into a run, the shinigami headed for the end of the path, the top of the hill, where he knew it was, knew that he needed to go. He could hear the screams, the frightened cries of the children for Rukia, and even as fast as he ran he somehow knew he’d be too late. His periphery registered a flash of colour, as a smaller figure in a wine-red patterned kimono darted past him, bare feet flashing against the ground as she ran, answering her charges’ call. Topping the hill, he arrived just in time to see the Hollow-possessed shinigami lifting Rukia into the air, his meaty hand tight around her throat as she choked and clawed to break his grip, the tip of the red scythe at the end of it’s tail glowing as it began to wipe away her memories.

And then it was over, as the little girl made a valiant effort, picking up the asauchi and stabbing the Hollow in the leg. Ichigo bit his lip, teeth clenched in rage as the man slaughtered both children, the little brother trying to protect his sister at the last. Forcing his legs to move, he stopped numbly beside Rukia’s unconscious form, watching as the bloodied forms of the two children glowed and vanished, his mind automatically supplying the information that Urahara had shared when the truth had come to light.

Now.... they’re in Hueco Mundo.... with the Hollow....

Tightening his fist, he gritted his teeth in anger, hardly noticing anything until the rabbit girl’s small hand tugged at his.

This.... this shouldn’t have happened!

Those words can be said of many things, Kurosaki-sama, in many lifetimes. Would you wish every sadness, every tragedy in your life away, that you would not have learned to become strong?

He wanted to punch her, if she’d been there... he might have. But even then he couldn’t deny that her words were true. Sadness and hardship in life.... only made one stronger. Kneeling beside Rukia’s prone form, he reached out, then paused. She couldn’t feel him... right? It wasn’t as though he could make any difference, but even still his hand lowered, brushing black hair from her forehead as he whispered.

“... You’ll see them again, Rukia.....”

Stepping back, he watched for what seemed like an eternity until she stirred, sitting up and pressing a palm to her forehead in confusion as she looked around. For just a moment, she seemed to look for something in particular, only to shake her head as though to chide herself before pushing herself to her feet and staring off over the horizon. Hearing footsteps behind him, Ichigo turned and glanced over his shoulder to see an older Renji approaching, concern on his face. Stepping aside out of some unconscious deference, he watched as the two paused to stare at the setting sun before turning together and making their way back down the path. The rabbit-eared child followed at a surprisingly reasonable pace as they made their way along other paths and streets and up to another hill, this one overlooking the river, and beyond that... Seireitei. Cresting the ridge, Ichigo’s eyes moved from the trio of small wooden crosses to Rukia’s silhouette against the glowing sun and suddenly he knew.

This is where....

“Renji.... let’s become shinigami. If we become shinigami... we can live in the Seireitei. It’s a better life there.....”

Watching the resolve on her face, the hope in her eyes, Ichigo pushed back an unexpected lump in his throat. He always knew that being a shinigami meant the world to Rukia. It was who she was, what she was... how she defined herself. He even knew the choice she’d made, that it hadn’t been an easy one, but now standing here, seeing it firsthand, there was a new sense of respect for the gravity of it, for what it had taken to make such a decision. A new sense of understanding for the resolve Rukia -- and to a degree Renji -- must have possessed to climb to where they were from so little. He could almost follow her words with his own lips, as he watched her face harden with determination as Renji nodded and the silent pact was made between them. A pact to find a better life. Dropping his eyes down to the small girl who was now clinging to his hakama, he raised an eyebrow, sighing slightly as she cringed back from his expression.

“All right..... now what?”

She twitched her nose in a very bunny-like way before giving another tug to his hakama and darting off down the street, disappearing between the alleyways in a patter of footsteps. Growling in frustration -- couldn’t she just pick a speed and stick with it? -- Ichigo took off without a second look back.


tasogaretaichou: (Default)

November 2010

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