Author's Disclaimer: I do not own "Bleach." "Bleach" and its characters belong to Tite Kubo.I apologize in advance for any flaws of the characters or their world as they are based on my interpretation and research.

The storyline and non-Bleach characters are of my own creation.Please review as I value your feedback to improve my future FanFiction stories. I present to you "Pride's Moon Bride."

The predawn stillness, broken by birds' twittering, stirs Moriko from her restful slumber on the comfortable cushion of her futon. She jerks into an upright position at the sound of hoarse coughing. Her stomach twists into knots as she pushes back her patched blanket. Snapping her fingers, Moriko holds a small white moon, flickering with flame-like energy, on the fingertips of her right hand. Moriko stands, her midnight black hair tumbling to her knees, as she tiptoes softly around the hut to light the small collection of stubby candles. Light fills the rickety, coarsely shaped hut and falls upon the hut's other occupant: a frail, pale skinned and silver-haired man lies in restless slumber, covered in blankets.

Moriko closes her hand over the moon flame, making it disappear. Kneeling besides the old man, Moriko picks up a cloth from a bowl, squeezes the excess water and drapes it across his forehead. His eyes flutter open a few moments later, revealing blue eyes.

"Moriko," he croaks.

"Hai, Satoru-sama," Moriko whispers soothingly. "I'm here."

Satoru reaches a shaking, bone-thin hand toward Moriko. She gently clasps the cool, delicate skin, warming it between her hands. He clears his throat and speaks gently, despite the sweat and pain on his heavily wrinkled face.

"I would rather see your smile than your pain, child," he whispers.

His request's finality clenches Moriko's heart. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Moriko smiles down at her mentor as her eyes fight against tears. He smiles sadly back at her while he lifts his free hand to touch her cheek.

"When I came to the mountains," Satoru whispers, "I expected nothing but to spend my days playing my samisen to myself. That storm, when I found you, my life changed for the better. I have been blessed to watch you grow up from a helpless child into a beautiful and strong woman." He pulls up his patched blanket to cover his cough. A few moments pass before he could speak again. "You filled my years on the mountain with joy and adventure. They are here," Satoru says as he rests his weary hand over his chest, "and shall always be in my heart. My time has come. It is time to let me go."

Moriko squeezes her eyes shut as the tears leak down her cheeks to fall upon the long black hair pool between them. She opens her eyes to gaze down at Satoru.

"You have suffered for many months. It is selfish of me to want you to stay, but you are everything to me, Satoru-sama. I do not want to lose you... But… But if…If you must go…then go."

"I willl be going soon…but I will rest easier if you do me one last favor," Satoru states.

"Anything," Moriko promises.

His expression grows serious and stern, making her worry. She wonders what this favor was for him to appear so stern.

"Burn this hut and leave the mountain."

"What?" Moriko yelps. "But why? This is home."

A coughing fit prevents Satoru from answering immediately. Satoru clears his throat before he croaks, "You have extraordinary gifts. I don't know how or why you have these, but I believe there is a reason for them. Staying on the mountain would prevent you from harnessing them. Even as a child, you took care of and protected me. I want you to promise to use your gifts to take care of and protect others."

A wry smile touches his face as Satoru adds, "Perhaps I am the selfish one as I should have sent you off to bring your special light to others, so I could have spared you this pain. For the pain I am now causing you, I am sorry, Moriko," he whispers, reaching for her cheek again.

"Satoru-sama," Moriko brings his trembling hand to her cheek, whispering, "Being here with you now is what I want. I would never forgive myself for not being here to say good bye. I swear to uphold your promise."

"Thank you," murmurs the old man. "Good-bye…my child." His eyes close, and he looks as if a great weight had been lifted from him. Around Satoru's body, a very light gray line appears, surrounding him like a cocoon that steadily grows bolder, larger and darker. It takes Moriko a moment to master her voice.


His hand squeezes hers as a smile flickers on his face. Seeing him smile brings one to Moriko's lips. Satoru's hand grows limp in hers. Moriko watches the rise and fall of his chest, the excursion becoming slighter and slighter until it stills. All she could hear is her breathing and his faint heartbeat. One, two, three, four…Satoru's heart stops just as the aura around him turns completely black. Death, Moriko thinks before she bows her head and sobs in agony at losing her dear mentor, friend, and father.

Several hours pass before Moriko, her eyes puffy and red, finally finishes crying. Sniffing her runny nose, Moriko wipes her cheeks on her yukata's sleeve and covers the old man with the blanket. She shuffles on her knees to an old chest. From within the chest, Moriko removes her worn set of clothing: a black hakama, a gray obi, a white shitagi, a gray kosode and undergarments. Beside the woven stick door to the hut, Moriko picks up the towel she hung to dry during the night before she exits the small hut.

Clouds shroud the small hut while midafternoon's light infuses them with golden orange. An autumn wind chills her skin through the short white yukata she wore for sleeping. Moriko checks that the door is secured shut before she runs further up the mountain. Five minutes later, she hears the welcoming gurgle of the hot spring before her bare feet step not on the rough mixture of dirt and rock but on a carpet of grass with irises blooming all around her feet which she carefully avoids. A cloud moves past, revealing the small pool of bubbling water. Moriko places her clothing on the ground before she unties her obi and lets the yukata fall to rest gently on the grass and flowers.

Moriko inhales sharply as she settles into the hot spring's welcoming waters. She absorbs the spring's warmth for a few minutes before she dunks herself underneath. Keeping her eyes closed and holding her breath, Moriko grabs a handful of sand from the bottom and scrubs her skin as though scrubbing off death. Ten minutes later, Moriko rinses the sand from her body before she takes a handful the irises from the spring's edge and rubs the fragrant flowers into her hair. She rubs two more handfuls of irises into her hair before she ducks her head beneath the water one last time before she flips her hair back. Moriko stands on the soft grass, shivering, as she rubs the towel all over her unhealthy thin body. Hair wrapped in the towel, the woman dresses and runs back to the hut with her folded yukata over her arm. Death now cloaks the air surrounding the hut. Its black aura clings to the door's outline as its scent wafts through the air, causing Moriko's neck hairs to prickle.

Moriko breathes deeply and enters the hut. Her eyes linger on the covered figure of Satoru as the black outline slowly fades away from around his person. Shaking her head, Moriko thinks about what she needed. There is not much for her to take. She ate the last bit of food they had yesterday. Kneeling down before the chest, Moriko reaches for a haversack used for forging when her eyes shift to the mirror within the chest. The mirror reflects Moriko's red eyes and the towel around her head. With one hand, Moriko removes the towel, allowing her hair to fall. A wet yet neat row of bangs hangs over her forehead. She touches her black furred wolf ears perched on the top of her head. Moriko reaches into the chest to pull out a brush and begins the task of brushing her hair, thinking.

She never ventured down the mountain further than half a day's journey from the hut as Hollows prowled the mountain.

What will the world beyond the mountain look like, wonders Moriko as she finishes brushing her hair. She adds the hairbrush into the haversack, the wet towel and her yukata soon following. Standing, Moriko searches through the hut to find things she could take with her. Her eyes fall upon Satoru's black samisen. He loved his music and had taught her. Should she? Moriko ponders. After a few moments, Moriko picks up the samisen and slips it onto her back. She resumes her search around the hut. Fifteen minutes later, Moriko, the heavy haversack in her right hand, kneels beside Satoru's still form and pulls back the blanket. Her eyes burn at the sight of the face she loved, but Moriko blinks back her tears. Bending her head down, the woman kisses Satoru's cold forehead.

"Thank you for all you have done for me, Satoru-sama."

She folds his hands over his chest before covering him up again. Moriko picks up the haversack and exits the hut. Holding the door against the wind, Moriko glances over her shoulder one last time at Satoru's covered body before she closes the door. A snap of her fingers produces the moon flame energy.

"I wonder if someone beyond the mountain can help me understand the moon's significance, Satoru-sama." The young woman murmurs before she holds the moon flame energy beneath the door's frame.

After a few moments, the flame catches on the dry wood. The flames grow stronger and brighter, beginning to devour the hut she called home. Moriko remains close to it as tears trickle down her cheeks. Only the growing heat causes her to step away as the heat also dries her ebbing tears. She remains motionless, watching until the flames die down to leave behind only ash in the early evening setting sun.

"You're free, Satoru-sama." Moriko says to the wind and ashes. "I will keep the promise you asked of me."

Moriko turns her gaze downhill. She inhales deeply before she starts running from her home toward the unknown world at the base of the mountain.

To Be Continued…