I live!

Sorry for the delay everyone. I don't know how may of you follow my One Piece stories, but if you don't, the reason for my long absence was that repeated plagiarism of my work really turned me off writing for awhile. This is me trying to get back into the habit of writing. Thank you all for your patience.

It hit her like a blow to the chest.

Air she didn't need to breathe rushed from her lungs, leaving her dazed. Something had shifted. No. Shifted wasn't the right word – it was too small, too narrow, to encompass the magnitude of what she was feeling.



Souls being sheared apart in a single moment, lives being snuffed out in the span of a blink. It was all too quick, too sudden. It wasn't right. It was out of balance and disjointed and she felt them screaming in confusion and fear and pain and surprise.

And the worst part was, she recognized it.

No, she thought, No, no, no, he wouldn't.

He would.

Heart in her throat, she moved, reaching back to one of her youngest the same moment he reached for her.

It was raining.

It was dark.

Hariel stared at the sight before her, horror pooling in her stomach.

Ichigo was sitting in the mud, wide eyed and pale, Masaki sprawled out across his legs, blood pooling around them. Hariel didn't need to ask what had happened. She'd known before she even arrived.

Masaki was gone.

Not Dead, but consumed.

Because that last great pull had taken her ability to fight and her granddaughter made a choice between her life and her son.

And that was no choice at all.

"Ichigo," she whispered as she knelt next to him.

The boy didn't even acknowledge her, brown eyes locked on his mother's bloody body.

She sighed and reached out, smoothing a gentle hand over her grandson's wet hair. "Oh, sweetheart," she murmured, "I'm so sorry."

Ichigo didn't move, didn't speak.

And despite her rage and sorrow and heartbreak, Hariel sat with him. She stayed even as Shihouin Yoruichi arrived to investigate the strange fluctuation in reiatsu. Stayed when the woman's eyes widened in horrified surprise at the scene before her. Stayed as she knocked her grandson out and pried him away from Masaki's body.

She stayed until Ichigo was tucked safely into the arms of his weeping father and then she disappeared.

"Did you feel it?"

Ryuuken very carefully did not react, not looking away from his book. "Grandmother," he greeted blandly before taking a sip of his tea.

"Ryuuken," Hariel demanded, patience for the night long since spent, "Did you feel it?"

He glanced up at her tone, slowly placing his tea down. "That reiatsu shift a few hours ago? Yes."

Hariel nodded, eyes roving over him. Ryuuken waited patiently – he'd long since learned that Hariel was not a woman that could be rushed into anything. Finally, she seemed to find what she was looking for, the tension in her shoulders dissipating as she collapsed into the armchair across from him.

"Masaki is dead," she said bluntly.

His book slipped through nerveless fingers, landing on the floor with a muted thump. "What?" he whispered into the suddenly loud silence.

Hariel smiled bitterly. "You felt the reiatsu," she explained, "but you didn't feel the death that came with it."

"What happened?" Ryuuken demanded.

"Yhwach," Hariel said making him freeze because he knew that name and it was just a story, but Hariel was looking at him with those heartbroken, knowing, green eyes and he felt his blood go cold, "He took back what he thought was his and ended up killing most of those he broke. Masaki…Masaki is, was, a mother, Ryuuken. The choice between her life and her child – "

"Is no choice at all," he finished.

Hariel gave him a sad, sad smile and he closed his eyes so he didn't have to see it. He'd always hated that smile. It didn't look right on her face but at the same time it seemed far too familiar with it. Arms wrapped around him, pulling him close and he went willingly, both for his own comfort and for hers.

"She's Passed?" he asked.

"…No," she answered, tightening her grip on him.

He released a shuddering sigh. Masaki was dead because of some foolish, mythical man's greed and she didn't even get the freedom of Death.

"She will," Hariel promised, running slender fingers through his hair, "One day."

"One day," he echoed, eyes burning and throat tight. It seemed so…hollow. But it was Hariel and Hariel never lied. If she said Masaki would get her peace then she would; he would have to be content with that.

"And the boy?"

"Ichigo is alive," Hariel answered, "I don't know how much he saw. He was with her when I arrived."

Ryuuken grimaced but nodded. It wasn't a favorable outcome by any means, but it wasn't the worst either. What a mess.

"It's okay to cry," she said.

He scoffed, the sound rough and strangled, catching in his throat and tripping over his tongue. But he could already feel his eyes filling, the hot sting of tears pressing against his eyelids as he squeezed them shut. He opened his mouth to say something – what, he didn't know, to refute her, to childishly protest that it wasn't fair, to say that he couldn't remember how to cry – but nothing came out. The words died long before they reached his lips and he was left choking on air.

"It's okay, Ryuu," his grandmother soothed, "It's okay. Sometimes crying is the only way your eyes can speak when your mouth can't explain the things that made your heart broken."

The tears broke free and a keening sound slipped passed his lips.

Trembling hands reached out and tangled in silvery fabric, knuckles going white under the force of his grip.

Hariel released a shuddering sigh and pressed her lips to his hair, crystalline tears sliding down her own cheeks.

"It's alright," she repeated.

The words rang empty even to her own ears.

Until next time,