Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.
Author's Notes: This was written for Loyce, who has become my number one Bleach buddy recently. Be careful! Spoilers for the Soul Society arc abound!
He finds her sitting in that chair again, the only compliment to a blank room inside a white tower, her shadow the only visible darkness. If he had the words, and the courage, he would call her a princess, the small princess in her castle, waiting for someone to come. Hanatarou vaguely remembers those stories and knows this scene could be taken from the pages of a book but, he's never been good with words. And she would say she's not a princess.
She smiles at him, sometimes, and he can't help but smile timidly back. He wonders how she can smile in a place like this. He doesn't realize he's never really seen a true smile. She's fresh out of those. Instead, she offers him a cracked imitation, a clay puppet that bows and sings and does all the things real people do. Some days he understands that it's all a trick, that he's viewing her through a one-way mirror, but he doesn't know how to get her to see something other than herself. He's never been good with words.
So he sweeps and cleans and listens as she speaks, her words flitting through the air like paper moths. An image is born in his mind, of a reckless human boy who was saved and is saving others all at once. He knows this is supposed to be the knight in the story, that one that besieges a tower, or defeats the evil villian, and rescues the princess. She seems sad as she tells him about what she's done to this man, the changes she has wrought that can't be undone, but that might be forgiven with her death. He wants to tell her that it's the knight that saves the princess, not the other way around. But Hanatarou has never been good with words, and she's not looking at him anyway.
She falls into her memories at the oddest times, as if watching a play unfolding within her mind's eye. He can't follow her there, or comfort her, and so he sweeps and cleans and wishes for a knight for her. He knows she doesn't want one for herself, and so he breathes life into a savior. She's a princess, and he's only her servant, one who has never been good with words.
He's always been much better at actions.
He tells her knight about the white tower and the chair she sits in, the way her eyes are wide and sad and clear like a night sky. She owes you, he says, repeating her feelings, and watches as something flickers across Ichigo's face. He thinks its anger, or maybe irritation. Only Rukia would be able to tell it was closer to heartache.
But Ichigo pulls through and looks him right in the eye, his brows drawn together in a permanent, determined scowl. I'm going to save her, he says and Hanatarou believes, because Ichigo is not very good with words either. The ones he uses, though, are always the truth.
He is there when they meet on the bridge, Rukia standing in the sunlight for the first time in days as she locks gazes with a flying orange-haired shinigami. Something passes between them and Ichigo walks past her without a word, every step stiff, the picture of control. By now, Hanatarou knows why. He knows that Ichigo wants to touch her, to tell her it's going to be alright, to comfort her in his own awkward way. But he can't, because she's standing right there, in front of him again, and there's too much between them for something simple.
If he touches her, Ichigo knows she will break. And so will he.
And so Hanatarou watches as Ichigo pretends to be nonchalant and Rukia's shoulders shudder despite herself, her voice cracking. He wonders if she will ever be rid of the guilt, or if her time on earth had been her temporary reprieve, a daydream to hold while she was being led to her death.
It doesn't happen though. The knight comes to rescue the princess, just like in the old stories, and he finally touches her. Was there a kiss? Maybe, he tells his captive audience. The group of small children groan collectively. Was there a happy ending? Maybe, he says, but I like to think there wasn't an ending at all.
And for the first time ever, Hanatarou is glad he's not good with words.
There is nothing more to say.