"And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation." - Kahlil Gibran
Everything was the same as it had been the day before. The chair with its backrest placed against the wall. The futon neatly folded and stored away in the closet. And through the window, the branches of the trees were losing their leaves and blanketing the ground in shades of red and brown and orange and yellow. In a few weeks, the branches shall be totally bare, and thick coats of snow would cover the naked wood and fallen leaves, and the world would become bleached in a soft shade of white. And then in a few weeks after snow has descended and gone away, the landscape would slowly change with the blooming of the plum and peach blossoms, which would then wilt into cherry blossoms.
In a few weeks, lives could change.
It was strange that decades ago, she had stood in the slums of Rukongai and stared at the walls of Seireitei with intense hope, thinking that the world behind those walls would be her escape from the hell she was in. But now, decades later, as she stood within the walls of Seireitei, she realized she had simply exchanged one hell for another. Perhaps she was too insatiable, perhaps her desires were too numerous and too great, but she was empty, and had been empty all along. Because there was nothing for her in Rukongai. Because there was nothing for her in Seireitei. And because she had no other place to look forward to, to run away to.
For all those years that she had lived here, she had been exceptionally sparing with the things she had bought for herself. Her room was always empty, undecorated and distant, like she had never lived here at all. Perhaps it was always her pride that made her take less than she ever needed. Not simply the pride from being a Kuchiki, but pride from being a child born of the Rukongai. And her pride made her distanced herself, so for as many times as she had seen the room, sat in the chair and slept in the bed, none of it was ever hers. Everything was impersonal. Her job was impersonal. Her relationships were impersonal. Her real self had drifted away and became a person that had nothing to do with her life.
All these years, it almost seemed that she had been waiting, patiently waiting, for her life to start all over again, in a place far away from here.
Perhaps the most personal aspect of the room was the damage to the wall. The broken chair had been replaced, but the wall she had left it as it was. She stared at the indentations on the wall, which a while ago, was a flaw that had nagged at her fear to chase after the things she wanted. But now it was a mark of a friendship she was grateful for. This mark was created by a best friend, whom despite his crude words and brash attitude, remained a best friend who stood by her and understood the things that she needed and wanted. In this world, which to her was nothing more than a world of perpetual solitude, he was the realest thing she ever had. Everything that he had given her shall become memories carved into the deepest recesses of her mind, to remind her of the things she had and will have because she was moving now.
She wondered what would become of the room. It would probably be preserved, and shall remain untouched in the years before the day, when she will finally return and reclaim it, and finally make it hers.
Already in her gigai, she took out the bag from the cupboard. The dress that she had worn that day had been washed and neatly folded in it. She had learnt, from the whispers of the servants of the family, that it was her brother who had kept it for her. She took it out and dressed herself. She patted the dress neatly into place, the thin cotton of the summer dress resting lightly against her skin, giving her little warmth in the cold weather. She pulled on an additional trench coat that had been brought over for her, from across the gate of the other world. She closed the buttons and the coat fitted snuggly on her small frame. Unlike the dress, the coat was new, the size carefully chosen and the color was one of her favorite shades of yellow. And then she wrapped a woolen shawl around her neck. It was a stunning red, almost glaring, but she liked how it contrasted with her fair skin, her dark hair and her cheeks that were pink from the icy wind. Her legs were covered with knee-length woolen socks and she slipped her feet into the soft canvas shoes she had worn the day she left.
The weeks had dragged on and disappeared. It had been summer when she left. It was almost winter now, or perhaps it already was winter, it was hard to tell. How she had counted the hours, the days, the weeks, the months, when she would run away and fade from this world. She waited years to escape from the slums. She waited years to get admittance into the shinigami academy. She waited years to be recognized for her skills. She waited years to gain acknowledgement from her brother. And then suddenly in a few weeks, her whole world had changed. Just because of a few weeks, she was willing to discard more than a century of her past behind.
Indeed, life could change in a few weeks. And briefly, she wondered, in those few weeks, what had changed him?
"Are you ready?" His voice was gruff and impatient.
She brushed her hair neatly into place, picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulders. It did not matter what had changed in a few weeks. What mattered was that, she had.
- - -
There were fresh flowers by the stream and quietly she laid a stalk of Lily of the Valley beside them. She knelt down, and in silence, she asked for her sister's blessings. And finally, she released the rest of the flowers she had removed from her room into the water.
She watched them float downstream till they no longer could be seen. Then she stood up and turned in his direction.
- - -
"Leave." His tone was not of anger, not of condescension, not of supremacy. It was a permission of freedom, trust and perhaps most surprising of all, reluctance.
"Nii-sama," she said quietly, her eyes shifting from her shoes to his shoes, up to the slender sword strapped to his waist, and further up to his neck, his chin, his nose and finally his eyes. Those eyes had not only lost the hardness that she was used to seeing, but they were looking straight at her with affections she thought he would never show her. She understood now, the courage it had taken for him to love Hisana, even when he knew the future he could share with her would be short-lived. And quite unexpectedly, even to herself, she took his hand. His hand was warm even in the cold air. "Thank you."
Months ago, when she had held that hand after the battles were over, his hand had not held her back. But this time, his fingers did not hesitate to tighten around her hands. "Leave."
And he released her. When she turned to go, he murmured something else, so softly like it was not meant to be heard by anyone but him. But she heard it well.
"Be happy," he had said.
- - -
Renji had not come personally to say goodbye.
But she knew there was no need for him to come.
She would see him soon enough. Through all the years they had been friends, he had never been disinterested enough to stay out of her business and never been smart enough to pretend he did not care about whether she left or stayed, lived or died. Her brother might have been the one who ordered for her possessions to be washed and kept, but it had been Renji who had personally left the bag in her cupboard the day before her arranged departure. That was evidence enough that he was too nosy for his own good.
So she was certain, she would see him soon enough.
- - -
She ran her fingers over the scars on his torso. The scars were smooth, pale and less noticeable. It occurred to her suddenly that the scars should no longer be there. She had seen how Inoue's strange powers worked, how they mend all things back to a state of perfection, so the scars should have disappeared. So she told him that she thought it was strange it was still there.
And he said, "Perhaps, I did not want it to go away."
She watched him, so closely that she could smell the scent of mandarin on his skin and feel her own breath against his neck. Her finger tugged playfully at his lower lip. "Why? So that you can look really badass?"
He humphed. "I don't know. Maybe as a reminder," his eyes were closed as he buried a hand into her hair and continued speaking, "of how I lost you."
She wondered if the words were premeditated, for they sounded clichéd and corny. But clichés and corniness was not his style. And neither was premeditation. So with no rebuttal, her hand ran down the length of his neck and quietly flowered upon his chest, feeling the warmth of his skin and the rhythm of his heart over the layers of muscles and bones. And she rested her head against him, listening to the steady sound, knowing that the truth had just slipped out, without him really meaning to.
- - -
They weaved through the crowd of students mingling at the school gate, bidding their goodbyes on the last day of school before the term break. Autumn had already faded away into winter; it was barely four but the sun was already dipping close to the horizon. They walked amongst the rise and fall of conversations, laughter and giggles, jokes and taunts. They simply moved, never touched, but an invisible string held them no further than an arm's length away, and together they headed in a direction that somehow they both knew.
Half the sun had already sunk by the time they finally arrived at the cliff that overlooked this small town called Karakura. As she stood there and took in the view, she became conscious of how she missed the strangest things. Like the dusty feel of chalk and dirt on the desk, or the smell of exhaust in the air as a car rushed past, or the piercing screams of children as they ran around in the playground. But it was true. She missed the unruliness of it all.
Oftentimes she had asked herself, when she began to grow so attached to the things of this world. But she understood that sometimes, there was not always a clear line separating the beginning and the end. Just as autumn fades into winter and winter blooms into spring, people simply get caught up in it all, only realizing quite suddenly that a season had passed and a new one had begun.
She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes, remembering the feel of his soft hair that was almost the same shade of golden as the setting sun in the distance. Even with that perpetual scowl on his face, she could tell that it was actually a look of content.
She said something then and he smiled. A smile that was not symmetrical. A smile that was slightly crooked with an almost imperceptible bashfulness on his face. That was the smile she loved. It was a real smile that would appear like a blossom in the midst of snow.
The golden was slowly fading into the deep indigo of the night that shall follow.
He turned to leave, without telling her. He was confident she would follow, that much she could tell. But she did not. Instead, she just watched him walk, his lanky build casting a long shadow in front of him, his tangerine hair moving just slightly in the wind. As she watched him, she knew that this was the moment where the dreams she had nurtured over the months shall coalesced. This was the moment where the dreams shall no longer remain dreams.
Noticing her stillness, he stopped and turned back, his nose already red from the cold air. He glared at her sourly, the irritation clearly reflected in his lips that were turned down in a comical way.
Then suddenly a single drip of rain landed on her lashes, surprising her. A bubble of laughter escaped from her, for reasons she did not understand. He stared at her, not comprehending. And she continued laughing, watching the clouds of white mist that formed as her warm breath met the chilly air. "It's raining!"
His face contorted in a look of disbelief at her inane behavior. "And it's going to start snowing if you don't hurry up." Growling slightly and still looking aghast, he crossed his arms to provide himself some warmth as he started walking away again. "Hurry up! I don't have an umbrella!"
She laughed again and with her footsteps light against the pavement, she ran to be in stride with him, their distance no further than an arm's length away. The space between them that used to divide them had vanished. The seemingly infinitely vast space she had thought impossible to cross over had vanished. He was real. He was right here. If she should reach out her hands, she would be able to touch him.
She could not say for sure how long this would last, but for now, this was the future she could see. This was her future that was just less than an arm's length away. And this future of hers twisted his head to snarl at her slow pace, and he unlocked his arms, stretched out and took her hand into his.
She smiled. This future that was holding her; it was enough. She was complete.
- End -
With this, my first multi-chaptered work finally comes to an end. I started this in 2005 and to think it's already 2008!
So I would like to thank all those who had actually perservered and followed me through all these years, and also great thanks to all those who stayed long enough to finish this story. Without all your lovely reviews and support, I might have drifted away and gotten lost somewhere.
I sincerely hope the ending brought a smile to your faces.
- bows -