The Cold

Gift drabbles/vignettes by debbiechan, Holiday Season 2006


for gallodepelea (prompt: your take on Ikkaku)

Ikkaku kicked the hull of a rotten persimmon across an ice-frosted field. Every winter he danced his Dead Fruit dance to entertain Yumchika, but Ikkaku didn't feel like dancing today. Yumchika used barberries to stain his eyelids and cheeks, but he was going to have to just mourn their little berry deaths because no way was Ikkaku going to dance in the absence of inspiration.

In Soul Society each season fell like a blade across wind. One day it was balmy spring-- the next day scorching summer. Fall meant tasty fruits for those souls with high reiatsu who craved such things. Plants cut down in their prime in the Living World sprouted the biggest persimmons and figs.

The fruit was uneatable today. The Cold had come. Snow had begun to fall on Ikkaku's shoulders, and soon the fine sheen of ice on the path before him would be replaced with mounds and mounds of snow.

Zaraki and his band of killers had been marching in the direction of the Seireitei for weeks now. The only cure for the Terrible Boredom, Zaraki said. They would kill themselves some Shinigami; they would live there and become kings of the Seireitei. Kings of killers. For what else were Shinigami but killers too? To Zaraki, the much-touted responsibility of Shinigami "to keep the balance in the universe" didn't make sense. The only joy he ever felt was in conflict. The very concept of balance was boring.

Fighting was everything.

The prospect of living high on the hog in the Seireitei delighted Yumchika, but Ikkaku didn't understand why he himself was so unenthusiastic about the idea. Persimmons all around the year. Or so those guys from the next district had said.

Those same guys who had told Zaraki that the best swordsmen lived in the Seireitei. That to kill a captain meant that you would become a captain yourself. Zaraki had never looked so happy. Good fights.

The snow was falling faster, and Ikkaku pulled up the hood of his cloak.

Zaraki would win, of course, and become a Shinigami captain, and because Ikkaku had sworn to follow this man anywhere, Ikkaku was going to have to try his damnedest to enter Shinigami ranks. He wondered how hard that might be; he had never lost to anyone except Zaraki, but these Shinigami … were they really that good?

Bah! What does it take to kill a minus? One blow, probably. And from what Ikkaku could understand, the rest of a Shinigami's job was just for show. Shepherding souls here and there. They rarely ventured into the Runkongai to help anyone.

Bastards. Ikkaku could take on any of them.

And become one of them?

Ikkaku felt winter sting his face, and he pushed his cloak above his mouth and nose.

Weren't there fixed laws of the universe about the role of Shinigami? Zaraki was conveniently forgetting that becoming one meant walking into a whole bother of rules. What if Ikkaku became a Shinigami and was sentenced to doing mysterious paperwork within the walls of the Seireitei for the rest of his natural Death?

Over mounds of snow, the balance of the universe seemed to drift with the wind. Something chilly blew across Ikkaku's soul. Something scary, something paralyzing.


"Ikkaku?"came a mellifluous voice behind him. "Where's the annual dumb-dumb dance?"

"Dead Fruit dance," Ikkaku said. "No dead fruit in your future, my friend. There's no winter in the Seireitei and probably lots of berries so you'll be able to make up your face year around."

"And yours too," said Yumichika. "Just a little touch of red on your eyelids will accent those bright eyes of yours."

"Life in the Seireitei," Ikkaku snorted. "Food, warmth, prestige and enough red crap for you to mess up my face."

"Yes!" cooed Yumichika and clasped his hands. "We're so lucky! You must do a luck-luck dance!"

And Ikkaku did.

But whether or not becoming a Shinigami was bad luck or good luck he didn't know.


for Shini (AiGinUlqui and prompt: "fitting in")

If the Light contains the Darkness and the Darkness contains the Light, what does being born in Darkness mean?

Aizen and Gin and Ulquiorra had been living souls once, but only Gin and Aizen had experienced the sudden summers and butterfly-abundant springs of Soul Society. Ulquiorra's first memories of Light were of his arms and legs crashing through the ice cube that restrained his soul and being asked by Aizen, "Arrancar, what is your name?"

The man standing before him was robed in white and confidence. The Dark fell away. A birth caul, a mask. The Dark disintegrated into another life, the one of fear and longing and tearing souls between your teeth for food and never feeling satisfied. Life in the bright white palace began.

Aizen gave him clothes and a weapon. Gin stroked his hair.

Ulquiorra walked through glaring crystal corridors and felt consumed with purpose.

Row after row of ex-Hollow took their places in the hierarchy of Light. A beautiful Arrancar lifted her arms, and Ulquiorra saw that her hands had been eaten off. She had eaten them herself. Why, he didn't know, but Ulquiorra knew that to serve Aizen, he would do anything.

Later, pressed between Aizen and Gin but not yet fitting into the rhythm of their schemes, he wondered why it was that they sweated so much and yet his own body was cold and dry,

Is an Arrancar more dead than a Hollow?

Does blame fall only upon those whose souls were purified and then contaminated within Soul Society?

Was Aizen right or was he merely creating himself that way?

Ulquiorra asked himself many questions, but they were never answered. The absence of certainty, though, did not disturb him. That absence was as familiar as the hole in his neck.


for asmaria (who said "surprise me")

The Living World was a good place. Cigarettes, television, and the woman around whom the planets revolved.

Isshin planted a wet kiss on Masaki's neck and then blew across the moist spot to tickle her.

"Stop," she said, trying not to laugh. "I'm trying to talk to you."

Isshin threw his head back on his pillow and sighed. "I told you," he said. "There's nothing to worry about. The boy just needs a good kick in the pants and some judo classes, and he'll be right as rain."

Outside the window the snow had become sleet pinging against the panes. A moment later the sleet was rain, and a roaring sound surrounded the apartment.

"Cozy, cozy," said Isshin and snuggled against his wife.

She didn't look comfortable. She was still worrying about their son being too soft and kind when he started primary school in the spring. Easy prey. Someone the other boys would make fun of.

"He'll always be a good boy," Isshin whispered against Masaki's neck. "Nothing in the whole universe can ever change that."


for andrewjp (prompt: the Kenpachi/Unohana pairing)

Because she understood so many things so well, she knew that he had a soft spot for beautiful females. No one else would have guessed it. The man with the lust for battle who wore that little pink girl on his shoulder like an exotic pet. How could others not see the sympathy in his eyes, his appreciation for flavors other than fresh blood? He sat down to tea like everyone else. He peeled his fruit like everyone else. He was not the "heathen captain" so many took him to be.

Captain Unohana saw Captain Zaraki often because he was always bringing his men to the Fourth Division building to be healed. Zaraki didn't care about their pain or scarring, but he wanted to spar with them right away. They were already at a disadvantage when fighting him, he said. He didn't want to train men with broken arms or legs.

Whereas some men would either blush or stare indiscriminately when a big-bosomed nurse leaned over to patch a wound, Kenpachi didn't seem to notice the bosoms. It was a beautiful face that made his voice soften the tiniest bit. He would move his massive body out of the way so that Beauty could pass by him in the Fourth Division hallways. His eyes lingered for a millisecond longer than necessary upon Isane's full lips as she spoke her reports.

It was her own face, though, that Unohana saw reflected in his eyes for an unabashed length of time. What did he want? Did he expect a woman like her to have nothing to do with a man like him? Did he think that he himself was not beautiful? He was. She imagined squatting against his nose and cheekbones and feeling that unnaturally long tongue sweep across her yearning for him.

Unohana figured that rumors of her reiatsu had reached him, but he would also expect to be stronger than her. Because of this, he would never make the first move. He would never take her.

A gentleman killer from the faraway lands of lawlessness and gore.

She smiled. His size intrigued her, and she imagined it pushing inside her with vigorous determination. She knew of swordsmen that they were obsessed with hitting the mark.

He would not be the kind to unbraid her hair and whisper into her ear. She had had enough of that.

But as the days went by, and summers turned into winters, Captain Unohana always found some bland but necessary task that needed to be done before seducing Captain Zaraki.


for Kim (just because)

A cold man, they whisper. Efficient, ruthless. You know that feeling of falling into sudden disgrace when you drop a piece of fancy silverware at a dinner party and it clangs on the floor? That's Ishida Ryuuken giving you the look. Just breathing the same air he breathes makes you feel like you've breached some mysterious etiquette that only he has mastered.

Let them fear me, thinks Ryuuken. Although the ones who do actually might make for tolerable company. The daft, crass and uninspired were the ones always invading his personal space and demanding this or that. There was no beating them away--not with sarcasm or a dull scalpel.

He owns one sensible coat that he wears on the train to work, and people marvel that he wears no gloves or scarves on the iciest days. What they don't know is that his blood pressure is always high, that his neck sweats, that the very effort of trying not to worry about Uryuu is worrisome.

There are rooms of spirit-constructed glass and steel under his office. If only he could have shut Uryuu away there forever, whittling away at the boy's kindness and clumsiness without the rest of the world passing judgement. If only had been able to train Uryuu a few more days….

Sons take off, he tells Isshin. That's what sons do. People misunderstand us. I'm used to it.


for Finn (inspiration: "A Thousand Years")

Because Sora was the first Hollow in the history of the universe to take a zanpakutou to his neck and cleanse himself, his sins were forgiven and he did not emerge in a struggling, sad and filthy part of Soul Society. He passed right away from the Land of the Living to a district very near the Seireitei.

He had believed that coming here would cure his loneliness, but it didn't. People were kind, though, and children hung fishing lines from the tops of quaint cobble bridges, and there was always plenty to eat.

Sora had never really cared for the taste of fish, but day after day he said thank you to the gentle people who brought him steaming plates.

Even if he had liked this wobbly food full of splinters and bone, loneliness was quelling his appetite here. He didn't eat. This is the way he found out that he didn't need food to stay alive. Yes, he must be really dead then, but no, this place was not heaven.

Day after day, the smell of baked fish wafted across the village, and Sora still did not understand where he was. Neither did the villagers. All they knew was that this world was called Soul Society.

Sora had never trusted fresh seafood markets because the one time he'd bought Orihime a shrimp-cake, she'd vomited all night. He and Orihime had lived off sandwiches after that. Store-bought snacks. Canned sardines and potted meats that she flavored with red bean paste. She never baked anything because he didn't want her using the stove while he was away, and one evening he had come home from work to find her eating red paste right out of the jar with a spoon.

People shouldn't ever go hungry, he thought as he dumped his plate of fish into the clear river. Hunger is a pain in your belly that Soul Society cures, but loneliness is a pain in the heart that this world neglects.

The day Sora heard that a ginger-haired girl with healing powers and an entrancing smile had been seen in a nearby village, he knew it was Orihime.

His heart filled with the sadness of Death. As much as he wanted to see her, he didn't want her to be here. She deserved to be alive. If she was here and dead that meant she wasn't going to grow up, get married, and visit many diverse restaurants of the Living World.

This place, apparently, only served fish.

He went to look for her right away, and just outside the tall walls of a mysterious city, people were abuzz with tales of the ryoka. The ginger-haired girl and her companions had entered the Court of Pure Souls. Oh of course, thought Sora. Orihime is the purest of souls and that is where she belongs.

Then the villagers told him that the Shinigami lived there, and that they were not pure souls whatsoever. As a matter of fact, Shinigami were vain, treacherous, violent souls who never helped the villagers. Shinigami were too busy with court intrigues and killing one another on a regular basis.

"Killing?" Sora was shocked. "One another?"

Oh yes, the villagers said. There were rumors of an entire governing body of so-called "Pure Souls" being murdered behind those walls, and only yesterday some Shinigami had been spotted carousing in the skies with Hollow themselves.

"What happened to the ryoka? What happened to the ginger-haired girl?"

No one knew.

Eventually Sora found a family with many little children he could fuss over and tell not to lean too far over the bridges as they fished. He developed a taste for the river creatures; if fish was peppered generously and rolled in cabbage, it wasn't half-bad.

When winter came, he sewed little coats for the children who still fished, even though the river was frozen. The fish are slower in the winter, the children said. They broke the ice with rocks and cast their poles inside.

He didn't worry that much about Orihime anymore. After all, those who feel lonely are the lucky ones. They know what love is and therefore can yearn for it.

The rest of the world--lost and unconscious. If there was a Hell, Sora believed, it was a place where people knew they would never reunite with others.


Authors note: Someone once asked me why I capitalize certain words. I do it to show their importance. The Living World is a place, and it's grammatically correct to capitalize it. Death, Life, Shinigami (death god), and Hollow do not require capitalization, but all earn capitals from me because of their significance in the Bleach universe. Phrases like "the Terrible Boredom" are capitalized because of their significance to particular characters in any given story.

I've got this weirdness about how words look on a page. Don't even get me started about fonts.