She shivered violently and her breath hissed as she fought to retain body heat. Her mind wandered again, considering that she had always been cold. Then the ghost that had been lingering around her all this time returned to remind her that she had known, at least for once, a moment of heat. Once again she remembered that back, illuminated in candlelight while he stared down at the papers in his hand. It was his room, his private space that she had finally obtained the nerve to violate. Quietly she had closed the door behind her and then took a few faltering steps towards him, unsure what to say or where to start.

Her mind thought about the two theories about life and battle that she had learned to that point. How there were two kinds of battle, one for pride and one for survival. And… heart. Her own heart clenched at that thought and for a few moments the image of Kaien appeared to overpower her thoughts, the shining look in his eyes that told her how important what he was saying was. She winced and a few more tears trickled down her face, the last moments of her tears. This was a battle for both pride and survival… in the hope for finding heart. That was what it had been, to her, at least.

Roughly she forced the smiling image away from her, only to let out a small cry as another surfaced. He was holding her, telling her that he knew what she needed. What a fool. He didn't know anything! Still, she had nodded slowly, reaching out to cup his cheek in her hand. His eyes widened as she leaned forward then, pressing her lips to his gently yet with hunger. She felt a little bubble inside of her burst when, after a few moments, he began to return the kiss and pulled her closer. Her eyes slid closed, enjoying the feeling.

It was meant to be. She had known that from the beginning. They had moved as if it was natural, as if there was no question as to what they should be doing. As opposed to… what they should be doing. Still, when she had finally opened her eyes to look at him the distant look in his eyes made her feel a pang of regret. Was she not showing how much she desired him? Did her moans of pleasure, the way her body moved against him, how she allowed him to take her completely not tell him how she felt? A tear had escaped her eye and she turned away from him then, drawing her arms around him to pull him closer even in the same action.

That was when she knew that he didn't need her. Moments like that, where he was distant. It was as if he were thinking of someone else while he was with her. As if he was merely doing her a favor. She winced. Was that all it was? Their relationship, a favor? She refused to believe that. Now that she was out of the heat of passion and in the cold of lingering death she had a fresh perspective of the moment.

Perhaps that, too, had been her fault as well. Instead of allowing him to think he knew what she wanted, she should have told him. Instead of letting him love her without saying he loved her, she should have told him how much she loved him. She hadn't. She had lived in the moment, drawn into her pain and need and unable to think clearly. Now, now that it was too late she realized what he had seen.

He had seen a friend in need of comfort and given that to her, but instead of seeing that she needed the comfort from him he had thought she needed it from another. That he was simply… a replacement. How stupid could he be to think she would use him like that? If she had wanted someone else she could have gone to them!

Now that she thought about it she knew it was true. The way he had stared down on her with a sad sort of expression while she moaned his name. How he had said hers so gently, as if he were afraid she might hear him. Worse yet was her actions when she had thought he was thinking of another. That tear… afterwards he had gasped as if someone had kicked him roughly in the chest and then he leaned forward into her embrace, drawing his arms around her and pulling her closer to him. He'd buried his head into her neck and said her name one last time, uttering it as if it were the most painful thing he had ever said.

She let out a shaken laugh and fought to keep her eyes open.

He didn't need her. She didn't need him. That was how it was, right? Her mind considered the horribly torn way he said her name in that moment and she shivered, not from cold but from the reaction to her sudden realization. It couldn't be. Fresh tears attempted to collect in her eyes, only a few came and they quickly washed over to create new trails along her skin. It couldn't be.

Once more the specter returned, this time sweeping through her mind quickly to draw up one image after another. His slow stare as she explained to their friends how spiritual energy worked. The way he crossed his arms and took a few steps closer to her whenever she stopped to talk to anyone he didn't know. Smiles he'd given her so easily, for nothing in return. The jealous way he'd responded when he first met Ichigo and the way he had fought with her against going to him.

It wasn't possible… but it was. All this time she had thought that she had held the burden, that he had been ignorant of her pain and need.

What a selfish little bitch you are, Kuchiki.

Her thoughts reminded her, like the annoying spirit they were –floating there around her mind and drawing out her painful realization. She swallowed, her eyes slowly fluttering closed and her body sliding further into the ground if that were at all possible. Just a few moments, that's what she told herself, over and over.

Just a few moments and she would go. She would stand up and go to him… not caring if it was the right place or time, not caring if others saw or heard. She would go to him and say what she knew she had to say. Her tongue came out slowly to lick her dry lips, and she shivered a bit more, her hand tightening on the now completely stained Sode no Shirayuki. It was getting dark. Was there a cloud overhead?

Or maybe it was a shadow. A small smile crossed her face at that thought and she slipped into unconsciousness.

FIN