They all agreed that the night sky had never been clearer, nor the stars so close.

They were sitting on Jyuushirou's roof, as had become their favorite custom. Shun was just a short distance away, snuggling with his favorite sake bottle, humming to himself a quiet little song about whatever was in his head. Jyuu and Meli were in a comfortable tangle, and for once Shun could truly say he was not jealous at all. Well, hardly. Jyuu, of course, sat with back straight, Meli sprawled across his lap. They weren't holding hands tonight; Jyuu had his arms wrapped around her, holding her close to him, and she was idly playing with the ends of a silvery strand of hair. He was looking at the stars, she at some point far beyond them. Shun drank in the sight of them for a few more verses, then took another swig.

He thought about offering the bottle around, then decided against it. It was mostly empty anyway, and he knew Jyuu would politely refuse. So would Meli, for that matter; he realized it had been quite some time since she had shared his drink. Shot for shot, getting silly and stupid and drunk under the stars while Jyuu shook his head and laughed at them both. Shunsui guessed that, in the time before her torture, it was the only way to enjoy being with each other, to quell the jealousy. Now that things had finally been resolved all those weeks back, it was no longer necessary.

Ah well, more for me, he thought. All those weeks...was it just weeks or months now? He slowly added them up...

He could have sworn the night sky stopped in its tracks. It took all his remaining senses to damp his shock down before Jyuu felt it. He thought he'd managed it well, but when he looked again at the blissful pair he saw sparkling green eyes looking deeply into him.

Go ahead, they said. It's all right. It's time.

Clearing his throat roughly, he broke the silence.

"Would the most beautiful woman in Sereitei care for a drink?" A mischeivous smile danced on his face, was answered by the coy delight that sprang into her eyes.

"No, thank you, Shunsui-kun." She was enjoying this.

"Jyuushirou, now why on earth would such a beautiful creature, sitting under such breathtaking stars and enjoying such excellent company, refuse a generous invitation like that?" Tipping his hat to hide her laughing eyes, he turned his gaze on his age-old friend. "Should I be insulted?"

"It is I who should be insulted, Shunsui, considering how many times you have called her 'beautiful' right in front of me. One might even accuse you of flirting." A smile played on Uki's features, his eyes still locked on the stars. The mood was not lost on him, although the reason for it still was.

Right on cue, Melika jumped in. Turning with an exaggerated pout, she regarded her slender lover with feigned hurt.

"Are you saying I'm not beautiful?" It was all Shun could do not to snicker.

Jyuushirou sighed in such an exasperated manner that they both wanted to laugh outright. "Of course you are, and you know it. You BOTH know it." Tearing his eyes from the heavens, he regarded both of his loves with suspicion. "What has gotten into you two?"

"Well, of course she's beautiful now, but what if she gets fat?" Shun asked in mock seriousness, ignoring her shocked gasp. "Surely, if she were sober and fat she'd lose your interest." Her pretend shock turned into a strangled failure at not laughing. In a heartbeat,the blonde and the brunette were laughing uncontrollably, egged on by Jyushirou's total bafflement. He looked at the pair, rolling and howling in mirth, and had no idea what he was missing.

"Stop it, you two. What mischief are you up to? Who cares if she refuses to drink, and why on earth would she get fat...?" He stared dumfounded at them, as they stopped laughing at the exact same time and sat up to regard him with identical expressions. Another moment, and then Shuu decided enough was enough.

"Melika," he said, sober as a priest, "How long have you been refusing my sake?"

"Three months and four days," she replied, her face glowing. Neither one of them took their eyes off Jyuu. "Am I really starting to get fat already?"

"Ahh, only a lech like me would notice. Although for one who has the extreme priveledge of seeing you naked, he's remarkably clueless." A long pause, bewilderment gazing at two grinning minxes. Shunsui was getting ready to sock him, but didn't need to. Light suddenly dawned on Jyuu's face...

And goddamn if it wasn't the most breathtakingly beautiful thing Shunsui had ever seen.

Ukitake Jyuushirou, stunned, slowly reached forward and placed his hands on Melika's belly, finally noticing the slightest of swelling, and he would have cursed himself for being stupid if there had been any part of him capable of feeling anything but absolute, pure joy.

The three of them floated on clouds of ecstasy so great that they all felt drunk. They were so caught up in each other that the two felt his bone-deep lurch of fear almost before he did. His throat suddenly dry, his chest tightening in a frightingly reminiscent manner, Jyuu forced the words out.

"Is it...going to be healthy?" Both men were holding their breath.

Melika reached out, laying her hand on the side of Uki's beautiful face and her other hand on Shunsui's arm. Eyes dancing, she spoke the words her men were waiting on heaven and earth to hear.

"Our child, Jyuushirou, will live a long and healthy life." The relief that flooded the two men she loved so dearly nearly broke her. She spoke the rest of the truth, knowing that in their joy its meaning would escape them. "I promise it, my loves, on my life."

And Jyuu was catching her up in his arms, crushing her with his ferocity, until a laughing Shunsui convinced him that neither mother nor child would survive if he didn't release them soon. The rest of the night was lost in drinking and revelry. Surely all of Sereitei could hear them, and watching her pale lover drink himself into a stupor and end the night tangled in Shunsui's arms, singing drunkenly, was a memory she burned into her heart forever. It was one of the few things that made what came later survivable.

That night, she and Jyuu made love among the stars; for the first time since his healing, and since thier first love-making, they opened up and synched their souls. Their bodies, hearts and minds merged and they soared throughout the galaxy.

It was after they had returned to themselves that they spoke of the future. Jyuushirou was tangled up in her, holding her as if she were going to disappear, his head resting between her breasts. She was lovingly stroking his white hair as he spoke of his child-to-be.

"Which one of us will he look like, I wonder?" Jyuu mused. She looked at the top of his head, ignoring the qualification. "I hope he doesn't get my hair."

Smiling, she reveled in his speculation. Playing along, trying to hide her certainty, she spoke of the future. "Your hair as it used to be, love. Black and lustrous."

She could tell this pleased him, and he made a contented move against her and gripped her tighter. "He'll have your eyes."

Again ignoring the nomenclature, she replied with more certainty than she should have. "No. My Father's eyes. Deep blue, as the midnight sea." He turned then, looked at her.

"But then, my dear, he won't look a bit like you."

She smiled, and kissed the tiny furrow between his eyebrows. And said nothing, just held him tightly.

Later, as he slept in her arms, a blissful smile on his face, she took the memory of that night and carefully wrapped it up in herself. After such a total immersion in each other, it took no effort at all to reach inside him, caress his sleeping mind. Ever since her first healing of him she had known him so well that it took no time at all to deftly, with heartbreaking precision, remove every last memory of her. Well, all but one; when the time came she wasn't strong enough, and she left him with an exquisite dream/memory of floating among the stars.

Shunsui was waiting for her as she slipped outside, just as she knew he would be. Silent as the moonlight, she waited for him to speak.

"You're leaving now, aren't you?"

She didn't answer. She didn't need to. She waited. He spoke.

"Why?" That wasn't quite what he meant. He tried again. "Why now?"

She smiled, a sad smile. "Because I know he will be taken care of. And because I finally know that I can trust you, my ally, with the truth." Not looking at each other, they gazed at the sky that had turned hard and cold. "I can trust you not to tell him what I am about to share with you."

He listened in silence as she told him everything. That there was a war coming. A war that would tear apart heaven and earth. The balance of the universe lay at stake. Evil would find a terrifying ally, and it would be hard for even the strongest heart to believe that any hope remained...

But a deliverer was coming. On his young shoulders lay the fate of all known life. His power was staggering, his potential terrifying. He would be surrounded by friends and allies, and would be loved; but despite all this, his heart would feel alone. And the child that she bore, Jyushirou's heir, would be the only one who could fill that void, for this child alone would understand the loneliness, would carry with it the legacy of being half-of-a-whole. Their child would be the only one to complete this delieverer, the only one to stand by him and give him the strength to prevail. Without this child, the deliverer would surely fail,and all would be lost.

She looked at the man beside her, the man whose heart was breaking, and putting her own heart aside kept her silence. In the only act of kindness open to her, she sat next to him in silence and waited for him. It was a long time before he spoke, and as always he went straight to the point.

"You're the only one who can Heal him, and now you'll be gone. That means that his death is certain now." The old familiar hate and fear and black mistrust rose up; he wrestled with it, a bitter taste in the back of his mouth...and with all the strenth he possessed, he let it go. He knew it was too late now. For what it was worth, he felt like the possibility finally existed that one day he could begin to accept the inevitable.

She let him process, struggle and find peace before she spoke.

"It always was, Shunsui-kun." He grunted, and after a moment slowly nodded. "Only now," her hand rested lovingly on her stomach, "a part of him will always survive."

"And the child? Will they ever meet?"

She swallowed hard. "Yes."

"Will they ever know?"

She thought she would die from pain. "Their hearts will."

She felt the agony lance through him, was powerless to stop it. There was so much more she wanted to say, and yet the rules, her mission...To hell with it. She had broken the rules before, and they had led her here. Trusting her heart, she spoke.

"The day will come, warrior of our hearts, that Jyuushirou will die. But it will not be the passing you both fear." He stirred, and she could not stop her hand from from darting out and meeting his, their grips tight with emotion. "Where his is going, I will be waiting for him. And I promise," her voice caught, "he will remember you."

She watched the pain and joy double him over, and rode the waves of his conflicting emotions with him.

There is so much more to tell you, Shun, she said deep within her heart, unable to say the words out loud. That you have so much time left; the lingering effects of what I have done for him has bought you millenia yet to be together. I cannot tell you that when the time comes you will not long outlive him. That you were made for each other, and the King himself could not, and would not, separate you for long. And that when the time comes, and you too pass on from this world...

She captured the picture of his strained face in the moonlight as he grappled with destiny.

...he and I will both be waiting for you.

The world seemed to have stopped moving; eternity was hovering in the night air that surrounded them, and they stood poised on the edge of fate together. When he spoke, she was ready for their parting words.

"I need to hear one last thing, Angel Eyes." His eyes lanced into her, the agony of wanting to protect his Jyuushirou held at bay by the deep, glacial wisdom that knew it was fate he was dealing with. "Tell me that it will all be worth the price he is paying."

Her musical, immutable reply would echo in his ears for the centuries to come, would keep him from despairing in some of his darkest hours.

"My brave, sweet Shunsui...the price of hope is ALWAYS worth paying."

Hours later, the morning sun bore into Shunsui's eyes and brought him back to himself. He woke up into a world that did not remember her. He didn't know how or when she had done it, but her entire existence was gone from everyone who had ever met her. He alone carried her memory, of what she was to Jyuu, of the child. He knew one day this burden would kill him. And rejoiced that, in the end, he would be allowed to die for the one he loved.

It was only a matter of months before Jyuushirou started coughing again.

She had waited for months, a few more minutes wouldn't kill her. Just long enough to be sure the young girl was truly asleep. All these months she had hidden, she could not slip up and be discovered now. A dry chuckle escaped her. All her young years of secrecy had come in handy for the last stage of her mission here. Although hiding, after being so thoroughly loved, had been almost as unbearable as giving birth alone in a dark alleyway. Still, it had all been necessary, and it was almost over.

The girl's breath finally slowed, and deepened, and Melika made her way into the room.

Leaving the baby there tore her heart to pieces, but it was okay. She wasn't going to be here much longer anyway. Laying one hand on the fidgity baby, another on the sleeping girl, she completed her last task.

For the first time ever, Melika synched with two soul beings simultaneously.

She quickly planted in the sleeping girl all the necessary memories, memories of a sister, an infant, all perfectly interwoven with her own true memories of her family and parents. As a final measure, she planted in the girl a total and overriding need to protect and care for her baby sister, no matter what.

Melika stirred, and sighed. Almost done now. Reaching into the baby, she removed all residue of the sickness that was her father's legacy. The aberration poured into Melika, began to eat away at her spirit-being. Melika didn't bother to fight, as her dear Jyuu had done for so many millenia; she knew what awaited her, and what lay behind her, and was not afraid.

A final surprise, as a wisp of the insideous disease trickled into the sleeping girl. Melika scrambled, stopped most but not all of it. Shaken by what had just happened, she carefully examined girl and infant. There was definitely a slight element of darkness in the girl; not the same as it had been, it was reduced to a wasting illness that would someday prove impossible to heal. Ah well. That was unexpected, but not disastrous; every last trace was gone from the baby and that was all that mattered.

Her spirit being slowly started to unravel as the darkness settled in. As her very last act in Soul Society, she blew Jyuu and Shun a kiss and planted the baby's name in the sleeping girl's mind. And like a breath of wind, Melika left Soul Society forever.

The Spirit King's presence met her almost immediately, just outside of the Spirit Dimension. She almost wept with joy and relief as his essence enveloped her, surrounding her completely with his warmth and love. He didn't have a corporeal being, but she knew he was smiling. Joined once again after an age, he whisked her away to heaven, where she could distantly hear the Royal courts ringing with the sounds of celebration.

The being that had once been Melika didn't care. Snuggling deep into her Father's embrace, she suppressed a wince of regret, and asked him a favor.

Tell me again, Daddy, about my daughter.

Her Father's love and understanding flooded her, and patiently He answered.

She will be small and slight, but fierce, with the dark hair her father once had in his youth. She will have My eyes, dark as the night sky and deeper blue than the deepest ocean. Her Zanpaktou, however, will reflect her spirit, and the legacy of you my Daughter, her mother. Her Soul Slayer will be of the purest white, and all of Soul Society will acknowledge it as the most beautiful in all of Sereitei...

Allowing herself to be comforted, the being that had been Melika burrowed deeper, and let herself to be carried Home...

Hisana woke to another dry, hot day. The dust from outside seeped in through the cracks of the wall. Her stomache rumbled, and she wondered whether or not she would eat today.

A dry cough rose up from her lungs, surprising her, and her whole body felt more tired than usual. She yawned and stretched, and fought the urge to go back to sleep. Maybe she was coming down with something...

A gurgle, and whimper, brought her back. For a moment she didn't understand the sounds, the squriming bundle in front of her. Then her memories started to flood back: parents, lost. A sister to care for. Of course. How could she have forgotten?

Well, she couldn't just lay here all morning; her hunger didn't matter nearly as much as the baby's. Food must be found, and another day survived, no matter what. Hoisting her sister, Hisana stepped out into the ugly world of Rukongai.

"All right, Rukia. Let's see what today brings."


...and the rest is, as they say, history. :)

Well, whaddya think? I'm proud of it (although I admit, I was painfully brief with the action sequences; it seems I have little talent for them). Comments/suggestions? Love it or hate it, send me a review and let me know!!! Or a cookie...cookies are good... XD