A/N: I don't really know what is going to happen in this chapter, so let's see how it goes, shall we? And I'm running out of shades of pink, even with the help of Wikipedia XD (did you know there is a shade called Japanese pink?!?!)
Oh, and I am apologizing again for the age-long wait. There is something people call college, and it usually ends up owning your soul. . .especially my epically elitist engineering program (joke of my life).
And I just realized, I really miss interacting with people on this site! I promise to reply to reviews and if you have anything to say, please, shoot it my way!
Disclaimer: Wtf is going on in Bleach? I don't own it, so I don't know! But I digress. . .
Unlikely Aid and Tatters of Fuchsia
Nanao was drifting. She wasn't sure why.
Something told her that she should be more awake, and possibly aggravated and/or furious about whatever-it-was that was happening outside the darkness of her mind, but she did not listen to it.
She was being presented with little moments, flashes of a happier time—
His hand brushed against her cheek, and she lashed out at him with her fan, remembering how not too long ago that hand had been attempting to touch her mentor, Lisa. . .but she had forgiven Lisa, and she knew he had moved on, so she had too—
He laughed softly into her ear when hauling her off the ground. Although maybe she should have performed the kido spells before the hollow had knocked her down, she couldn't see what he was laughing about. The hollow was gone, and all it'd done was rip her—oh damn—
His arm was slung casually around her without warning, and she staggered under the force of the unexpected weight. He was grinning from ear to ear, and he was totally and completely gone in sake. "She's beautiful, my Nanao-chan," he slurred as she tried to throw him off her, even though she knew he wouldn't budge. "And leagues above every woman I've ever seen. No one deserves Ise Nanao, Goddess of Kidō." Although the cheers of the division rang in her ears, all she really heard was his voice, his inexplicably sincere and insurmountable praise—
He let out a cry of rage and pain, a sound so primeval and strong that she shuddered in its wake, didn't even flinch or struggle when his arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her to his chest, engulfing her in deceivingly blissful fuchsia—
Her memories were brought up short within the swirling darkness behind her eyes as her heart jolted, and the last instance replayed for her, making her suddenly and finally realize what she should have known all along, that she never should have doubted him—and that he truly cared.
And that she would have to trust him to drag her out of this mess. . .somehow.
- - -
"He wants me to do what," Ichigo asked in a flat tone, making it sound like a menacing statement rather than a question.
"Oh, come on, Ichigo," Rukia growled, waving the hell butterfly off of her hand. "All you have to do is go talk to Urahara—"
"I never want to see that crazy bozo again."
"—get him to open a portal—"
"I'm not going through that damn tunnel. It is a pain in my ass, and I am not going to bloody Soul freaking Society, which is an even bigger pain in my ass. He's got to be kidding me."
"—pull out your mask—"
"Ha! Like I'll be flaunting that anywhere near that senile old man who calls himself a 'commander'!"
"—do something threatening or of minor damage—"
"Who does he think I am?!?! Superman?! I can't just randomly blame that on someone else!"
"—and then disappear before they figure out what happened."
"Oh that will work out real nicely," he scoffed, "like your brother won't realize it was me in under, like, a second flat, and you know he wants to ring me up for something so that you won't be able to see me anymore."
"See, that's the beauty of it," Rukia beamed. "I'm going to make sure that he is in on it too."
Ichigo stared at her incredulously. "How are you—did you not hear any of my other object—ouch!" He rubbed his back ruefully where she had thrown her book at him. "Obviously not."
"Are you going to do it or not?" Rukia demanded, glaring at him.
Ichigo just stared at her for a minute, reviewing the long list of problems he had come up with and weighing it against what was at stake. Ise Nanao was one of Rukia's friends, and although he didn't know her too well, no one deserved—and then there was Rukia's desperation, even if she wasn't letting it show very much. She was worried, and that worried him.
"I'm in, alright?," he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "When the hell are you making me go to loony old Hat-and-Clogs' place?"
- - -
Not an hour later, Kuchiki Rukia was struggling valiantly to remain inconspicuous and calm as she strode through one of the central dining quads in the northern Seireitei, a region that was closest not only to her home but also to her brother's division.
It was just typical that Renji would pick now to stop her, ruining her enforced calm and causing her to snap at him more forcefully than usual.
"Bloody hell, Renji! Can't you let a girl minding her own business pass by just once?!"
"Can't a guy offer his help when a friend's in need?" he teased, surprisingly laid back.
She started at his tone and then grabbed the front of his hakama, dragging him, protesting half-heartedly the rest of the way across the square and into a relatively secluded alley.
Her indigo eyes flashed at the appearance of his normal psychopathically smug grin. "What's go you so smiley?" she grumbled, releasing his robes.
"I get to watch you twist taichō around your little finger, you can't blame me for being a little excited, Rukia."
She huffed, blushing, knowing that was exactly what she was planning to do. Byakuya was going to be slightly harder to convince that Ichigo had been. "And here I thought you wanted to help."
"Oh, I'll be supportive, don't you worry. I even stationed his Third Seat on standby just in case. She has an uncanny amount of influence on your dear brother."
"Really?" Rukia asked, raising an eyebrow. She sincerely hoped that Byakuya could be opening up to more people than just her and Renji. "Well, I'll try first, then you can turn her loose."
"I also did some scoping and realized that if Byakuya and Ukitake were on whatever watch, none of the other captains would interfere, for sure. I actually think it is in the rulebook."
"Yes, that was the idea," Rukia snarled, now very impatient and trying to calculate the time window she had before she had to return to Karakura. "So let's go."
Thankfully, with Renji to show her a few handy shortcuts, they arrived at Kuchiki Byakuya's headquarters in about half the time she had expected.
Rukia, who had long ago (probably only a few months, maybe even weeks) gotten over her fear of her older brother now that she knew enough about him, strode purposefully, almost angrily, straight into the main building of Division Six, scattering shinigami and trailing Renji as she went.
"Oh, this is going to be good," Renji whispered appreciatively, a laugh clinging in his words.
"Shut up, you," she hissed, flinging open the office door.
"Nii-sama," she said in a much more even tone. "I hope to find you in good health."
"I don't see how that would have changed since this morning, Rukia-nee," Byakuya replied calmly, effortlessly dashing kanji in elegant columns on a very mundane form.
Renji saw the small ripple of tension go through his captain's shoulders, however, and just the fact that he had deigned to add the suffix to his sister's name—whatever Rukia was here for, he wanted to listen to her.
"True, Nii-sama. You don't go out much."
Byakuya stopped writing and carefully put away the brush. There was a brief silence as he shuffled, organized, and stacked the papers. Then he rose very deliberately and turned towards his sister. "He who lies idle when others are in need will never receive assistance in his own time of need," he murmured, his eyes piercing Rukia in a way that they never would have before the Aizen Betrayal. "And you would not need me if you had not some purpose in mind for my aid."
Rukia took a deep breath, hoping that the brief aphorism was a good sign. "Yes, Nii-sama, someone is in need of your aid."
He turned his seemingly impassive eyes on his lieutenant. "I assume you are involved, Renji."
"Who, me, taichō?" Renji smirked. "Whatever gave you that idea? I'm only here to see the show."
Byakuya's mouth might have quirked slightly, but neither of them could be sure. "This is about the suddenly untraceable Ise Nanao, is it not?"
"So informed, taichō is," Renji continued to smirk, stretching lazily and yawning.
Rukia glared at her childhood friend before addressing the Sixth Squad Captain. "Of course you are right, Nii-sama, and we really are in need of your help."
"I am not included in this 'we,'" Renji declared.
Rukia reached up and slapped him upside the head, and Byakuya's mouth most definitely twitched. "I hope you will be included in this 'we' as you say, Renji, because your friend is clearly in need. And you should always assist your companions."
"Oh, right, that—" Rukia raised her hand again and he quickly switched tactics, "—is completely true, taichō, and I of course will do whatever you deem necessary in this matter."
Byakuya cleared his throat, and Rukia strongly suspected him to be holding in a laugh. "We shall see. Rukia, you will have my assistance."
She twisted the fabric that held Sode no Shirayuki to her waist absentmindedly as she tried to phrase her next thought appropriately. "Well, Nii-sama, what I want you to do, what Ukitake-taichō and Kyoraku-taichō want you to do. . .is not strictly legal, per se."
He simply stared at her for a moment. His glass clear eyes effectively hid the slight tingling of guilt he still felt for forsaking her, his only true family, in her only time of desperate need and the deep concern he now felt for her. Although he was sure she now knew that he would do anything for her, anything to make up for his sixty years of silence and pain, he didn't want it to show, to make him vulnerable. But then, he also knew that she, of all people, would not take advantage of him in his weakness. "What would you have me do, Rukia-nee?" he responded quietly, to the eternal shock of Abarai Renji and the obvious delight of his little sister.
- - -
Matsumoto spun the small slip of fuchsia fabric between her fingers absently, trying not to dwell on the fact that she had no proof that it was Nanao's, and that if it was, in fact, Nanao's, then she had no idea what on earth had happened to her.
She was waiting, quite patiently to be sure, for her captain to return from whatever tedious errand he was running and dismally contemplating the surely horrible conversation that was about to take place.
While she had no doubt that Kuchiki Rukia would be able to pull off roping both Kurosaki Ichigo and her older brother into their plan, she was desperately wishing that there was some way they could leave Hitsugaya Toshirō . In fact, she wasn't entirely sure why she had even suggested bringing him into this.
Nanao had always been convinced that Hitsugaya had a soft spot for Matsumoto, and as both the formerly petite captain and Rangiku's affection for him grew, her friend had insisted that it was one of those things that was "just meant to be."
Matsumoto had been inclined to scoff at her every chance she got.
She knew that he was unbelievably powerful, and therefore rightly and unsurpassably her superior. She also knew he was, regrettably, as deadly as he was beautiful. He could probably destroy her with merely a thought, but she was sure he rarely, if ever, thought of her while not in the office.
Of course he was usually in the office, so maybe he thought of her more than she realized.
The side door opened and she jumped up nervously from the desk, her eyes adjusting to the mid-afternoon sunlight pouring into the dim workspace as she blinked rapidly. Hitsugaya stepped in, as soft as a shadow, snapping the door shut and staring at her with a completely unreadable expression on his face.
"Ah—hello, taichō," she grinned sheepishly, pushing her hair out of her way and rubbing the back of her neck with one hand.
"Matsumoto," he inclined his head, and she nearly gasped because she swore that there might have been a flicker of a smile before he ducked his head. "I'm not a little surprised to see you."
"Instead, I'm very surprised," he said drily. "I thought you would be with Captain Eight still?"
Her gaze dropped as she struggled to breathe against the enormously mixed and confusing emotions of security, inferiority, and passion that churned within her. This happened almost every time she initially saw him now, and she still couldn't stop it. Still couldn't understand why she was so confused. Still, still, she could only force the passion down, down, down until the sense of protection and the awe rested peacefully within her breast.
"Yes, well," she murmured. "We came to a conclusion."
She looked back up to catch his faint smirk. "Really?"
"Yes," she said again, inhaling sharply. She had to stop doing that around him, he made her dizzy with the crisp what-ever-it-was he wore or just smelled like, but it was a bad habit that she couldn't break. She was practically addicted to the scent; she stole cushions half the time if she thought it lingered. "Nanao is in grave danger."
Hitsugaya snorted, leaning casually against the wall next to the door. "Please. I could have told you that, fukataichō."
"Well, why didn't you say something, then?" she groused, crossing her arms and pouting.
"Let us examine the facts," he quirked an eyebrow as he began ticking things off on his fingers. "First, Ise Nanao leaves the eighth. Second, Kyoraku-taichō falls into incurable depression. Third, Ise never visits our division anymore. Fourth, the kidō experiments I hear about seem to be working on Ukitake, but when I accidentally run across the new Fukataichō Twelve, she looks like a disaster. Fourth, Ise's reiatsu somehow disappears. Fifth, you manage to sneak into the 12th and straight into Kurotsuchi's main labs."
"Wait a minute," she interrupted. "How did you know I did that?!"
"Clearly," Hitsugaya spread his hands wide, the smirk returning, "something is wrong. Once all the evidence is gathered and put together."
Matsumoto ground her teeth, but managed a smile. "Oh, taichō, you are soooo smart!"
"Now, now, Matsumoto," he chided, "don't go hero-worshiping me again."
She opened her mouth to retort, but he was already rustling through his desk, pulling out objects that she hadn't had the faintest idea were contained in the piece of furniture. "What," he smiled, removing something that vaguely looked like a Batman costume—I am never letting Orihime take me to a movie again, she reminded herself, smiling slightly—and setting it on top of his desk, "cat got your tongue? Weren't you going to ask me something?"
"How did you know I went to the 12th?" she blurted out.
He turned back slowly to look at her, his piercing eyes stealing her breath for a moment before she got a firm grasp on her senses. I did not mean to actually ask that, she thought dismally. "How did I know you were in the 12th?" he asked slowly, coming over to stand in front of her desk.
"Yes," she breathed, cursing herself a thousand ways to hell for not being able to keep her wits straight around Hitsugaya any longer.
"Lieutenant," he murmured, the ice pure gaze never wavering, "you really think I wouldn't be right behind you if you were endangering yourself in any way?"
"Ta-tai—" she stuttered, and swallowed, "—taichō, I wasn't thinking anything of it, sir, really!"
"Where did you think I got that from?" he gestured to the black mound on his desk. "Why do you think I did not call you back for the hour this afternoon you were supposed to be in the office?"
She opened and closed her mouth like a fish, completely dumbfounded. This day had been so long, she had had scarcely time to think. Morning paperwork to get on her captain's good side, no lunch because of the urgent message from Nemu, the quick foray into the 12th, contacting Rukia so that she would have enough time to talk to Ichigo, track down her brother, and return to Karakura, the remainder of the brainstorming session with Shunsui and Ukitake in order to hammer out details, and then a skipped dinner so that she could hurry back and arrive before Hitsugaya. Now looking back though, Hitsugaya had not been in the office when she left, but he should have been back just as she had arrived in Division Eight. She was supposed to be in the office until an hour later, then she should have left for Division Eight; Shunsui had requested her help with Nanao's latest kidō test results. In the sudden uproar, she had completely forgotten this appointment, and her duties to the Tenth.
"I am sorry, sir," she told him, dropping her eyes to the cluttered work surface before her. "I will be more conscientious of my allocated time—"
"Damnit, Matsumoto, who the hell do you think I am?" he snarled, suddenly reaching out to grasp her shoulder. "You know me better than that! I don't want you here if you're trying to save your best friend! I thought that I'd broken you out of the cold-hearted bastard mentality you had of me forever ago!"
She backtracked, shaking her head to clear it. Really, why had she said that? "No! No, Taichō, I don't think you are a cold-hearted bastard at all! If I thought that I wouldn't be here right now, I wouldn't be your fukataichō at all!"
"Open up your mind," he growled, pushing away from her. "All I want is to take care of you, and you think I'm scolding you based on protocol insignificant during the present situation!"
Why did this surprise her so? She knew her captain was a capable and trustworthy man. She knew he would do everything within his power to keep his subordinates safe, but "taking care of" implied just a little bit more than that—well, didn't it? "Ah, Hitsugaya-taichō, thank you." He looked up, and she drew strength from his steadiness. "Thank you for understanding, and thank you for—taking care of me." She couldn't help the small catch in her voice as she said it for herself.
He was around her desk in a flash, forcing her to sit down, snapping orders into one of the division communication systems, something about tea and stand by med packs. She was light headed, how had he known? But there was no point in questioning him, he was Hitsugaya Toshirō, child genius, he could probably tell her what she would eat for lunch tomorrow if he really wanted to. Now he was shaking her. "Matsumoto. Matsumoto! Did you even eat today?"
"N—no, Taichō, I suppose not," she gasped, trying not to tip sideways, but his solid bulk was there, supporting her head before she had to move. She leaned against him for a moment, savoring the sensation, before summoning the energy to straighten. "It's alright. I just used too many flash steps with a lower than usual amount of energy, Taichō."
"You should eat, and then rest, Matsumoto," he told her sternly.
"But, sir, Nanao!"
"You weren't planning on doing anything until tomorrow morning, Matsumoto. I'm going to take you back to your quarters, do a quick check with the med pack's Fourth Division contamination spirit force probes to make sure you didn't pick up something in the Twelfth, and then we are going to eat. After that, you will sleep. I know you were up late with the paperwork last night, and, while I appreciate that, you have depleted your energy to an unnecessary level."
Mind reeling with this sudden display of concern and obvious—oh God, obvious, obvious—attentiveness to her seeming every movement, she could only protest, "But—"
"Those were orders, Fukataichō."
- - -
The door snapped shut behind Ukitake and he stared impassively at Shunsui, who was twirling a piece of straw idly between his fingers as he reclined on the couch. "You are ready, my friend?"
"I was born ready for this," Shunsui told him steadily, his voice coming out from beneath his wide-brimmed hat. "Anything for my Nanao-chan."
"Yes, yes, I know," Jūshirō motioned impatiently. "But I still want your word. You will stay with me, and allow Matsumoto and Hitsugaya to handle the actual rescue. You will behave in front of Kurotsuchi. You will not try to go back and help Hitsugaya."
The other captain tipped his hat up so he could get a better look at the white-haired man, and his eyes were burning like coals. "If that is what must be done, then so be it. Anything for my Nanao-chan," he repeated.
Ukitake exhaled, reassured by the sincerity in Shunsui's voice, and then fished a tattered scrap of material out of his pocket. "I was just with our daring comrades in the Tenth. Shirō has Matsumoto practically locked in her quarters because she nearly fainted after dinner; not enough food or sleep and too many flash steps. She should be alright for tomorrow, and they both know what to do."
He pressed the fabric into Shunsui's already outreached palm. "She wanted me to give you this. She thinks it came from Nanao."
Shunsui discarded the straw and twirled the fuchsia fragment between his fingers. He brought it to his face and inhaled.
He sat up, suddenly alert, and slung his haori around him. "Come on, Jūshirō. We should catch Byakuya before he retires for the night."
The Thirteen Captain eyed him warily. "Well?"
"Oh yes," he murmured, a rare and much missed smile gracing his features to startle his best friend. "Definitely Nanao's."
"Amaranth," he beamed, already striding out the door, leaving Jūshirō to catch up. "I can just catch the scent of amaranth."
Another chapter done! I can remember starting this story last year. . .in class. . .in high school. . .oh how the good old days fade! Just kidding, I am very happy with my college life. Very, very happy!!!!! XD
Something I hope to slip into the next chapter:
"Ah damn," Ichigo hissed under his breath, turning around. "Hello, Byakuya."
The glare he received could have pierced diamonds. "What did you do with my sister?"
"Erm. . .nothing?" Ichigo returned, thoroughly confused.
Ja ne, loves :-)