Bleach is Kubo's.

In which Rukia makes a choice. Set in the Arrancar arc. Spoilers abound!







It would have been nice to know whether it was a day or night on which she died. Or, for that matter, what the day of the week was, not that she could mark it and commemorate the anniversary in time to come, but knowing at least would afford some meager sense of closure. Sadly, Huecho Mundo was a dust bowl devoid of even the lesser celebrated miracles in life, like a rising or setting sun by which to count the minutes.

Or hours.

Or days.

When he had thrust the trident through her stomach, she had offhandedly wondered what not-life would be like, if indeed there was something waiting for death when she died. Would it be a blank devoid of nothingness, or would Hisana greet her on the other side? Would her sister have found their parents in the nether-life, and together they would form a ring to greet their (presumed) youngest?

It was more pointed to realize that, perhaps, she wouldn't know what to do if she had a real family. She was a mutt, an orphan, the adopted black sheep. A soldier scraping by on her own merits, or, at times, her lack thereof. It was almost … uncomfortable, contemplating something different entirely, after so long of this. A blank nothingness almost sounded more welcoming.

And certainly preferable, should there be a beyond and were it as ridiculous a farce of 'heaven' as Soul Society – all plight and sorrow and heartache highlighted only by hard work, achievement, and overlying despair. It was worth it only because of the bright, shining stars that had lit her way (shining in varying shades of noble sable, sweet strawberry blonde, untamed red and wild orange), but Rukia felt far, far too tired to find new stars.

Bleeding, cold and alone (but not broken – never broken, never again), it angered her that once she had been ready to die and had only words of thanks lingering at the tip of her tongue. Even if her death sentence had been unrighteous at that time, surely such an end would have been preferable to this – stomach gaping open for all the demons to leer and salivate at, reiatsu flaring and weakening and pointedly alone in this miserable pit, filled with nothing but regret and apologies and none of the air to voice them aloud and make them real.

The only thought that made death mildly bearable was the thought that at least they would be together. She and Shirayuki…

Shirayuki… Her power –

She had once flaunted it so effortlessly in Rugonkai. Somehow, it seemed only natural, in retrospect, that the tables had flipped to the polar opposite the moment she had decided she wanted that talent, she wanted that power. What had seemed natural in the slums was suddenly a fleeting ribbon, fluttering just out of reach in the Academy, and she had worked so meticulously to grasp it, then harder still to cultivate it.

It seemed only one of life's great many travesties that it took only a single heartbeat to lose it all Ichigo, then a matter of weeks to lose it further to a false gigai, then almost have it snuffed completely from weeks of forced intimacy with the deathstone of that cursed tower. If she had had to work hard to achieve it in the first time, there wasn't really a proper word to describe the second undergoing.

It was all Shirayuki's masterpiece, of course. Rukia wasn't so wistful as Yumichika or Matsumoto. She knew her sword was merely a part of herself, reflecting her own sentiments and strengths and weaknesses, but that didn't stop her from cursing the woman a bitch and bitterly resenting the gamut she put her through, again and again.

'I suppose you're thinking some philosophical bullshit like, 'Nothing good in life comes for free,' or, 'If you don't work for it, it isn't worth it' or something,' Rukia had challenged bitterly. 'It's coming. If I'm to stand beside him as his strength and not his weakness, we need to move forward, damnit!' If Shirayuki were a person, she would have thrashed her by now. But somehow, kneeling quiet and alone in Nii-sama's private gardens, she couldn't bring herself to chip the perfect, unmarred, infuriatingly silent blade, though it was frozen in midair in testament to her initial plan to smash it against a nearby rock.

The minutes passed. By now, she normally would have given up and taken to a more pragmatic use of her time, like kidou or swordplay (the stubborn bitch couldn't hold back the improvement she'd glean from that practice, after all), but an icy breeze in the warm autumn afternoon chilled her spine, freezing her in place. The rising thrill of off-ness was only accentuated by the realization that though the wind cut her to her core, none of the fragile leaves so much as stirred from their still perfection.

'You are iron, but I will make you cold and tempered steel, and we will be both terrible and beautiful,' the iced princess whispered, and suddenly, Rukia realized the 'gamut' was less a game than the careful stroke of an artist's brush. Rukia was Shirayuki's masterpiece as much as Shirayuki was Rukia's pride, after all.

'The Winter War will be our finest dance, Rukia. Together, we will captivate and terrify them.'

That was their promise, and never again had Rukia questioned the hardship. Nor had she faltered or hesitated in her headfirst plunge into something she did not yet fully understand, but lusted after nonetheless. He might not need a sword (he had his own), but he certainly could use a shield – and certainly one more solid than her sternum, fleshy and giving beneath seeking Arrancar hands.

Or false tridents, carried by calloused hands ripped straight from mixed nightmare and memory.

After all her work, it seemed unfair to watch it all spilling away yet again, this time in shades of crimson on a cold marble floor. "I faltered, Shirayuki. I apologize."

Shirayuki had seethed for decades over Rukia's intractable guilt, and yet now, gutted and dying in Huecho Mundo over her hesitance to strike against one who wore Kaien's face (… wielded his sword, flaunted his stance, quirked his lips…), the sword was eerily silent.

Rukia's eyes were blank now, but she did not need sight to visualize the sword of her soul above her, irises startlingly clear and pupils nonexistent as she peered down at her broken wielder. Aloof, as always, without a visible hint of concern as she carelessly watched the edges of Rukia's blood coagulate and frost into delicate, impossible snowflake patterns.

Somehow, she couldn't stand the thought of the blade's rejection, so she tried again. "I'm sorry, Shirayuki." The words were slightly gurgled from the blood gathering in her lungs. "Our promise –"

"We were always destined to meet again, that one with us." First she refused to speak, then she interrupted just as Rukia was prepared to voice those final things one needed to, to let go. Bitch. "Just please don't be so careless the next time an enemy dresses as a sheep."

'Next time…' Rukia would have laughed, had she had the breath to do so. As it were, she smiled, eyes curled in mirth as she watched her sword (her partner, her pride) watch her.

Shirayuki did not share her smile. "Soon, you will die. It would seem our time as Shinigami is drawing to a close," she informed her carefully – so very carefully, and Rukia knew her blade was trying to share something vital, so she listened to what she did not say.

Rukia blinked, thoughts muddled by pain and an overlying sense of confusion as to why that pain was not fading to the cold of death yet, but rather intensifying in slow, agonizing increments. "You would have me become a Hollow?" she gritted, and blinked again when the words were not accompanied by any misgiving or negative connotation to the concept.

Perhaps it was the blood loss, making her insides numb in place of her out.

"He became Vizaird when his Chain of Fate was severed. But you have no body from which to sever the chain, Rukia. You cannot become a hybrid," the taller woman reasoned, words descending like a second gut wound.

Rukia never imagined she would feel so disappointed upon hearing she could not become a hollow.

Gracefully, Shirayuki crouched low, bringing herself closer to Rukia's level, voice dropping to the kind of whisper used to share the dirtiest of secrets, and unveiled her true intentions with cool fingers twining in Rukia's hair, on her cheek, across her lips. "The hougykuya is close. It was melded into our soul for so long it recognizes us – is crying for us…"

She should have been repulsed at the thought of using the gem. She had almost died because of it; Urahara had been forever banished from Soul Society because of it; countless people would be slaughtered by fabricated Arrancar because of it.

All of this she thought, but when she spoke, what came instead was a regretful sigh. "The power it takes to use it –" Twice the level of a captain…

It was then that Rukia realized that her reiatsu wasn't fading at all, but rather, was being gathered – concentrated, honed. Shirayuki's face was directly before hers now, white irises wide and filled with expectation. No; the pain was not fading, but rather, was being used, like a knife methodically coiled in her gut to intensity it. Multiply it.

Something inside her was unfolding, and it was something far beyond what she had ever hoped to achieve. "You've grown in much larger leaps and bounds than I've allowed you to celebrate, Rukia. Forgive me, for hoarding it away, but I had to keep my promise as well."

How she could have possibly known, or anticipated, or even guessed where they would end up, Rukia did not know. Perhaps it was another facet of her own soul power she had yet to unlock. 'Together, we will captivate and terrify them,' she had promised all those months gone by, and Rukia had not questioned then, and would not question now.

"If you're to stand beside him, we need to move forward," the blade echoed, and suddenly time was winding back at her, tensing, like a string pulled too tight and screaming to break.

'We will go now, Nii-sama,' she had spoken aloud, firm and confident and perhaps even a bit arrogant. It caused almost a heady rush, his unexpected approval. The implicit expectations that came with it went without saying, and her intention to comply at any cost was an unspoken promise between them. 'And we will come back, Nii-sama.'

'I'll catch you on the flipside, Renji,' she had grinned and slapped him on the back. And though he had only just moments because carefully fended off the orange-head's concern for her, his own was now shining through in shades of worry and horror. But they were partners, and he would never insult her as to verbalize those doubts now, casting cracks in that foundation of strength and trust they both so desperately needed here, so far away from everything they knew. So instead he just gave her that look, and her arrogant parting words were a promise to him to make it through this if only to assure him he had not just sentenced them both to death of varying sorts.

'I'll save you, Inoue!' she had sworn over and over again, at first only in the quiet depths of her heart, but then, when the words came more easily each time, aloud, as if the girl was truly a goddess who could draw strength from her devout prayers. She was friendship and brightness and sweetness, and after a life so devoid of these things for so long, Rukia promised the first girlfriend she had ever been blessed with that she would save her.

'Of course I'll stay safe. Idiot,' she had snorted when Ichigo's gaze had lingered just a little too long on her, brown eyes filled with too much gentleness and not enough fire for their coming battle. It was a promise, of sorts. To explore that wonderful fluttering in her stomach and the red tinge in his cheeks later, when they had the time. When it was safe to fan a fire of different sorts than bloodlust and killing and power and battle.

But, 'You are iron, but I will make you cold and tempered steel, and we will be both terrible and beautiful,' was the promise with her soul, and somehow, among all the others that flickered like so many hell butterflies in her head, that was the brightest, the one that stood alone and aloof and proud from the rest.

'…we need to move forward…' Shirayuki said, and the tiny Shinigami nodded, eyes still clouded by death but now suddenly very sharp and clear.

"Yes," Rukia replied at long last, and reached to take Shirayki's hand in her own. "We will move forward."




The Beginning





I've been hankerin' to do a Bleach story for a long while now. Being Rukia (and Rukia x Ichigo) starved in recent chapters, I figured it was long overdue.

I had so many different ways I could have gone with this one, but most of them were very epic, and I have a bad habit of not finishing my epics, so for you (my beloved readers), I made it a oneshot with a vague possibility of continuation if the mood (and reviews ) struck right.

Let me know if you enjoyed!