Disclaimer: Bleach is © Kubo Tite, Viz Media, Studio Pierrot, Shueisha, etc. This is a nonprofit fanwork.
Full Wolf Moon
Perhaps Kaien's death had served as a trigger.
Or perhaps Rukia had already been balanced precariously on that point of no return.
In the end it didn't matter.
In a low voice, Ukitate explained the circumstances to Byakuya outside her closed door. Byakuya said nothing in reply, no movement or expression betrayed so much as a single stray emotion. When Ukitate finished, the only words he received in response were, "You may go."
Ukitate bowed and took his leave.
Byakuya stood a moment in front of her door before opening it. He did not believe in coddling one's emotions. It was unseemly for a Kuchiki to retreat within herself. On the battlefield and elsewhere, a Kuchiki could not falter.
Inside the dim gloom of the room Rukia laid curled up on her bed, dried tear tracks marring her face. Blood splattered the clothes she had mutely refused to let the maid servants change. In her arms laid something white and equally bloodstained.
He stepped forward and then stilled. Though he could not see it, he could feel the spirit force rising from the blade. Had he been able to see it, he would have faced the spectre of a snow-white animal with its head lifted, ears pricked, staring at him with icy blue eyes, showing a row of teeth, sharp and white. They regarded one another for an instant, man and sword, and he said, "Ah," very quietly, inclined his head imperceptibly, and exited the room.
Sode no Shirayuki turned and licked her mistress's face, once, then settled down into Rukia's arms, and proceeded to dream her own dreams.
Rukia had never been particularly fond of dogs.
They were smelly, barky, happy, tail-wagging, affection-seeking, rabbit-chasing mongrels who liked to jump on her and lick her all over, the beasts. And the one time they'd ever taken care of a stray when she and Renji and the others had been young, it had brought her offerings of sticks and dead rats, and when she'd snapped at it that she didn't want these things, stop bringing them! it had looked at her so mournfully that she'd had to relent and make a show of picking up the rat and being VERY PLEASED which Renji had found hysterical. He'd laughed until he'd cried, and then Rukia had pummeled him until he'd cried some more.
And when they'd finally given the dog away to a "family" - life was hard enough on the streets of Rukongai without caring for some mangy mutt on top of it - it had not stopped whimpering after them the whole time they'd walked down the street. Rukia had not been able to block her ears, block out the sound of it, and part of her had wanted to run back and fling her arms around it neck and say, "Shut up, you dumb mutt, I'm not going anywhere," but she hadn't.
Even later, when she watched Renji walk away from her down that long hallway, she'd thought, it's just the same, isn't it, and had wished, briefly, that all those years ago she had turned around and run back.
No, Rukia had never been particularly fond of dogs.
But Shirayuki wasn't a dog, she was a beast. She wasn't a pup, she was a cub, and not even that for long. And she didn't wag her tail or lick her face or bring her sticks or roll over and play dead - Shirayuki was both too feral and too advanced for all those things. What Shirayuki did was slash, sharp-toothed, then dance away in a flurry of snow and ice and circle the prey again in a flash. She scented weakness and dove for it, and later, when Rukia had better control and Shirayuki had grown, she held onto her prey by the jugular and refused to let go, a stretch of ice and snow from heaven to earth.
Shirayuki was a wolf.
She was aloof and yet she hunted well in a pack . . . She would keep out of the way of Captains and Vice-Captains and their blades, would show the younger and weaker cubs how it was done, would keep a respectful manner around the Kuchiki family though she chafed at it - but Rukia's needs came first - would snap at and harry Zabimaru when they dueled, and would roll over and show her belly to just Sougyou no Kotowari and Hyourinmaru. Rukia supposed that last was just a form of respect, ice sword to ice sword . . . that, or you just didn't fuck with a dragon. But then again, she also was a little wary, not of Tengen, but of Komamura-taichou, so Rukia didn't really altogether understand her. But she always felt the urge to tear out Shinsou's throat whenever Gin passed by, so Rukia supposed she understood her well enough for all that - she was Shirayuki's cub and Shirayuki was willing to kill for her.
Had, in fact, killed for her.
But they never spoke of that, not ever.
Shirayuki didn't mess around. She was patient with her cub but she could also as short-tempered as the girl whose soul she was part of and was as caustic and biting in her complaints, which were delivered, not with words, but with a sharp nip or the flash of needle-sharp teeth. It wasn't that Shirayuki couldn't talk, Rukia was certain, it was just that talking was for humans.
Crying was also for humans, and frustration, but Shirayuki didn't complain if Rukia sometimes buried her face in her fur and sobbed. Rukia, sadly, was a human, and while her zanpakutou left these human things to her, she did not begrudge them of her.
In time Rukia would come into her own, and slowly, slowly, others were acknowledging their strength. Perhaps this next assignment would be the push Rukia needed to reach bankai . . . Shirayuki wanted to reach bankai level very much - it didn't do for monkeys to try and outdo her. Yes, in the human world, she and Rukia would train themselves well.
Slow! Shirayuki thought. Too slow, too careless! Damn the limiter! One second of her real strength and she would have danced in and ripped into the soft underside of this hollow's belly.
But her cub was bleeding and Shirayuki felt her strength fading with the blood that gushed from her wounds. So what to do? Another moment and the hollow would exploit their weakness - pick off the young, the old, the weak, the sick, the injured - it was a rule of nature. Think, think.
Here in front of them was a young untested cub, but his eyes were clear and his strength and will to live were apparent, and in that instant Rukia and Shirayuki made their decision.
As she plunged into his chest, Shirayuki remembered another young cub with equally bright eyes, and swore that this time she would not sever this young life so easily.
Power flowed through her and she thought, grimly, the young are strong indeed, and together with him, carved a path with her fangs through her prey.
Shirayuki was annoyed.
Inconvenience aside, she had not expected to be in this world of metal and glass towers and sky and endless rain for very long. But each time she tried to scent her way out, the path was blocked by something ominous and artificial and vaguely smelling of Rukia and shinigami magic.
She concluded, irritably, that Benihime's master was a bitch . . .
Well, she would simply have to trust in Rukia to get her back. But her cub, while reliable, could be slow in such remedies. However, it was not as though she could not keep track of her cub's doings. This male cub had already borrowed her powers once, doubtless Rukia would make him continue to do so until she regained her powers from him, and in the meantime, it was apparently as easy to keep track of the outside world from inside a human as it was from inside a shinigami. That was surprising, but then, Shirayuki didn't suppose this situation occurred very often, so who was to say what was common or uncommon?
So for a while longer she would be trapped in this empty world. Rukia's world was also empty, but more arctic tundra and less urban sprawl, and sometimes Shirayuki could almost convince herself that somewhere beyond that next snowy, rolling hill, there was a whole valley of plump, juicy rabbits.
On the second day she tried to break into a window of one of the buildings - her fur was so wet from the rain it was simply intolerable. But the glass refused to break, and she sighed. At that moment, something brown and bedraggled caught her attention. A man, she thought, wonderingly. And why should this orange-furred human cub with ridiculous amounts of spiritual energy have a man living inside of him anyway?
Curiosity only killed cats so she padded lightly forward, her nose twitching at the scent of the man slumped against a wall.
He wasn't dead, she was sure, but he didn't seem inclined to move either. She moved forward and nudged him with her nose then sprang back as she stirred, her ears pricked forward and her eyes watchful.
"Hello," he said in a voice that sounded cracked and hoarse as though it had never been used.
She sat down on her haunches. A man, no, just another cub, inside of this boy named Ichigo. It should not have been possible . . . but for all that, it was what it was.
"Who are you?" the man said, blinking.
She gazed at him for another moment, then her mouth fell open in a wolf's smile and she said, "Sode no Shirayuki." Speech was a human thing but she was inside of a human and this cub was not advanced enough to speak to her without words.
"I am . . ." he stopped.
"You," she said deliberately, "are not yet old enough for a name."
He looked at her. "You're not from this world."
She shrugged as wolves do. "I will be borrowing your territory for a time - bear with it, and I will teach you something of interest, young one."
"I saw you fight," he said suddenly, "and Ichigo. That girl, are you he-"
"She is mine, and I am hers. Just as you and this human cub should be one. But before all that - when does it stop raining?"
"It doesn't," the nameless man said wearily.
Shirayuki snarled and rose to her feet, shaking her fur. "Very well, then I will make it a little more bearable." As he watched a wind rose, the sky lightened slightly, and the interminable rain suddenly floated down, white and feather-light.
"I can't make it stop," she said, "only change the nature of it. Perhaps when this is all done and I return home there will be better weather for you and rabbits for me."
A smile graced the man's lips. "Perhaps."