Where did it begin?
He finds himself wondering this when he is doing miniscule tasks like the laundry or lifting something heavy for someone who has asked a favor. In the moments when the mind is free to wander, the past comes drifting by him, a faint stroke of leaves against an open doorway.
And sometimes, in the dusky morning before the sun has risen, before they have anywhere to be but each other, he will turn to her and ask the same thing.
She responds by smiling. "Don't you remember?"
The first time, she had saved him without knowing a thing about him.
He had been lying in a pool of his own blood and the white stones had been strangely comforting to his broken body.
He thought she was going to kill him and when she turned him over and he saw her face, he thought how wonderful it would be to die under such a lovely image.
A fist, he had learned, was a deadly weapon. And, more often than not, it was a cursed weapon. It makes everyone unhappy with every swing.
His grandfather had taught him that and he had also taught him that being strong and being tough does not give one the right to be abusive. Rather, being strong and being tough gives one the obligation to be kind.
Kinder than anyone.
He remembers her hands and her smile. She was soft spoken, delicate, pale as snow. She reminded him of a forest in winter, beautiful and still.
When he asked her why she had saved him, she looked surprised.
"Should I not have?" she asked.
"I'm your enemy."
He didn't know how to answer that question, so again he asked, "Why?"
She sighs delicately and looks at him directly. "Because," she says, "it was the kind thing to do."
The second time she had saved him by descending into hell.
Again he has been defeated and she stands over him and he thinks how wrong it is that she should be the one protecting him.
Against the darker forces she doesn't falter but she doesn't chase after them either when they flee.
This time he remembers her name and there is a swordhilt in her fist.
When he is able to stand, he joins her. "Why didn't you go after them?"
She doesn't look at him. "Should I of?"
"They were the enemy."
"Yes," she agrees, "but," and now she turns to look at him, a slight frown marring her perfect brow. "You're an ally."
They hide in the dark halls, him and her and her vice captain, and carefully they seek out their fallen comrades.
There were snatches of conversation in between the spaces of being hunted and being the hunters, ones he doesn't remember, but he does remember her smile, and he remembers the touch of her hand. He remembers her laugh, low and quiet, like a moan, and he remembers the way it made his hair stand on end.
He does remember once as they sat together, waiting for her vice captain to scout out the way ahead, he had said to her, "You told me that the reason you saved me was because it was the kind thing to do."
She waited for him to continue, arms folded in her lap.
"Is that why you became a healer?"
"My power is to give life."
"Is that why?"
She shifted against the cool stone. In her eyes he could see her mulling, trying to think of an answer. "To give life," she said finally, carefully, as if piecing together words to a puzzle, "one must be kind. To be a healer, one must be kind. When you have the power to heal, when you hold the life of someone in the palm of your hand, you have the obligation to be kind. Kinder than anyone."
"Kinder than anyone," he repeated softly.
"Yes." She uncrossed her arms and looked at him fully. "You asked me why I didn't go after those Hollows. The reason I didn't is because when you're a healer, you are obligated not to fight for yourself. Instead, you give others the means to fight for you. You must be the one to stand behind and you must be the one to wait. You must be the one to let others fight."
When he rose from his position on the floor, she didn't move, and when he offered her his fist, she blinked.
"Then let me fight be the one to fight for you."
She stared at him a moment then she laughed, gracefully, fully. She touched his closed hand.
"If you let me be the one to heal you."
Against Aizen's forces they banded together. Most of Soul Society had come. They didn't stand a chance otherwise.
Across the sands, Aizen's forces were brewing, a dark cloud of evil and thunder.
The armies waited, gathering their forces before they struck, preparing themselves.
His arms are transformed and he is so focused on the opposite force that he barely registered the touch on his forearm.
"Remember what we said." Her breath fanned his cheek. "Fight for me because I cannot. And let me heal you, because you cannot."
He touched her face, once, then the battle began and they separated.
The third time she saved him there were tears in her eyes.
Once again he had been defeated and the blast that was meant for her he had taken.
It had been a defeat he was happy to make.
He remembers her crying and the look on her face and how much it meant to him.
"Why?" she asked him in that soft-spoken, husky way of hers when he is finally healed enough to stand. "Why did you do that?"
"Should I not have?"
"You could have been killed."
"Yes," he agreed after a moments thought. "That is true."
"Because," he said, "it was the kind thing to do."
Aizen had been defeated and the years had gone trickling by, like sand in an hour glass. The outsiders kept in close contact with Soul Society and she comes to visit him. There are many visits, so many he can't remember them all. They are like snowflakes flying through the air and occasionally he catches one.
"Do you think the world is a better place now that Aizen is gone?" she had asked rhetorically one day as they watched the moon cross the sky.
"Maybe not for everyone," he answered, "but for me it is."
"I'm a great deal older than you," she informed him another day, another week, another month, all the time slipping by like grains of sand.
"Doesn't that bother you?"
"No." He smiled ruefully. "I never felt like my age in the first place anyway."
He is older, wiser, and he bought her roses because it seemed like a good idea.
When he gives them to her, she stared at him, astounded. Then she smiled, that beautiful smile, and he knew.
They weren't very emotional people. Unlike Ichigo and Orihime, who feed off their emotions, their emotions could only hinder them. Ones that are powerful and ones that must heal the powerful do not have room to become messy with emotions. They must be quiet with these, careful, so as not to disturb those they must protect.
Without a word being spoken, he knew she loved him too.
"Thank you," she said in the quiet hush of the bedroom, in the spaces between comfortable silence and sleep.
"For saving me."
He laughed his short bark then, because it was silly that she would thank him for that of all things. "Really," he said. "I should be the one thanking you."
"Let us thank each other then."
And they did. Many times.
The fourth time, she is unable to save him.
He hadn't expected the robber to have a gun and when the gun had gone off, he smirked because after all the battles and wars he had survived through, it was such a ridiculous way to go out.
He remembers her coming for him. In the huge expanse of Soul Society she had searched for him, like the day of Aizen's battle when she had wanted to make sure he was okay, and she had found him.
He didn't ask her why she had come for him. This time, he knew why she had.
When it is dusk and the day is done, under the flowering trees of the courtyard, Unohana leans her sword next to his.
As she sits down beside him, he asks, "Where did it begin?"
"Which part?" she responds. "Usor the afterlife?"
Under his heavy brows, he stares at the lake and the koi fish. "Both," he says at last.
"Don't you remember?"
"Bits and pieces."
She laughs like a moan and leans against his shoulder. "Is it really so bad being dead?"
Chad responds without a moments hesitation. "No." He looks down at her. "If anything," he says, "my life only truly began when it ended."
Smiling, she kisses him, and Chad's life begins anew all over again.