A/N: In case it wasn't shamefully obvious already, I'm all about the indulgence. I indulge you, I indulge myself. I'm a bad girl.
In the split second in which her eyesight blurred and she felt the excruciating "pop" in her head, Hakumei (formerly Arisawa) Tatsuki knew she was about to die. She was old, all of ninety-two years, but she had never been given to the fatalistic "when I'm dead soon" state of mind her mother had been in at the time of her death. Instead, she was often brushing off the desperate entreaties of her children to come and spend whatever time she had left with them. She disliked the idea of being an old grandma who could no longer fend for herself. So she had remained, alone, in the house where she lived with her husband from their third year of marriage up until his death twenty years ago.
As she crumpled to the ground, the thought absently that this was hardly the dramatic end she feared. In her dreams she would be inside and fall in a graceful, slow-motion arc to the floor, breathe distractedly one or two times before succumbing to death. Her body would be found, complete with a decidedly un-artistic aroma, within two or three days by her well-meaning but occasionally negligent daughter-in-law who lived close by. Then there would be much screaming and rending of flesh—this from the daughter-in-law—and a resigned sigh from each of her sons. She had raised her boys not to be dramatic. They understood she would have to go eventually and the mode was insignificant.
But no. She blinked, taking a deep breath and knowing without trying that she could not move on her left side. A would-be Vale Tudo champion felled by a stroke. And just outside her door. She could hear the yells of panic and feel the neighbor girl crouching close over her, calling her name. Tatsuki could not respond, and instead settled for being carefully turned and facing up at the panicking girl. She was thinking of a feeble attempt at comforting the poor thing when things went dark.
And light again. The shinigami was already there. He was young and fresh looking, complete with a ridiculous lightning bolt looking tattoo just above his right eye. "Arisawa Tatsuki-dono?"
Tatsuki twitched, ignoring the feel of the pavement beneath her feet. "Hakumei Tatsuki, yes."
The boy ignored this. "Arisawa-san, my name is Richiki. I have been sent to retrieve you."
"I know," she said. "I'm ready."
He nodded at her, withdrew his sword, and gently tapped her forehead with the hilt.
The transfer was instantaneous. The view shimmered and popped; she was suddenly face-to-face with a tall, slender woman with glasses and jetty hair tied back in a tight, austere bun. She clutched an insanely large book at her chest, but the hakama marked her as another Shinigami. "Arisawa Tatsuki-san?" She adjusted her spectacles with slender white fingers.
"Hakumei Tatsuki," Tatsuki said. Did everyone here go by their birth names?
"My name is Ise Nanao. I am the vice captain of the eighth division of the thirteen court squads and I have come to assist you. Could you follow me, please?" She turned without waiting for an answer. Tatsuki paused, glancing around herself. It was a simple white room, no furniture, no adornment, no windows. If she followed the prim woman, most likely she would be shown to a place where she could sit. As she stepped out of the room and into the hallway, her stomach rumbled. Maybe she could get something to eat, too. . .
Ise-san had stopped and turned. "Arisawa-san?"
Tatsuki opened her mouth to correct her, hurrying her step, but the look of the woman reeked of the concept that she disliked being contradicted. "I'm coming," she said, catching up to her. She dug deep in her mind for the information she possessed on the raking of Shinigami. "You're a vice-captain. Do vice-captains usually greet people? There must be thousands of people arriving here a day, and if there are only thirteen of you. . ."
"Your arrival is a special circumstance. Kurosaki Ichigo-taichou and Kuchiki Rukia-taichou are both familiar with you. They did not wish you to be deposited into Rukongai like the others."
"It is the place where souls gather when they first arrive. But since you may be in possession of a fair amount of spirit energy, there were concerns for your safety there."
"Ichigo was worried about my safety." Tatsuki had not thought of him in forty years, since long after he abandoned his human life. She had supposed he'd forgotten all about her. But of all the things he'd remember, couldn't the fact that she was used to taking care of herself be the one? She hated when people assumed she was helpless, even as an old lady. She paused. But she did not feel like an old lady. She examined her hands. The wrinkles were gone, and when she curled her fingers they did not crack as usual. She frowned. "Ise-san?"
Ise looked at her.
"How old am I now?"
Ise tilted her head. "That's normal for one with spirit energy, Arisawa-san. How old were you?"
"I'll show you a mirror when we get to the examination room. You don't look a day over twenty. But for now," she said with a smirk, "there are people who wish to say hello."
Tatsuki barely had enough time to let this information process with Ise-san made a sharp turn into an open room. Kurosaki Ichigo, in all his glory, pounced.
"It's about time, dammit," he said, cuffing her head. He barely looked twenty himself. "I was beginning to think you never wanted to see me again."
"Well, another ten years wouldn't have killed you," Tatsuki shot back. Things has not really changed at all. Neither of them were dead. They were just a few years older and still giant kids at heart.
Rukia pushed Ichigo out of the way. "He's been talking about this all day, you know. He said Asano wasn't fitting company and he'd like to have his ass kicked by you again. It's good to see you, Tatsuki-chan."
Tatsuki smiled. "It's weird, Rukia-chan. It's been years since anyone has called me that."
Rukia's smile was warm. "Get used to it. Orihime wants you to remember yourself again, and since she won't be here for another few years, I told her I'd fill in."
"We all told her." The voice came from the door. Rukia and Ichigo both smiled, albeit somewhat darkly. Tatsuki turned to face the new addition.
The red hair. The tattoos. The determined scowl twisted somehow into a welcoming grin. She remembered him, alright. Rukia's friend. "Abarai Renji," Tatsuki said. He'd been nice enough to her, but she could not recall them ever talking at length. Mostly he made her feel uncomfortable. He was always too close, and always staring with weird, inexplicable expression. And here he was again, as friendly as ever but nowhere near as unsettling as she remembered. Perhaps people just liked to be friendly around here. But he stepped forward, took her hands. She would have pulled away—what a goddamn personal space invader!—but his grip was solid.
And his eyes were soft and brown. "Welcome to Sereitei, Hakumei Tatsuki-san."
For the first time in sixty years, she wished her name was still Arisawa. She almost snatched her hands away at that point; the guilt was too sharp to bear. Now she remembered. Abarai Renji was a creep.