Fourth Dance

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. That honor belongs to Tite Kubo. All characters are depicted as legal age.

Warnings: Spoilers for the Soul Society Arc and Beyond

This is for the 5 True Loves community on LiveJournal, #25: Destruction.

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Fire and Ice, Robert Frost

His world did not end with a bang or a whimper. But rather both. It first crumbled apart with a slow decay, agonizing as he helplessly watched Hinamori drift further and further from him. Lost to madness and grief. Gone to the deep places inside herself where he could not follow.

Then, she abruptly shattered. Hinamori died in a blaze, screaming for her precious captain until the bitter end.

And Toushirou… he could only gape in horror. Be pulled back by Kurosaki and Ukitake as she was reduced to ash. His life going right along with her.

Her memory infiltrated his every thought and deed. Hinamori. Bed-wetter Momo. His childhood friend. Who could have possibly one day grown to be something more. But now and forever, she would remain lost to him. An insurmountable chasm he could never bridge. Not in this life or the next.

All he could think about was Hinamori as she was consumed by fire. It filled his mind every day. Every waking hour. Replayed over and over again. Even as he fought on. Killed Arrancar left and right. Roared through the Espada like an avalanche. Left Ichimaru Gin a bloody and sodden mess on the sands of Hueco Mundo. Lay dying at Aizen's feet once more.

Flames danced before his eyes. Fire, fire burning bright. As brilliant and short-lived as she was, snuffed out all the same. Black encroaching where there had once only been red.

And then, Toushirou woke up in the fourth division, not entirely certain how he had gotten there. Staring up at Unohana's mournful face. Blinking and wondering just what the hell had happened.

Only to learn that Aizen had actually fallen. Not to his hand. Or to the captain-commander. Or even to Kurosaki. But to an unseated Shinigami in the thirteenth division. To a mere wisp of a girl, who had killed him coldly, ruthlessly. Just as he had done her brother.

Kuchiki Rukia.

The person in the bed just over from him.

He couldn't help but think that she looked as dead as he felt. Only the rise and fall of her chest betraying that she was alive. Pale and frozen skin. Fathomless eyes, just staring up at the ceiling. And cold, so very cold. Crisp and bitter.

She merely went through the motions. Didn't even respond when her friends visited. Not Inoue or the Quincy or Sado. Not her captain when he seemed on the verge of tears, clutching at Kurosaki like he would break. Not even Kurosaki himself as he held her hand.

So frosty and cold. Frozen.

And through it all, Toushirou remained silent. Understood that all the words and platitudes in the world wouldn't make this any better. He honestly had nothing to say to her. He just patiently stayed in his own bed, thoughts turning over in his head. Thinking and thinking about all sorts of things. Aizen, the war, dying, his division. And most of all, the girl just to the left of him. Of her brother. Her dead nakama. Her devastated friends.

And fire. Hinamori.

Then, it was finally time for him to go home. He should have been happy or at least pleased. But a part of him dreaded the walk back, spending the night alone in his big and empty house. Returning to work. Having to put up with Matsumoto again and all the rest of the idiots.

Toushirou took his time getting dressed and even folded all the covers on his bed. Straightened the side table, messed around with a few other things. Delayed as much as he could until finally there was nothing to do. Just stand and look around, gradually inching to the exit. Passing by her bed. Feeling compelled to say something to her but not knowing what.

"…Get better," he decided at last and shrugged as he turned to the door.

"They're dead, you know."

Toushirou paused and raised an eyebrow, not entirely certain if she was talking to him or to herself. "Who?" he inquired in a voice far too hesitant to be his own.

"Renji and nii-sama," she clarified, gaze shifting to glance at him. "Dead. Both dead."

He turned around entirely and said very matter-of-factly, "Yes, they are."

"I could have saved them. Should have saved them." Her eyes were so blue in that moment, glacial, like glass ready to shatter. "Should have killed the bastard earlier."

"I… Why are you telling me this?" Toushirou asked. He didn't even realize as he feet carried him back to his bed or when he sat down. "Why me? Why now?"

Very slowly, she moved her head to look at him more fully. "You're not like them."

"No, I'm not," he said after a moment.

But she didn't reply. Just watched him in silence, seconds stretching on. An eternity passed before Toushirou finally stood again.

However, he paused by the door. "I'll be back to tomorrow."

He was. That day. And the next. And the next after that.

And not once did he think of fire.

Ever Hopeful,