Snow-White and Pitch-Back

From the Author: This is a small one-shot, dedicated to Ukitake and Nemu, a beautiful pairing which is, unfortunately, quite impossible to find here in the Bleach section. I hope you like this!

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.

He stared at the sun. He felt as if the sun stared back at him.
The middle-aged man with long white hair reached out across the small wooden table and picked up the glass of cold sencha tea. He took a sip from the glass and nearly puked it out; it was horrible. The tea they served in the living world could not compare to the one they served in Seiretei.

Ukitake Jushiro, Captain of the 13th Division and one of the oldest officers in the Gotei 13, was sitting in an uncomfortable chair, dressed in a white summer shirt, brownish slacks and sneakers, was gazing at the monstrous traffic and the constant crowds of people walking, running and strolling back and forth one of the busiest streets of Tokyo. The thunderous sounds of the city life were on the brink of severely damaging Ukitake's hearing. The man could not imagine how the living were standing this destructive style of life. Every single breath they took in this polluted atmosphere was shortening their lives.

Ukitake pushed the sunglasses on his face up the bridge of his nose. He let out a deep sigh and looked around. The city was as busy as usual; nothing abnormal was happening.

Shortly after Aizen was defeated and his army crushed, several Arrancar, along with a vast number of Menos and Adjucas, escaped to the deepest corners of Menos Forest, where no Shinigami was able to track them down. Though that small group of rebels could not pose more of a threat to the living world or Soul Society than an ordinary Hollow would, the survivors were lead by Halibel, the last surviving Espada of the top 10 Arrancar who were in charge of Aizen's troops. Only a few months after the war ended, reports came to the attention of the Gotei 13 that gangs of Hollows, considerably larger than usual, were attacking random places within and in the outskirts of Karakura town. Their attacks were swift and organized, aiming to devour as many living humans and souls in their path as possible, then immediately retreating if Shinigami were sensed approaching. Such organized raids were something unusual for the majority of Hollows, which were mindless and brutal creatures who were just as cooperative with each other as a shoal of hungry sharks were. It was obvious that someone was giving them orders from the shadows. It was not long before the Gotei 13 took actions to neutralize this threat. Their plan consisted of both defensive and offensive elements. The defensive elements were the dispatch of the captains of the 6th, 8th, 12th and 13th Division, along with their lieutenants and several other Shinigami from each Division, who were respectively placed and ordered to guard the north, south, west and east side of Karakura town and its outskirts from Hollow attacks. The offensive elements consisted of a large strike force, commanded by the captains of the 2nd, 4th, 10th and 11th Division, sent into the depths of Hueco Mundo to scour the ruins of Las Noches and Menos Forest with the mission to locate and destroy the Hollows and Arrancar responsible for the raids in the living world. The rest of the Divisions and their captains remained behind in Soul Society to protect it, just in case the Hollows attempt to attack it during the absence of the other Divisions.

Four days had passed since the plan was set in action.

Ukitake raised the glass to his mouth and gulped down the remaining tea with disgust; his manners were the only thing restraining him from pouring the repulsive liquid on the grass. He stood up from his seat, paid the waitress and left the café. The Captain strode towards the park not far away from here. He found an empty bench and sat down.

Ukitake did not disagree with his orders. They seemed like the best solution to the problem; positioning warriors at Karakura town and attacking the Hollows' hideout simultaneously, giving no place for the Hollows and their leader to escape. They needed a miracle to evade the Shinigami forces marching through Hueco Mundo. A big miracle, Ukitake thought; he had heard rumors that Zaraki Kenpachi had finally unlocked his Zanpakuto's Shikai. Zaraki had the power to crush another captain's Bankai and kill an Espada with his Zanpakuto in its sealed form; what chance did that ragtag group of Hollows and low-level Arrancar had against an enemy like the 11th Division captain now?

The white-haired man sighed in boredom. When he, Shunsui, Byakuya and Mayuri arrived in Karagura town, the Hollow attacks ceased as expected. The leader of the remnants of Aizen's army had understood that it was not worth the risk to keep raiding the town when there were four captains, along with their lieutenants and four squads of warriors guarding the town. Shortly afterwards, when it was certain that the Hollows would not attack Karakura town again, the strike force was sent to Hueco Mundo to destroy the Hollows on their own territory. The outnumbered Hollows and their leader would try to make a run for it, but any intrusion from Hueco Mundo to the living world would be instantly intercepted and stopped by the shinigami stationed there. With their enemies blocking the way to the living world from one side and closing in on on them from the other at the same time, the fate of the Hollows and their Arrancar commanders was sealed. Jushiro understood that it was essential for him and the other three captains to keep their positions and remain on watch for any Hollows or Arrancar who might try to escape from Hueco Mundo to this world, but just standing here on toes waiting for something to happen was too tense. He hardly believed that they would attempt something as suicidal as this, but that was a chance no one was willing to take. So now, the only thing Jushiro and the others could do was wait.

Captain Ukitake leaned on the bench. Children were playing around in the park and love couples were passing by him, laughing, hugging and kissing, without a single care in the world. He gazed at them blankly. They had no idea how much he was envying them. After serving the Gotei 13 and protecting Soul Society loyally for so many years, his only reward for doing so was more responsibilities and people to take care of. He yearned so desperately for some rest. He also yearned for a companion; a woman with whom he can spend the rest of his life in peace. All the burdens that weighed on his shoulders, all those dark memories, all of his fears and nightmares… he wished that they could disappear for even a second.

But it was of no use. They were always there with him.

Ukitake rested his body on the bench more comfortably and closed his eyes. His body, tormented by his chronic disease, was not in condition for spending hours on watch without a rest. He had remained on guard for the whole last night and since the dawn broke he could feel his eyelids closing. The hot weather was further draining his strengths; Ukitake was surprised how vulnerable he became to so many factors, such as the weather, when he entered his gigai. But it wasn't actually something unexpected; the gigai took the shape and had the physical strength and endurance of the owner and there was no way Jushiro could be considered a brawny guy. Jushiro's eyelids slowly closed and it was not long before he dozed off. His mind was beginning to fill up with sweet, black oblivion. He felt his thoughts subsiding, the pain inside his skull was dying away. The rejuvenating energies of the long-awaited sleep slowly swept through his body. Jushiro fell asleep…

A loud explosion snapped Ukitake out of his slumber. The captain shook his head, immediately coming back to his senses and feeling the fatigue and tension from a whole night spent without a second of sleep crashing over his body again. His warrior instincts triggered and without thinking, his hand reached over to the hilt of his sword, which wasn't there. He cursed under his nose. He had forgotten that he was still in his gigai. Jushiro rummaged through one of his pockets and pulled out the talisman used to sever the soul from the body. He pressed it against his chest and his gigai collapsed on the ground, completely empty.

The Captain of the 13th Division rose up from the bench and gripped his sword. He looked around and saw it: a towering, sixty-foot-tall Hollow with a feline-like mask had torn off a traffic post and had smashed a hole with it in a nearby building. It was roaring in the characteristic Hollow voice and it could be heard from several blocks away. Ukitake froze in horror and shock: how could he had allowed that monster to slip by his watch? How long has he been sleeping on that bench? The beast was not even a Menos, but that was not important right now; he had allowed that Hollow to enter Karakura town and had given it enough time to cause damage. Jushiro decided to repair his mistake immediately before people got hurt. He placed his other hand on the scabbard and pulled his Zanpakuto out.

He ran towards the Hollow, but before he could even raise his weapon, a blurred figure lunged from the skies and crashed straight into the Hollow. The beast was send stumbling backwards and it collapsed on the road. On top of it was standing none other than the lieutenant of the 12th Division – Kurotsuchi Nemu.

Jushiro cocked his eyebrows in surprise at the woman's unexpected appearance. He spoke out agitatedly:

- Nemu-san? What are you doing so far away from your division's station? I don't want to sound ungrateful or impolite, but this part of Karakura town is under the protection of the 13th Division.

The lieutenant leaped from the dead Hollow as it started disappearing. She answered in a humble voice:

- Pardon me for intruding in your region, captain Ukitake, but the Hollow I was chasing appeared at the border of the 12th Division's region and it moved towards your station. I was too busy pursuing the Hollow to have noticed that I have set foot on your territory. Please, accept my sincerest apologies.

She bowed to him in great respect.

No matter how many times he saw her speaking in this manner and behaving so obediently, Ukitake was always surprised and amazed. It was not a secret that Mayuri was treating his so-called daughter like dirt; her low self-esteem and her servile and respectful attitude towards everyone around her was the result of her father's constant abuse over her. Well, at least now he understood how that Hollow got pass his watch; it did not materialize in his area, but it appeared in Kurotsuchi's region and ran to this point. Somehow, this didn't make Jushiro feel less guilty about not dealing with that Hollow before it had the chance to wreak havoc.

Ukitake also noticed that something was amiss in Nemu's story. Nemu was not someone who would ever lose concentration in battle, so it was very unlikely for her to have made the mistake to enter the 13th Division's region without realizing she had done so. Mayuri would have surely ordered her to cease her pursuit of the Hollow and leave Ukitake's Division to deal with it, seeing as it had entered their region. Could it be that Nemu had taken the destruction of that particular Hollow so seriously that she had left her Division's region and followed it to this part of Karakura? Or maybe she had used the Hollow as an excuse to enter Jushiro's region? But… what for? It didn't make sense, at all.

Sentaro and Kyione appeared around the corner, running and panting towards the place where they had seen the hurtling shinigami landing. The unexpected appearance of the 12th Division's lieutenant surprised them more than the damage the Hollow had caused.

- Captain Ukitake! Are you alright? – Sentaro exclaimed.

- We saw a Hollow crossing the border between the 12th Division's region and ours and we came running here! – Kyione said breathlessly. – Where is the Hollow?

- The Hollow is dead, Kyione. – Ukitake answered briefly. – Lieutenant Kurotsuchi took it out in one attack.

The two 3rd seat shinigami looked at Nemu, who had not moved from her position since her arrival. She still had that calm, reserved expression on her face.

Ukitake turned towards his subordinates:

- Return to your posts. More Hollows might break through if we're not more careful from now on!

Sentaro and Kyione nodded, turned around and sprinted back to their respective posts. The captain of the 13th Division then gazed at Nemu.

- Well, Nemu-san, now that you've dispatched the Hollow, you can return to your Division's region. – He dismissed her while trying not to sound rude or unthankful. - I'm sure that captain Kurotsuchi and the others need your help more than we do.

Nemu nodded in agreement.

- I will, captain Ukitake. But, before I go, I need to speak with you in person.

The white-haired captain raised his eyebrows in sincere surprise. This action was also something that did not seem typical for Nemu's nature. But, on the other hand, Ukitake didn't feel confident enough to state that he expected or not something from Nemu because he hardly knew her.

Jushiro smiled and encouraged her:

- Very well, Nemu-san. No one is around here to hear us. What's that you want to talk about with me?

Nemu diverted her sight. For a moment, she stared at some point, as if embarrassed to look at his face and say it out loud, but then she fixed his eyes again and said:

- Captain Ukitake… I would like to be transferred to your Division.

On the list of all the things Jushiro expected Nemu to say, that did not even appeared in last place. The captain's eyes widened in immeasurable surprise.

- Why would you like to transfer to our Division, Nemu-san? – He asked her. That was the only question his brain could yield right now.

Nemu's expression changed. Ukitake realized that it was his first time seeing her so sad.

- After this operation is completed, captain Kurotsuchi intends to… replace me… with a better substitute that will perform my duties more efficiently.

Ukitake frowned. So Mayuri had someone better for the rank of lieutenant. But… Mayuri was a sworn misanthrope; he could not care less for his subordinates and it was impossible to have seen someone among his Division worthy to become his lieutenant. The only one he respected was himself and he viewed everyone else as inferior. He held in scorn even his own daughter, but the relationship between Nemu and Mayuri could not be described simply as cruel, abusive and neglectful, because Mayuri 'loved' his daughter in a twisted, emotionless way, much like a sculptor was proud of his work and valued the statues he molded. The only thing that could replace his Nemu was a…

So that's what it was…

Ukitake suddenly felt the urge to strangle Mayuri with his own hands. Just in case he wasn't mistaking in his speculations, he asked Nemu:

- What will happen to you after you are replaced? Is captain Kurotsuchi planning to demote you?

The girl shook her head.

- Captain Kurotsuchi is going to… deactivate and dispose of me.

Ukitake gritted his teeth. That son of a bitch… he was going to treat his own daughter like she was some kind of a useless, obsolete item. It was a cruel joke of fate that Mayuri was promoted to the rank of captain; people like him should never be permitted such seats of great power and authority.

- I see. – Ukitake muttered with a dry voice. – Your father considers you nothing but an object… Why do you want to join my Division?

Nemu bit her lower lip and burst out:

- Because I love you!

The captain stared at her, wide-eyed. A blush sprouted on Nemu's face and suddenly she bowed down before Ukitake, belching out abashed apologies:

- I'm sorry! Please, accept my apologies for saying something so rude to you, captain Ukitake! I am--

The white-haired man hastily took her by the shoulders, feeling his heart flutter and a strange feeling of happiness overfilling his soul. He babbled out:

- No! No! What you said wasn't rude, Nemu! It was good! I… I don't know what to say.

He smiled encouragingly. Nemu's eyes were watery with the tears of embarrassment she was about to shed a few moments ago. Ukitake looked straight in those eyes, so deep, dark and beautiful beyond imagination. He understood now how enchanting they were to him…

A roar echoed somewhere in the distance. Ukitake released Nemu and felt the presence of another Hollow, this one being stronger than the beast Nemu took out a few minutes ago. There was another reiatsu, as well. It did not belong to a shinigami.

- Nemu… – Ukitake fixed Nemu. – I promise you that I will speak with Mayuri and convince him to transfer you to my Division after this battle is over. But now, I think it will be best for you to return to your Division and help with whatever you can.

The girl nodded approvingly.

- I will, captain Ukitake! – She answered determinedly. – Thank you!

They exchanged smiles. Such smiles could be seen between lovers who were about to part because they had duties, more important than their personal interests. With those two smiles, a silent oath was taken that they will come back to each other alive. There was a quick noise and they shunpoed to the places where each of them was most needed.

If one could take a look at Karakura town from above, from the eyes of a bird, he could see two blurred missiles hurtling in opposite directions. One was snow-white and the other was pitch-black. The distance between them was increasing with every second and yet… they still felt like they were standing right next to each other.

Sorry for the delay! I hope you enjoyed this story!

Честит Рожден Ден!