Say what you like about the Bleach filler arc. Say. What. You. Like.

But it gave me Ririn, Noba, and Kurodo, and therefore I am happy. I love these three. 'Specially Noba. Although Kurodo has his moments, which is why from his point of view.

This takes place the night after the (failed) attacked on Kariya's mansion. It was inspired by the scene after the three's fight with Aramaki, where Ririn had a nervous breakdown and went off on that really emotional tirade.

I tried to show Kurodo in a slightly better light. You'll have to be the judge of how I did.


Okay…Maybe…Probably

Ririn had thought she'd seen many scary things in her short life.

She'd seen Bounts.

She'd seen Hollows.

She'd seen people eaten alive or having their souls sucked out.

But none of those horrible things was quite so horrible as the sight of Noba and Kurodo bleeding.

She knew, of course, that Gigai's were meant to function in a manner virtually identical to normal human bodies. That included containing blood. And when you contained blood…there was always the risk that you could wind up bleeding.

And now…Noba and Kurodo were bleeding.

Ririn watched, trying to swallow past a painful lump in her throat. The three of them had stumbled back to Urahara's shop, with assistance from Ichigo and Rukia. The journey across town had drained what little strength they'd all had left after their battles in Kariya's mansion. Because of this, the three mod-konpaku had been left here while the others went home to sleep and recover and heal.

And now, Urahara was giving Kurodo and Noba a lesson on how to help themselves heal, before their Gigai's shut down from blood loss. He'd told them that, if a Gigai shut down, there was very little chance of retrieving the soul from it…and, because of this, the soul was likely to die with its fake body.

Ririn did not want to contemplate that possibility at all.

They'd both taken their shirts off, the better for Urahara to assess the damage. And, for the first time, Ririn saw her two friends hurt. Their injuries were there, raw and livid and quite obviously painful. Ririn had gotten off bruised and battered, with a broken rib or two and a few cuts. One, located on her temple, stung painfully and was bleeding into her eyes. But the sight of her own blood still failed to be quite so horrible as the sight of the blood of her friends.

Urahara finished his explanation, and the other two nodded. Lost in her own thoughts, she'd missed a good chunk of the lecture. But she knew how it was supposed to work. Because Gigai's were not proper bodies…and because they were not proper human souls…they could speed up any healing they had to do by sacrificing some of their Spirit Energy to repair their bodies. Since Noba and Kurodo were still at risk of bleeding to death…Urahara had said that it was probably their best hope.

Noba conscientiously zipped his hood shut. Kurodo closed his eyes, tipping his hat a bit further over his face. Then, they sat with their legs crossed and their hands on their knees…looking a little too relaxed, in Ririn's opinion, for two people so close to death…and called up their remaining reserves of Spirit Energy. They glowed with a soft blue light and slowly…painfully slowly, to the anxious girl…their injuries began to heal. The gashes in their chests knit themselves back together. Bruises faded.

"Ririn."

She started, and realized that Urahara had been watching her as she watched her friends. He looked down at her, gaze stern.

"You need to focus," he said. "You're almost as badly off as they are."

Ririn swallowed, then nodded. "Right."

She closed her eyes, and sat with her legs crossed and her hands on her knees. She reached inside herself and tried to call up her Spirit Energy. Tried to focus. Tried to clear her mind of the image of blood.

But because she had never been that good at focusing…and because, if she had to admit it to herself, she was just that worried about her friends…it took a lot longer and a lot more effort before she felt her own injuries start to heal, and by the time she opened her eyes again it was to find both Noba and Kurodo fully healed and watching her in concern.

* * *

Noba and Kurodo did not become any less concerned for Ririn as the night went on, although they hid their feelings from her. This was because they could tell that Ririn was doing the same to the two of them. The little girl had always scorned softer…or, as she disdainfully called them, weaker emotions. So, after the three of them had all completely recovered, they assumed their old behaviors as though they'd never stood on the brink of death.

As though Ririn had never cried for them, tearfully praying for them to live.

"They can't die! Noba and Kurodo are all I have! If they die, I'll be all alone!"

They hadn't said anymore about that exchange, because it was embarrassing for her and just plain odd for them.

Especially because, Kurodo reflected, they had been on the brink of death, and ready to give up the fight entirely. But, through the blackness, they'd heard Ririn crying. They'd heard her crying their names and praying for them to live.

And…they'd come back.

Because Ririn had been right.

The three of them were all they had.

* * *

Blackness. Pain. Lots of pain. Stiffness. Blackness. All very dark.

It was always this dark when he was in pill form. When he was a pill, there was nothing around him. No noise. No color. No Ririn or Noba. Just him, trapped in his own little world with his own little thoughts.

Except…his thoughts seemed to be coming very slowly. And there wasn't very much to think about. There was just…pain.

Kurodo didn't like pain.

He didn't like the blackness, either. He even preferred his plushie-body to the blackness all around him. When there was the blackness, he was usually alone in his pill, alone and vulnerable. When the blackness retreated, that meant that there would be people around him. People to protect him from the dangers that always plagued those like him.

But…this time, he was in a body. But it was a body that refused to move. Perhaps the recent battle had broken it. He was just a fake soul, trapped in a broken doll.

Trying to fight his way back to consciousness just hurt. Kurodo didn't like pain. He and Ririn and Noba had always spent most of their time trying to avoid pain. So how had he come to hurt so much?

If he stopped fighting, there probably wouldn't be so much pain…

Kurodo liked the sound of that.

But suddenly, there were voices. Voices in the blackness. That had never happened before. The blackness was usually impenetrable by light and sound alike.

"Kurodo! Noba!"

"They took a direct hit from a skilled Soul Reaper. There'll be a lot of damage."

"Then what'll we do?"

That was Ririn's voice. She sounded worried, and scared.

"We can't just let them die! Kurodo and Noba are all I have…without them, I'll be all alone! Noba, you have to wake up! Noba!"

And suddenly Kurodo was not alone. Because Ririn was suddenly next to him, gripping his shoulder too hard and shaking him. Her voice was choked and strained, and she sounded on the verge of tears.

"Kurodo! Please, don't die! You've got to stay with me Kurodo! I'll do anything! Please…just say something!"

Ririn was crying so hard that she could barely speak. Kurodo did not like it when Ririn cried…usually because, when she did, it meant he or Noba had done something wrong. Failed to protect her.

Kurodo had never been one for bravery, or for risking his own skin when there was someone else to do it for him. But he'd always seen a distinction between cowardice and a lack of loyalty. He had always defended Ririn and Noba. Often, he did this by helping them get out of whatever bad situation they'd landed themselves in…but, even so, he always tried not to let them get hurt.

"Just talk to me, Kurodo!"

It took a tremendous amount of effort…but Kurodo opened his eyes. He took in a few bits of the room they were in, with its ruined furniture and shattered potted plants. He saw Ririn, still shaking him.

There were tears in her eyes.

He closed his eyes again, trying to muster his energy. How dare he let Ririn cry? That was just un-gentleman-ly!

Then…a new voice spoke.

How long had Rukia been there?

"All right, Kurodo, that's enough. You can stop pretending to be unconscious."

Nothing for it…

Still very tired, Kurodo opened his eyes properly and looked up at Ririn and Rukia. Seeing the tears still in Ririn's eyes, he cracked a smile and laughed. "Well, good morning everyone!"

Ririn looked absolutely stunned to see him alive. Slowly, tentatively, she turned to where Noba lay on the ground.

"Noba…?"

The other mod soul pushed himself into a sitting position…then, zipped his hood shut in embarrassment. He'd obviously heard just as much as Kurodo had.

Seeing this immediately sent Ririn spiraling back into her default stage of indignant rage.

"Kurodo!" she yelled, rounding on him. Her face was beet red.

"It's not what you think!" Kurodo yelled desperately in his own defense, dropping back into his default state…or at least, his default state with Ririn…of doing whatever it took to avoid any unpleasantness. "We really were hurt! We were dying swans crossing the River Styx, but then we heard your pleading voice and we knew we couldn't leave you, so…"

"Kurodo!"

Kurodo cut himself off, and hid his face under the brim of his hat in fear as Ririn continued her tirade. There would be no getting a word in edgewise until she ran out of breath.

Sure enough, she smacked him hard and continued shouting.

"…can't believe you'd do something like that! How dare you let me make a fool of myself…"

* * *

And he'd apologized and made up a million different excuses and pleas, because that was what he always did when Ririn was mad at him…because Ririn got mad at him a lot. He'd done what he always did in that situation, simply because Ririn did what she always did.

They'd never properly addressed the fact that Kurodo and Noba had been very close to death. That would have ventured into the territory of the "soft" emotions, which Ririn still had no patience for.

And that was probably why she was having the nightmares.

Ririn's injuries had been minor enough to allow her to remain in her gigai form, but Noba and Kurodo had been advised to retreat to their plushies…just in case. And so, as a purse shaped like a pink rabbit and a green frog in a tuxedo, they stood at the door to Ririn's room and watched with concern as she tossed and turned in the grip of bad dreams.

Whenever Ririn went off on a tirade like the one she'd kept up for five full minutes earlier that day, it rarely meant that she was angry at them. More often than not, she was angry at the world for hurting them, and merely annoyed that Kurodo and Noba hadn't gotten out of the way quickly enough. Once she calmed down, that was usually that.

This time, however…that did not seem to be the case.

"Oh dear, oh dear…" Kurodo muttered, his arms crossed and his brow furrowed. "This is not good, Noba. Not after all that's happened…" He looked up at his friend, at the placid green face with its placid, large eyes. "What shall we do? We can't allow Ririn to continue suffering like this."

He started forward. "Perhaps we should wake her up…"

Noba walked forward with him, and together they entered Ririn's room. With their shorter legs, the walk seemed to take far too long, and her dreams seemed to be getting worse and worse…

"Noba…" she whimpered faintly. "Kurodo…please don't leave me all alone…it's not fair…"

Noba clambered up onto Ririn's shoulder and started to shake her awake. Kurodo started gently smacking her face. "Ririn…come now, my girl, you need to wake up…"

To his relief, the girl started to stir gently. Kurodo smiled in relief, and started smacking her a bit harder to wake her up a bit faster. "Come on, Ririn, time to wake up…"

What happened next surprised Kurodo and knocked Noba from his perch. For Ririn actually reached out a hand and grabbed Kurodo around his plushie-waist. He yelped in surprise as Ririn drew him very close to her…and then, held him there. Kurodo's first instinct was to panic…perhaps the traumas of the day had driven Ririn temporarily insane…but then he realized that holding him like this was calming her down. Helping her sleep.

"I suppose I was asking for this," he sighed. "Leave it to Orihime to choose a body for me that's built for such nighttime mistreatment…"

"Hm," murmured Noba, walking around to stare thoughtfully at the picture they made.

"What do you mean 'hm'?!" Kurodo demanded indignantly. "Don't you have anything better to say at a time like this? Get me out of this!"

Noba tilted his head to one side, placing a hand to his chin. Then:

"No."

"What?!"

"Shush."

And, to Kurodo's astonishment, Noba wriggled his way into the space between Ririn's arms, effectively trapping himself along with Kurodo.

"Noba! What are you doing?! You know as well as I do how strong Ririn's grip can be, and if we don't do something we'll be trapped here all night!"

Noba reached out a hand and covered Kurodo's mouth. He looked at his friend with his eyes only half-open.

"That's the idea," he said. Then, he closed his eyes and seemed to try and make himself as comfortable as possible in the limited space between Kurodo and Ririn. "Quiet."

Kurodo found himself left with no alternative. Ririn's grip was iron, and Noba seemed quite content to remain where he was.

And that was not all. Holding the two of them so close to her had relaxed Ririn completely, and ended her nightmares. Now, she slept with a small smile on her face. She actually looked happy.

And earlier that day, she had been crying so hard that she could barely speak, and had done so because of the two of them…

He had let her cry…

Kurodo sighed, and tried to make himself comfortable in Ririn's grip. It looked to be a long night…but at least they were still together. Ririn was not crying and they were not arguing, and both of his friends were alive and still with him.

It was going to be a long night.

But if it was a long night spent for Ririn and Noba…

Kurodo sighed, but this time it was from tiredness. He closed his eyes, finally finding a place where he could be comfortable, and settled down for the night.

We were dying swans crossing the River Styx, but then we heard your pleading voice and we knew we couldn't leave you…

And they hadn't.

Kurodo knew that, as long as they needed one another, that they never would.

Owari


So, what'd you think, folks? Love? Like? Hate? Please rate?