Disclaimer: Bleach and all its characters are property of Kubo Tite, not mine.
Author's Notes: Christmas fanfiction for the Winter Presents event at the IchiRuki FC on Bleach Asylum.
Christmas Isn't Carnival
It was a cold winter night in Soul Society, and Rukia was struggling with her holiday school homework, surrounded by the wooden walls of her study in the Kuchiki Manor. If only she could have stayed in the real world, she could just copy it all from Ichigo, but, alas – Byakuya demanded her presence in Soul Society during the winter break.
She wondered what would be going on in the living side. She wasn't sure, but she had the impression this night in particular had a special meaning, involving celebrations and seasonal customs. Everybody back in Karakura is probably having lots of fun, but not her, she has enough homework to be buried like a bookworm for the next long hours. She sighed in exasperation, stretching her arms across the table, before an uproar on the outside startled her.
Running to the nearest balcony, she saw many of the servants gathering on the gardens, pointing to the sky in astonishment. To her left, Byakuya was already standing, gazing at the heavens.
"Nii-sama, what's going on?" but following his gaze, she found the cause of such ruckus. Below the pale crescent moon, another airborne shining object was approaching Seiretei from the sky, making Rukia open her eyes wider. "… What… is that?"
The projectile clashed against Seiretei's shield, making the whole sky become brighter and, after a few seconds of struggle, exploded, expelling whatever came inside it into a far street near the 4th Squad barracks. The pounding sounds of alarm echoed all around the shinigami haven.
"Attention all squads! Intruder in Seiretei! Intruder in Seretei! All squad members report to their captains!"
"Are we being invaded?" she turned to her brother.
"Don't leave the Manor." was his firm reply.
"But I'm supposed to-" she was silenced by Byakuya's characteristic look, that wouldn't allow discussion. "… Yes, Nii-sama." Rukia bowed, before Byakuya removed himself from her presence with one swift flash step.
She looked once more at the shiny trail pointing to the invader's landing, much like the tail of a comet, before returning inside to get her zanpakutõ. If her brother didn't want her to go help her squad, she would still do her duty as a shinigami by defending the Manor.
Far away from there, Yamada Hanatarou was running to report to his captain, when, turning around the corner, he crashed clumsily against a curved man in red dressings with a long white beard, falling back to the floor, rubbing his face.
"Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch! My deepest apologies, Yamamoto-soutaichou! Please forgive my wrong step!" He opened his eyes, first seeing the black boots and strange red outfit. "But why are you in such awkward apparel, Yamamoto-sou… tai… chou…" his eyes aimed higher and higher, seeing that the beard was actually curled and that what he first thought was the man's curved back was actually a huge bag. "… You're… not… the… soutaichou… which means you're… the… ryoka…" Hanatarou's eyes kept staring bigger and bigger with each word and the strange man lowered his bag to the ground. "Aaaargh! Don't kill me!!" he screamed, while crossing his arms before his face in terror.
Sweat drops poured down from every pore of Hanatarou's trembling body, while he waited for his spirit to be reaped from him. His teeth were clacking maniacally with fear, while he waited for his life to be stolen. He clenched and curled his fingers, while waiting to lay lifeless. And among his shaking he noticed he was still waiting and nothing was happening.
One eye dared to blink open from in between his arms, only to realize the strange figure wasn't there anymore. Hanatarou shook his head right and left, but he could find no trace of the intruder. He was starting to wonder whether he just imagined it all, when he noticed a big wrapped box at his feet, with a note under the ribbon where it could be read "To the 4th Squad, Merry Christmas!"
The night continued among a fuss of shinigamis running left and right, in search for the intruder. Near the 6th Squad headquarters, the red clad figure was laying a similar package, when he straightened up, apparently startled with something. He ducked his head just in time to escape the impending doom of a blade swung above him, and disappeared from his spot faster than sight could follow his direction.
Holding the blade with a steady hand, Kuchiki Byakuya wasn't hiding the annoyance behind his cold eyes. The intruder was fast, too fast for him to try to follow in the open, he thought, while noticing the white pompom he managed to sever from his bizarre hat. But, at least, he realized while picking it up, now he had something more to bring to the 12th Squad for analysis.
Somewhere else in Seiretei, Zaraki Zenpachi was pacing through the streets towards his Division, when he felt a projectile flying towards him. With a swift motion, he raised a hand to grab it, but the ball splashed against his palm, covering it in red paint.
From a bush to his far left, the multicolored bald head of Madarame Ikkaku popped out, followed by the rest of his body, equally splashed in all manners of paints, his arms holding a weird looking object, that Kenpachi assumed was the paint launcher. "Well done, taichou! No lesser reflexes could be expected from the Captain of the 11th Squad!"
"What the hell is this, you moron?"
Ikkaku rested the launcher behind his neck, like he usually does with his zanpakutõ. "A box was dropped by our headquarters and these things were inside. We've been playing with them – I mean – investigating them, given they appear to have been dropped by the invading ryoka."
"Investigating is for the idiots down on 12th Squad! Why aren't you chasing the damn intruder?!"
"I tried, but he kept running like a coward and was way too fast to be caught. Besides, we were waiting for your orders. The box also has a new set of bells that appear to be meant for you and a bunch of sweets for-" Yachiru suddenly emerged from the back of Kenpachi's haori, and she ran towards the headquarters, a smiling face singing "Sweets!" like a happy mantra. A messenger appeared kneeling in front of the fearsome captain, almost as soon as Yachiru went out of sight behind her dusty trail.
"Reporting message from Yamamoto-soutaichou: All captains are called to attend an urgent meeting in the 1st Division." A red paint ball splashed at the messenger's helmet, making him frown the only visible part of his face.
"Bullseye!" exclaimed another 11th Division member, popping out from a nearby bush.
Kenpachi narrowed his eyes in boredom. "Cut it out, you idiots! As usual, all it takes is one ryoka and everyone gets crazy around here…"
Roughly half an hour later, almost all captains were assembled in the meeting room.
"Why isn't Kurotshuchi here yet?" asked a grumpy Soi Fong.
"Guess he's still finishing the data analysis on the goods left by the ryoka." said Shunsui, lowering his hat.
"Did all the captains deliver all the items to the 12th Division?"
"What, were we supposed to deliver the sake too? Everyone knows we never get it back afterwards…"
Kenpachi interrupted them "I only didn't deliver the sweets, Yachiru ate them all already."
"It's a minor detail, the 12th Division could analyze the sweets left on my squad." stated Hitsugaya while narrowing his eyes to Ukitake, who answered with his palms raised.
"Don't look at me, I had nothing to do with it!"
"Did anyone get a good look at the ryoka? He looks like old man Yama, the first thing I thought was that either I had drunk too much sake or the old man drank more than I did toni-" Shunsui was silenced by the arrival of said old man and the opposite door opening to welcome the last missing captain, Kurotshuchi Mayuri. Immediately, the aura in the room became more austere.
"We will now begin this meeting." Yamamoto started. "As you know, we have been invaded by a ryoka earlier this evening. Even though it has not engaged in combat with any of the Gotei 13 squad members, its true power is unknown and the fact its speed of movement has been enough to elude even captains renders it as a dangerous entity." Yamamoto opened his eyes wider to continue. "I must stress my displeasure on how some of the squads failed to bring all the items dropped by the ryoka for analysis, showing lack of concern over a forced entry into Seiretei being enough to consider a potential danger and not a matter to be taken lightly!" Shunsui hid his eyes underneath his hat again. "Captain Kurotshuchi, you may report your findings."
Mayuri walked forward. "I've analyzed all the items brought to me and found them innocuous. So, unless the sake is poisonous," he glared at Shunsui, who smirked teasingly "there is no threat inside the packages."
"Have you found anything pointing towards the nature of the ryoka?" Ukitake asked, still concerned.
"All the items were manufactured in the real world and are common utilities. That drove me to research the real world further in search for an answer to this whole ordeal and I think I reached a satisfactory conclusion." Mayuri paced along the middle of the room, savoring the attention. "Turns out tonight is known among the living as 'Christmas Eve', a night where Santa Claus, an aged man dressed in red, is supposed to travel the world in a sledge, offering gifts to well behaved children."
"Are you saying this Santa guy broke into Seiretei to give us gifts? Is he calling us kids? That's enough, I'm off to kick his aged ass."
"Wrong!" Mayuri spoke before Kenpachi reached the door. "Santa Claus is an urban legend, a character that had his roots on some traditions, but was advertised to foment consumption. A fantasy that serves as an incentive for children to behave, while in fact the presents are given by the real people that are close to them. Whoever the ryoka is, he's dressed as Santa Claus, like many people in the real world do during this season, but he cannot be Santa Claus because Santa Claus doesn't exist."
"He's still calling us kids and I'm still kicking his ass."
"Hold your horses, Zaraki, even the adults in the real world exchange gifts tonight, I don't think his true intention is to treat Seiretei as a kindergarten." And he raised his hands, as if giving a conference. "Humans have many such customs, in Christmas they exchange presents, in Easter they exchange chocolate bunnies and eggs, in Carnival they put on masks and costumes to hide their true appearance and impersonate whatever-"
Soi Fong was getting impatient. "Cut the show, Kurotshuchi, spit out what exactly is it that you know already."
Mayuri narrowed his eyes slightly towards her and lowered his arms before proceeding. "I know his suit was not only made to resemble Santa Claus, but also to effectively hide the reiatsu of the one that wears it. It's a very complex technology that not just anyone has the means or the knowledge to produce."
"Urahara Kisuke!" she spat out with disdain.
"Indeed!" Mayuri confirmed. "Though the question still stands, is this his doing, or an outsider that had access to his technology, with or without his consent?"
"Have you tried asking him?" Shunsui demanded lazily, not trying hard enough to hide a yawn.
"Of course I did. He's nowhere to be found, his shop is closed for Christmas holidays."
"If he's behind this, I have to thank him when he returns, that was some damn good sake-"
"Enough!" Yamamoto hit his crane against the floor. "Whatever the purpose may be, behind this invasion, we cannot allow Seiretei to be made a fool of! We have more important things to do than to run around chasing fools! The red dressed ryoka is to be considered dangerous, and all squads are to remain alert and aiming for his capture. We have no knowledge of his true identity or intentions and, whatever they may be, just breaking into Seiretei is enough offense. All gates into the real world are to be closed and heavily guarded. The search activities of each squad are to be reported to me personally. Meeting dismissed!"
As the captains were leaving, Shunsui sighed. "Tsk, no Christmas spirit for old man Yama, eh…"
"They say the 1st Squad received fewer gifts than the others." pointed Unohana with a sly smile.
"Oh! No wonder then."
Already outside, Byakuya was approached by a messenger adorned with the Kuchiki Household coat of arms, who suddenly appeared kneeling before him. "Kuchiki-sama, Kuchiki Manor's security has been breached!" Byakuya narrowed his eyes intently with the information.
At the other side of Seiretei, in Kuchiki grounds, the strangely dressed figure was walking silently across Rukia's study, when he felt a sword being swung towards him. His body successfully dodged the attack, but the blade ripped his bag open, and a giant Chappy bunny fell from it, bearing the cut across its fluffy body.
Rukia dropped her chin in disbelief "What the-"
"Now you've really done it!" – That voice! Lowering the sword, Rukia's stare left the disembowled Chappy to meet an amber gaze she knew so well, though hidden underneath a huge white wig and beard fuss. "Guess now I'll just have to get Ishida to fix it."
"Ichigo! What the hell are you doing here?! And what are those…" she pointed towards several items on Ichigo's apparel, not sure what to call them.
Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Don't ask. Urahara-san was the one to make me wear this, he refused to open the gate to Soul Society for me otherwise. … Stop pointing at me, I'm embarrassed as it is!" he slapped her hand away.
"Then take these stupid things off!" Rukia started to pull his beard and hair, but Ichigo grabbed her hands to prevent it.
"Hey! Cut it out, I can't! I'm on bankai, it's the only way I could outrun all the captains, the suit hides my reiatsu, if I take it off, everyone will know where I am and that this whole fuss was my doing!"
"But what exactly are you doing?!"
"Don't look at me all high and mighty, all this was your fault!" he pointed an accusing finger towards her.
"My fault?!" Rukia's voice rose indignant.
"Yeah, your fault."
"What the hell did I have to do with all this" she pulled his beard again "madness to begin with?!"
"Your fault." He crossed his arms and looked to the side.
"Come on, sing to me! Enlighten me!" she held her fists on her hip, defiant.
"You wanted a giant Chappy for Christmas." he hovered his head above her.
"I wanted a giant Chappy for Christmas!" she repeated as a reflex.
"That's what you wrote on your letter to Santa on our English class."
"That's what I wrote on my…" Rukia started to process the sentences for the first time. "… Ichigo… you… burst through Seiretei… dressed as Santa… because I wanted a giant Chappy for Christmas?..."
Somehow, put like that, it felt really uncomfortable for Ichigo. "No no no, I didn't burst through… Just listen, ok?" He pressed her shoulders down, so that they could continue their conversation sitting on the floor. "The plan was to get into Seiretei the normal way, give you Chappy and be done with it. Urahara-san was the one to force me to burst through the place. When I said I needed him to build me the gate to Soul Society on Christmas Eve, he started to see all manner of Yen symbols flying in front of his eyes. Given he's the main provider of human world items into Soul Society, he had the idea of fomenting his business with spreading the Christmas spirit into Seiretei, or something… marketing strategy, or what have you, but never mind that. The point is he refused to open a gate for me, unless I would wear this stupid Santa suit, burst through Seiretei by canon ball and deliver a bunch of presents to all squads, so that maybe they gain the custom and buy a bunch of gifts from him next year. … Understand?"
"You burst into Seiretei… dressed as Santa… because I wanted a giant Chappy for Christmas…" Rukia was still staring blankly at him.
"You're not listening…" Ichigo dropped the outer corners of his eyes in defeat.
Rukia broke from her stupor and stood up turning her back to Ichigo, crossing her arms with concern. "Do you realize what you've done?? The shinigamis think you're an enemy! You could have been killed!"
"Tell me about it, your brother nearly cut my head off a while a-"
"Ichigo!" she turned to him again.
"It's alright, the suit also amplifies reiatsu sensing, I know they're coming before they lay hands on me."
"Why didn't you just say it was you?"
"I told you, Urahara-san made me do this. Do you really think I want people to know it's actually me inside this stupid outfit?!" Ichigo walked towards her again. "… Besides, it's not much of a Christmas if there aren't any surprises." They both looked at the slashed Chappy. "Though yours got ruined…" Ichigo noted, scratching his hat.
"No it didn't." she lowered her head.
"You're saying you also like ripped Chappy bunnies with all the stuffing coming out now?"
"No, I'm not."
"Then what are you saying?" he towered over Rukia again.
"I'm saying giant Chappy isn't what I wanted the most for Christmas."
"Oh giant Chappy isn't what you wanted the most for Chris-" It was Ichigo's turn to repeat out of reflex, but he soon digested it, lowering his eyes to the floor. "… So I burst into Seiretei for nothing?!"
"See, you did burst into Seiretei to give me a giant Chappy!" Rukia raised her head again, pointing to him, as if triumphantly finding a treasure chest.
"That's not the point." Ichigo turned his back and walked away a couple of steps. "How come you don't like Chappy anymore?"
"I never said I didn't like Chappy."
"Why did you ask giant Chappy on our English class, if that wasn't what you wanted?"
"Because I couldn't say what I wanted there."
He turned to face her again. "Oh really, maybe you want to kick a hollow for Christmas, does it count if I put on my Vizard mask on and you kick me?"
"You're not listening…" she frowned.
"I'm listening perfectly, I just burst into Seiretei for nothing, because you didn't know what else to write in English beside 'giant Chappy'." he scowled back.
"ICHIGO!" After a pause and a deep breath, she continued with a calm voice "Thank you. For the giant Chappy."
"But it's not what you wanted."
"It IS what I wanted, you damn fool!"
"You just said it was NOT what you wanted."
"No, I just said it was NOT what I wanted THE MOST!" Rukia started to fume.
"It's the bloody SAME!"
"No, you idiot!"
"You're the idiot for lying on your letter to Santa!"
"I didn't lie, I just couldn't say what I wanted the most for Christmas in class!"
"What the hell did you want the most then?!" Ichigo asked to the heavens.
Rukia looked to the side and crossed her arms again before answering slowly "What I wanted the most… is… you… you to help me… with the holiday homework."
"Me to help you with your holiday homework." Again, Ichigo repeated out of reflex, still staring at the ceiling.
"Yeah." she motioned towards her desk, filled with exercise books.
"Me to help you with your holiday homework…" Now he was starting to process it.
"Help with the holiday homework, then giant Chappy."
"Then I didn't come for nothing."
"That's what I was saying from the start."
"I didn't come for nothing." Ichigo stated seemingly to the heavens again.
"Enough, Ichigo!" Maybe slow reasoning was a Christmas side effect or something, there seemed to be a huge difference in between speaking and communicating tonight… "So… can you please stay? And help me?" She asked gently, biting her lower lip in expectation.
Ichigo smirked, failing to hide his satisfaction. "Whatever."
It was enough for Rukia to recover her usual bossy tone. "You're still getting Ishida to fix my giant Chappy."
"You should be the one to get it fixed, you were the one to ruin it."
"That's beside the point."
"RUKIA!" Ichigo grabbed her shoulders suddenly.
"ALRIGHT, I'll ask Ishida!"
"NO! Byakuya! He's coming! Fast!"
"Nii-sama? Quick, hide outside!"
As Byakuya entered the room, he was met with his sister kneeling on the floor, next to the ripped stuffed bunny. He studied her expression carefully, paying special attention to a glow in her eyes that he knew not even the giant bunny lying on the floor could provoke, even on a perfect shape. And he sighed as all the madness of that night finally made sense to him.
"I can safely presume you had no knowledge this intrusion was going to take place." he stated almost as a question, looking at the damage his sister's sword had obviously done accidentally to the gift meant for her.
"Of course not, Nii-sama! Why do you…" Rukia was puzzled with his words.
Byakuya's eyes scanned the room suspiciously for a while, before he turned his back and started to walk away. "You can tell that insufferable boy that the next time he wishes to invade my property to surprise you, he shall ask me for permission. Along with entering Seiretei through the proper means instead of creating a flying circus. As harmless as his intentions may be, Soul Society isn't a playground for him to spread ruckus upon. Even though these are peaceful times, we do have better things to do than to serve for his personal twisted notion of entertainment."
"Nii-sama!" Byakuya stopped and turned his face to the side, close to the room's exit. "… How… How did you know it's Ichigo?"
He turned his face further, so he could look at her. "Rukia… It's Christmas, not Carnival."
"… I don't… understand…"
Byakuya sighed. "He may have a Santa Claus outfit that hides his reiatsu… but you would need a mask to hide that… emotion… on your face." Rukia stared at the floor, blushing in embarrassment, like a kid caught with a hand on the candy. "I'll make arrangements so that the private Kuchiki Manor's gate to the real world stays unguarded. I suggest he leaves quietly through it when he returns to his world, unless he'll be so irresponsible as to cause havoc on his way out again. I'll explain the source of tonight's ordeal to Yamamoto-soutaichou in the morning and appeal to his tolerance on the matter. Though that brat is sure to better be out of here by then." Byakuya resumed walking.
"Nii-sama!... Thank you!" Rukia let out sincerely, but he kept his pace, unresponsive.
As he left, Rukia stood up and Ichigo came down from the roof through the balcony, feeling finally safe to release his bankai and take off the beard, wig and Santa hat, standing closely behind her, while they were both still looking towards the direction Byakuya went.
"You know… Urahara-san said something about the present for the 6th Squad actually being able to smooth Byakuya somewhat, but I wouldn't believe it at the time…"
Rukia tilted her head slightly to the side, to face him. "Why? What did Urahara send for Nii-sama?"
"Some weird statue… a 'Seaweed Ambassador' or the like…" Ichigo remembered, while they both sat by the table where Rukia had her homework waiting for resolution. "Oh, by the way, given it's Christmas, Urahara-san said you're welcome to drop by the store when he returns, and pick something you'd like. His treat."
"Good, I know just the thing." Rukia quietly stated, while pushing all her opened math exercise books towards Ichigo.
"... A calculator?" he sighed, taking her pencil.
"No…" Rukia replied while looking to the side slightly blushing. "… a Carnival mask."