EDIT: hahaha, I reread this. I have a spastic tendency for long last author notes. I think that was enough awkward spilling! Jist of it all, thank you so much for reading. Writing this was exceedingly therapeutic as well as reading people's comments. Yes, continue to tell me what you think, I'd love to know and I always try to reply!
And now finally go and get your closure on Hitsugaya's and Rukia's little rendevous. : )
Chapter 9: Rejazz
Their homecoming is heralded by soft footsteps in the snow.
No one else is waiting. The streets of Sereitei are as vacant as they are silent, and the only soul to greet them is a sleepy Jidanbo letting them through the West Gate.
It's that precarious time when neither the moon nor the sun is in the sky, where the streets are pitch dark bar a few lamps still bravely burning. The stars have sunk into the heaven's inky depths: they don't dare shine and everything lurks in shadows. Right now, it's the no man's land between day and night and whether they like it or not, they're well and truly caught in it.
Rukia hangs in his arms loosely, fast asleep. Her fair falls down to softly frame her face. Even though she's unconscious, for the first time, there's a serenity in her expression Hitsugaya's never quite seen before… and he's glad.
So maybe this is why the thought of shunpo never crosses his mind once. So maybe it's not just the exhaustion in his bones, nor her dead weight, both pulling him downwards in a weary gravity with every step- maybe it's the fleeting feeling that he doesn't mind the walk…
Maybe it's the fleeting feeling that for once, he's not jumping at this quickly advancing idea of closure.
As Hitsugaya turns the corner, he senses a flicker of a movement, and a nudge of reiatsu at his senses.
He looks up and there's a large figure looming above them on the guard wall. Underneath the dim light of a nearby lamp post, he catches the reflection of a metal hairpiece. Two slate grey eyes start out at him impassively from the darkness.
Kuchiki Byakuya has been waiting like a watchdog.
The 6th Division Captain leaps down. He lands softly on the street, sending a spray of sleet at Hitsugaya's ankles.
His robes billow out and Byakuya's eyes widen at the sight of blood and cuts and wounds. A fist clenches; a jaw tightens uncontrollably.
The man moves forward as if to take Rukia from his arms.
"What do you think you're doing with my sister?" asks Byakuya imperiously, fixing a steely gaze on him.
Hitsugaya returns it with an equally resolute one. "Healing her soul."
Byakuya steps back, his eyes wide in emotions that are caught between anger then shock then surprise.
Byakuya's eyes lock into his own, and he can see the man searching for something, though he knows not what.
Finally, the Kuchiki stiffy concedes.
"…Where are you taking her?"
Hitsugaya nods his head toward the Fourth Division's hospital, just down the street.
Hitsugaya doesn't move. He waits instead, although he doesn't know why.
He vaguely wonders whether only a little while ago, he would have simply sliced the man in half verbally and brushed past.
Something hovers in the air between them, and again, Hitsugaya doesn't know why he's doing this.
He's tired, it's an unearthly hour-
Both of their heads snap towards the voice.
He's dumbfounded enough to keep quiet.
The girl shifts a little in his arms. Rukia rises, and deliberately raises her head so she's making eye contact with her brother.
Hitsugaya can feel her struggle- the slight amount of tremble in her limbs, the tensing up of her muscles- but she determinedly holds her posture.
"Don't worry," she says, "He's done a lot for me, and he knows what he's doing."
Her quiet voice silences the tension, and both of them unwillingly relax.
Byakuya opens his mouth, but Rukia carries on.
"It's fine Nii-sama," she says, "It's fine…"
The last word comes out in a whisper, for her body finally gives up the breath, and she falls back into him, unconscious.
After a long time, something unreadable comes into Byakuya's eyes. He doesn't say a word, but as Hitsugaya strides past him, the man makes no move nor objection.
Hitsugaya still feels that strong gaze on him, even halfway down the street, but he never once turns to look back or toss a final comment.
(Healing her soul?)
(More like she's healing his as well.)
Rukia drifts back awake, though she barely knows it.
She feels herself being carefully laid down onto sheets and a mattress. Somewhere at the back of her mind, she wonders if she should say anything, but her eyes refuse to open; her body refuses to move. The sounds coming from her mouth are inaudible and incoherent.
There's a pause, and she can feel his presence bearing down on her.
But then she hears the thud of someone collapsing at the floor in her bedside, and she manages an exhale of relief.
She sinks back into a hush she hadn't realized she's been long missing.
The sun peeks in through curtained windows and Hitsugaya's eyelids flicker open.
He shifts, suddenly uncomfortable for having fallen asleep. His body is sore from sleeping on hardwood and as he rises, he sees that a blanket's been put over him. He grasps clumsily at the bed he's been leaning against and slowly stands, looks down… it's empty.
He looks around the room but there's no sign of her at all.
The air is thick with the golden warmth of morning and it drowses him entirely. The blanket clasped in his hands he lets fall slowly to the bed and then he follows shortly after.
He doesn't feel like doing much; the memories of last night flicker like echoes and the emotions are blurred.
So he lies there, sprawled and staring at the ceiling.
There's a knock on the door.
"Yo, Rukia?" The door slides open a little and Abarai's head pops into view.
The lieutenant's eyebrows raise, "…Ah sorry… I thought this was Rukia's room."
Abarai averts his eyes as Hitsugaya swiftly sits up and tries to rub his forehead awake. The red-head lingers in the doorway, obviously a little uncomfortable.
Hitsugaya shakes his head, "… Where is she?"
"Rukia?" Abarai breaks into a babble, "Uh she's with Ukitake-taichou… Oh, we're going to the Living World to check on Ichigo. There's been an Arrancar invasion- I think you know? Ukitake wanted to talk to her alone… but I thought she'd be back by now. Anyway, she was asked to pick a few more people, so she picked you and me… You'll probably get the official briefing soon?"
Hitsugaya nods and then pauses- voices from the hallway just outside are beginning to leak in.
"Renji, that you? The nurses told us this is his room… and Kuchiki's. How does that work? You asked him yet?"
He turns his head, "One moment, okay?"
"What is this Abarai?" Hitsugaya says suspiciously.
"Yeah," the lieutenant smiles sheepishly, "About that. I found the last team members for this mission-"
"Madarame? Ayasegawa?" Hitsugaya is not impressed. "Why on earth would they want to go?"
"Hey, what the hell! Don't talk about us like we're not there! Get your ass out of the doorway."
Abarai shrugs, trying to remain cavalier whilst deliberately ignoring the racket behind him.
"Ikkaku-san's been bored as hell with all this reconstruction work going on, and he swears that even during Aizen's rebellion, he just got crappy fights. And come on, you know where ever Ichigo goes there'll be trouble-"
"Will you just let me talk to him myself, damnit?"
Hitsugaya rolls his eyes, "That still doesn't explain his friend, you know the… the…"
Abarai suddenly crashes to the ground; Madarame's foot firmly shoved into the lieutenant's back.
"Shut up, will you- you're obviously not working."
His vision is suddenly obscured by a vision of orange and indigo.
"What? Androgynous one?" Ayasegawa's wide smile looms in his vision, "Don't worry, I can hold my own. Hitsugaya."
The man pauses, and then beams. He looks suspiciously pleased with himself.
Madarame sighs in the background, "Just leave it, Yumichika. Hitsugaya, just tell us if it's green light or red light for us- we're meant to be leaving soon, right?"
Hitsugaya looks blank. "Your brain finally run out on you or something, Ayasegawa?"
The smug smile only widens.
"Interesting, so it is true. Kuchiki Rukia has mellowed you out-"
Hitsugaya sighs and stands up. With a reiryoku enhanced finger, he flicks a feather out of the man's ludicrous headdress and sends Zaraki's 5th seat flying backward to the ground. Amidst a shriek, he crashes into the far wall and Hitsugaya steps around a toppled Abarai, a bored looking Madarame, and heads out the room.
Halfway through the door he stops.
"Hitsugaya-taichou to you guys for the rest of the trip."
Rukia fingers Shirayuki's tassel as she lays the unsealed zanpakutou on the table before Ukitake.
They've been talking for a while now. First Ukitake-taichou telling her about the mission, about Arrancars and humans with far too high spirit sensitivity. She's relieved when he confirms that Ichigo seems to be all right, and all but almost too eager to accept going on it(and back to the Kurosaki household).
And then, he of course wants to know about what's been happening with her.
So there Shirayuki is. She glitters in the light, and Rukia shyly smiles- it's a small one, imperceptible almost, but she smiles.
Ukitake's eyebrows rise, "It's been a long time since I've seen her… She is lovely, isn't she?"
Rukia murmurs a quiet assent.
"You know, Kuchiki, you impressed the entire Gotei-13 yesterday," remarks her captain, "Do you know how much area Shirayuki's blizzard affected? The whole of Sereitei- it's all been overloaded with snow. There are teams trying to clear up the roads as we speak."
Ukitake shakes his head and chuckles.
He then cocks his head and almost slyly asks, "So how was Hitsugaya for a teacher?"
Rukia fingers snap back to her lap, as if suddenly caught red-handed. The melodramatic splutter that she used to do is on the tip of her tongue. But then she decisively puts her foot down and refuses to take the bait.
"All right," she says non-chalantly.
"Yes taichou," she deadpans, "Really."
He simply laughs at that, and then reaches over to pat her head.
"You've done well, Kuchiki."
Hitsugaya's head snaps up immediately.
(…It's only Hinamori in the end, as always, who calls by his first name.)
Jumping up from by the window, he all but rushes to her side.
How long has he been sitting there? It had seemed already about noontime, and he'd thought maybe he should go find Rukia, but hell no- when he hears her voice, he knows it's the most important and only important thing to him right now.
He leans over far enough to see eyes that are dazed, yet slightly still, open. Unchecked hope begins to beat at his chest.
"You're awake," he breathes.
She's a little pale, but she's alive, and he swears he's never been so relieved in his whole life. Weight falls away from his shoulders, and impulsively he embraces her tightly. The familiarity bursts like warmth within his chest.
She feels frail, too frail- but she smiles like she used to, and it's the smile that's long been imprinted on his soul.
"Toshiro," she repeats, and he sees she's a little feverish, "It is you… right?"
"Of course," he replies, releasing his hold on her, "In the flesh. Who else would it be, you silly girl?"
She smiles at him weakly, and laughs. She tries to sit up more, but he stops her.
"Don't," he cautions, "You've been pretty badly injured-"
"Injured?" The smile slips off her face.
He can clearly see her tired eyes start flipping through memories. After a while, there's a desperate flash of fear in her eyes and she mouths a few words. She dare not say them, but Hitsugaya knows she's thinking of Aizen.
Yet she resolutely says nothing. Instead, she plasters a brave smile on, even though she should know she never needs to do things like that to him. And she wouldn't have to, if that damn bastard-
"even if it lead to her downfall, was she really foolish to admire her captain so much?"
The words come back to him in an echo, and against his will, the tension in his knuckles go slack.
"Hey, Shiro-chan, you all right?"
Don't ask me that. You're the one who's hurt, you're the one who I have to worry about, you're the one-
Just looking at her fires something in his gut- revenge twists and turns around another emotion, and he's not sure what it is. It reminds him of wildfire.
But… for one moment, he lets it go. The war's going to come soon enough, and then he'll have his day.
He exhales and then folds his arms.
"…Don't ask me that," he retorts, "You're the one in hospital, looking like a corpse-"
"Ehhh? Hey! That's not fair!"
"What do you mean? It's true."
"Oh for- Toshiro, why do you even come visit me?" but she smiles anyway when he tugs at her hair.
Breathing in, breathing out…. It's not as hard as he once thought it would be.
"Really? Kuchiki-chan?" Hinamori's eyebrows rise up in interest. She grins teasingly at him, "Sounds like you spent a lot of time with her when I've been all knocked out."
He rolls his eyes, "Why? Jealous?"
"Of course not!" She huffs and blows her bangs out. "Not like Kuchiki would enjoy any of her lessons with you anyway. You're just like some crusty old man."
"But," she continues, "It kind of makes sense. You do seem a bit different, in a good way. If anything, I'm glad for you."
Surprised, he looks at her.
She really means it.
"Huh," he rubs his neck, "…Well get some rest okay?"
"I will!" she gives him the thumbs up, "Next time you see me, I'll knock you flat if we spar!"
He shakes his head, and amused affection creeps into his eyes.
"Whatever. See you Hinamori."
"She sounds like she's doing pretty well."
Hitsugaya looks towards the voice as he exits the room. It's Matsumoto; she's been sitting just outside- waiting for him.
"I guess," he trails off, "I don't know whether she was putting up a front sometimes, though."
He frowns, but then sighs and starts walking. As he watches Matsumoto's steps fall in line naturally with his, he remembers his little slash at her before he ran off to the clearing. Feeling a stab of guilt, he glances at her.
"Matsumoto-" he starts, a little awkwardly, "I… I-"
He fumbles around with words that he can't quite find.
Her head tilts in confusion, then in comprehension. She cuts him off.
"Don't worry taichou, I already know."
She looks to him, and her eyes are light-hearted and warm.
"I think Kuchiki-chan is back in her room, shall I drop you off?"
He nods slowly, "Let's do that."
She finally gets to see him.
Matsumoto pushes him into the room, greets her quickly, and then closes the door. They both crane their ears to hear it slide shut. noise echoes and then fades, and so does any hope of small talk.
Finally, he slowly walks over and then sits at one end of the bed.
For a while, they just look at each other.
"I've been chosen to go on a mission to the Living World."
"…Oh, did Renji tell you? …I'd like you to accompany us as well.'
"…I know that as well."
"Ah." Her mouth closes.
He pauses, "…You really want me to captain your 'recon' team?"
"Yes," she says immediately, although her eyes turn into a turbulent shade that looks a lot like a plea.
He shakes his head and wonders whether he would have ever refused. Well perhaps… a couple of weeks ago, she would never have thought of asking him, and he never would have thought of answering.
"Why not?" he runs a hand through his hair, tension releasing, "You'll need someone to save your skin when you start sleepwalking like a zombie. Or just even if you're awake, you're trouble enough."
She waves her hand dismissively, "Pittance, captain, pittance."
Her eyes change as she processes his answer. "Are you sure? I could still request for my own captain, or even to let us go without a captain-"
He places a hand on her shoulder. "It's fine."
"…Yeah, my only qualification really, is my relationship with Ichigo," she explains, "They want us to keep an eye on things, and make sure Ichigo, the idiot he is, doesn't get out of hand."
An unmistakable note of fondness creeps into her voice as she talks about the human boy.
"You miss the human world."
She starts, shaken from some reminiscence unknown to him.
"Miss?" she laughs, and then she smiles. "Yeah… I suppose, perhaps. But the dead should naturally, stick with the dead right?"
She sounds wistful.
He wisely chooses not to say anything.
"How far do you think this business will go?"
"What do you mean?" he queries, "Aizen's betrayal?"
"Yeah… Tosen and Ichimaru have both left, and now there's these Arrancar out for our blood," Rukia's voice wavers slightly, and she looks out the window, "I don't know… How far are we really going with this?"
She sounds a little tired.
"They sound strong."
He looks at her. "We'll be stronger."
But really... they both know it doesn't matter, whether they win or lose.
It's just the begining of a neverending affair.
"You're still angry," she says, and smiles a little wanly.
"You're still a little walled off," he points out.
"You really have Shirayuki back, don't you?" he asks.
"Of course," she says softly, and she shows him.
Hitsugaya runs his hand across Shirayuki's hilt and he can hear a whisper from her back him before it fades.
You understand now, don't you?
The night before comes back to him now.
Maybe. They're the same. Snow. Ice. …Their own.
He jerks and now, now he remembers every single detail of the whole affair that's now being wrapped up.
"Hey," he says, getting her attention, "These past couple of weeks… I know we didn't get off to a good start…"
He tries to gather some composure into himself.
"The way I acted sometimes… Well, I don't know what I felt," he admits, "But… it was childish of me, a lot of times."
He remembers hunting her down in very own compound, and taking it all out on her. He take a deep breath.
"…I'm sorry," he says quietly.
It visibly takes him a lot to say it, and her eyebrows raise slightly in recognition.
And she realizes what he referring to and she flushes.
"... Well, I'm sorry as well."
His gaze snaps to hers.
"Because, I was quite self-absorbed. And you know…"
"You're young," she says, softly, but firmly, "And nobody can change that. Age takes time. That's how we are… And maybe we're both young- too young. And maybe we were both too young to know who we were, or what we were doing, dancing on rooftops, and crossing swords and laying down souls…"
She drifts off and her gaze is elsewhere.
However, when she looks back at him, her small smile is reassuring.
"But it was great while it lasted, wasn't it?"
"...Thank you for coming for me."
And then the door slams open and amidst a call of warning from Matsumoto, Abarai Renji stumbles in as if he's just been running.
His eyes meet Rukia and then looks away to survey the scene. From the way he pauses, Hitsugaya realizes that the lieutenant feels like he's come too late. Again.
Suddenly gracious, and aware that's Matsumoto's been quite patient, he stands up and nods at Rukia. Abarai gives him a grateful glance. And for a moment, there's a lull.
Matsumoto and Abarai are both strangely quiet, as if they're hovering at the edge of a scene not their own.
What else is there to say?
So Rukia attempts a mock salute and smiles at him.
"Kuchiki," he returns.
He nods at her, one last time, and then turns and leaves the room.
Somewhere in the Living World, the sun is rising.
Rukia stands on Karakura's rooftops and watches the night slowly recede from purple to orange and blue. Dawn starts its daily march across the heavens, and it's calling the sun out from its slumber. Sunlight fearlessly splays across her face, kisses her cheeks and tangles itself in her hair. As she looks up at the real world, the living world, she almost feels breathless. It's almost too vivid, too vast, and as she sees how the open sky seems to stretch on endlessly, she reels.
Something moves within her and she suddenly aches from the beauty of birdsong in the air and a vision of glory from the rising sun.
Oh, she might be dead you know… but oh how she feels alive.
Hitsugaya watched on from behind the rest.
When he saw the silhouette of Rukia on the windowsill, something shivered in the air. The moment Kurosaki's gaze met Rukia's, Hitsugaya knew he and everyone else were all just observers.
"White moon, Black Sun," murmured Renji.
The rest didn't say anything, but no one disagreed.
When Rukia slammed her first into Ichigo's face, she glanced at him when no one was looking. She grinned.
And then she was gone, flying out the window with Ichigo's spirit dragged unceremoniously behind. The room jerked back to life. Matsumoto and the rest started behaving like imbeciles. Forced to keep them in line, he grudgingly looked away from the window.
She's left Ichigo asleep, snoring like a log, legs flopped out on his bed. Kon she's distracted with an artificial Chappy soul in her body and commandeered them to be quiet as she creeps out his window. She could have used the door, but Ichigo's room is so familiar now, and Karin's a light sleeper, so she really couldn't use the girls' room now could she?
She likes the vacancy of the city streets, the slight whistle of a breeze through the air. The wound that Grimmjow gave her the other night still throbs, but she ignores it for now. All her life she's used to being a nighthawk, not a pretty little daybird. Being out in the sunshine like this is nearly refreshing.
So she heads to the park, because there are swings there, and it sounds idyllic enough to forget about the momentous occasions of the last week.
No more thoughts of Arrancar or Aizen, or Ichigo and the Vaizard, his Hollow Mask, the different isolated factions-
As she comes down the road towards the park, she pauses. An incredibly reiatsu pushes at her spirit, pulses, threatens to tear. She glances upwards, trying to track the source.
Suddenly, a silhouette moves against the light and the dark shadow almost seems, for a moment to be suspended in midair.
A chill overtakes her even though she vaguely knows exactly who it is.
(He must be coming here to practice… or something.)
He lands briefly on the far side of the park, before rising up again quickly. A hollow leaps after him, twisted arms and white mask hungry.
It's lithe and quick, and Rukia remembers it vaguely from her mission list. They never got to nail this one. Odd, that so soon after the Arranacar clash, a rogue one would come calling. He shunpos again and again, circling rapidly around the aggravated Hollow, calmly assessing the situation.
(… he doesn't seem to notice her.)
Strapped to his back hangs his sword, guard shaped like the north star in night sky, hilt wrapped in violet string. His hair bristles in the air, and flops across his face. She sees his body tense, and then like lightning-
He draws his sword and a dragon roars to life.
Hyourinmaru's long crystalline body is sleek and spined dangerous with ragged spiky scales. It curves around Hitsugaya in the shape of a sphere, blocking a blow from the hollow. There is a sort of violet grace in the way he moves, every twist of his arm, sending forth a raging dragon, snarling into the air.
Suddenly, he moves and strikes downwards against the monster and in a single blow, decapitates it. The hollow falls to the ground, smashing to pieces upon impact, and Hitsugaya follows suit soon after.
He looks a little strained, and she can see that the bandages snaking around his body, as if proof that no one was indestructible. Yet, even after the battle is over, and blood is opening a little from his old wounds, he still stands there, motionless.
After a while, he closes his eyes, then slashes his sword over his head. A flurry of ice petals form in the air above.
She can feel the roar of a dragon coursing through her bones, and the ice wings melded to his back seem almost fluid as he shoots up towards the sun.
(He looks like an immortal)
"So, you know him pretty well, huh," said Ichigo, and he scratched his head, as if slightly bemused.
"Yeah," Rukia smiled, "I guess I do."
"His bankai is pretty impressive."
She glanced at him, wondering if he was bothered. But Ichigo, always unassuming, merely shrugged. If it was fine with her, it was fine with him, and that's how his simple logic went.
Five seconds later they went back to reading manga on his bed.
His moves are wild, and it's breathtaking, being so close do the scope of his power, and the force of his movements. The air quivers with every blast of ice, and Rukia swears that not only the ground, but the sky is shaking.
His eyes flash determination, and then a raw mix of a razor sharp intellect combined with an uncontrollable tenacious spirit. Every unbounded swing of his sword cleaves air, and hisses at mortality. He moves so fast, it's only such quick precision that he doesn't get incapitated by his own far reaching blows.
He crafts each flower carefully, and each one blooms with a delicateness that surprises even her. For one, short moment, she catches glance of his face, and she sees that his lips are turned upwards, slightly, shortly. She wonders at his memories, and wonders if this, is how he originally was meant to be like in the first place.
The boy who faithfully went out to do errands at his Grandmother, who smiled open-heartedly, who decided not to become a shinigami for fear of abandoning her. The boy who smiled more than frowned, who wasn't known so much for acting too old and making too serious looks.
There is a constant oscillation,in his face- sometimes he looks so boyish, sometimes he looks immortal, sometimes he seems inextricably caught between the two.
His eyes are filled with the exhilaration of flight.
It's as if this is he, this is his sword, and for one moment- that's all that matters.
When he ends, he smashes his sword into the ground and the ice shatters like an explosion
(she suddenly understands why some people think he's the reincarnate of a ice deity)
He hits the grass arms outstretched, landing one knee, and the football field trembles.
He's breathing hard, and his head is bowed down a little as he kneels, almost prostrated to her.
White hair. Short. Green eyes. White haori over black robes.
Captain of the Gotei-13's 10th Division: Hitsugaya Toshiro.
She shivers, but she refuses to avert her eyes. She knows the connection- she knows it by name, knows it by feeling, knows it till it's inscribed in her soul like fire and she isn't letting go.
There is so much more to be done.
Suddenly, he looks up and he looks straight at her.
Turquoise meets violet.
Their eyes clash and for one brief, moment, neither of them back down.
He raises his eyebrows.
Her gaze doesn't falter.
Breathing heavily, Hitsugaya rose up in the air.
Evading another blow from Shawlong, he skidded backwards, and carefully observed his opponent's movements.
Suddenly, he could feel the faint pulse of Rukia's reiatsu, and then see a white circle of ice shoot up to the heavens. Something screamed.
Shawlong straightened and glanced over. His eyes were emotionless as he watched his ally's demise.
Hitsugaya said nothing. But he recognized the move- it was her first dance, Tsukishiro, wasn't it? She'd finished him off pretty quickly.
"So Di Roy's been finished off," his opponent mused, and he glanced back to Hitsugaya.
"That little shinigami girl," said Shawlong, "She is wielding ice as well, isn't she?"
"It's not ice" Hitsugaya said coolly.
The Arrancar rose his eyebrows, "It has to be similar. Are you related to her or something?"
He smiled briefly, "She was my student."
"A bit of an overkill, don't you think?" she says, carefully stepping closer.
Her tone is light and there's a trace of impish humour in it.
He smirks back at her. "Well I'm not the one who's been standing behind a tree, gawking, all this time."
"I wasn't gawking," she says calmly, "I was observing."
As she speaks she slowly unsheathes her zanpakutou.
She grins as her reiatsu starts to push against, and then merge with his.
Hitsugaya rolls his eyes and then sweeps his sword in an arc. Ice envelopes his arm once more.
He turns to her, and a half smirk slowly turns into a real smile.
He smiles, and takes a bow.
Rukia echoes his movement, and then he starts again with her.