Hooray! I'm updating. So...the last third or so of this chapter was written at about 3am, and is thus...well...I dunno, you'll see ahaha, so I apologize for my strange very early morning writing.
Thank you to all who have reviewed/faved/subscribed! E-cookies for everyone :3
Hide and Seek II
"Your time starts…now!"
"Kuchiki-san, do you have a plan?" Uryuu asked, striding over to Rukia as Ichigo's partner pulled him away and began delegating instructions.
"I think we should just try to stay somewhere crowded…and we should keep moving," Rukia said, tearing her attention away from the other team. "It would be unwise to stay in one place too long."
"I agree," nodded Uryuu. "Let's get going, then. We can figure out our destination on the way."
"All right." Rukia broke into a run, following Uryuu as he led the way towards some of Karakura Town's busier streets. She glanced over her shoulder, reluctant to leave Ichigo alone with someone who would undoubtedly be less patient with the more stubborn aspects of his personality than she. Although…she thought somewhat guiltily, would it really be so bad if he were to fail? He can hardly manage to keep his spiritual pressure under control…if he ends up going on this mission, he could really hurt himself…Rukia smiled bitterly to herself. Not that losing a game would keep him away. She shifted her focus once again to Uryuu's back and tried to leave her worries behind her. Besides…since it's him, things will probably work out somehow.
"…Is everything all right?" asked Uryuu, pulling Rukia away from her thoughts.
"Ah…yes, everything is fine. Have you thought of a place to hide for now?" she replied.
Uryuu nodded, pointing up to a large, many storied building on the corner of the block where they stood. An ambulance wailed past them, swerving past a bright red sign that read "Emergency" in very large letters.
"A hospital?" Rukia asked to confirm.
Uryuu nodded again. "The emergency department, to be exact. We'll be able to 'get lost' so to speak in an area with so much movement. We can stay there for a while and figure out where to go next."
"Let's go then," said Rukia, resuming her sprint. Within a few moments she found herself walking through a set of automatic doors adorned with bright stickers instructing pedestrians how best not to be injured by them. She instinctively dodged people as they maneuvered wheelchairs and gurneys across the waxy hallway floors, watching doctors and nurses scurry back and forth from the medicine and utility rooms, their pockets full of alcohol swabs and spare pairs of gloves.
"Th-this way," Uryuu said, gesturing to a bland waiting room with anxious people spilling out in every direction. He fidgeted nervously with his glasses, constantly pushing them up the bridge of his nose to the point where they created a small, red indentation in the pale skin between his eyes.
"Is something the matter?" demanded Rukia, watching Uryuu's eyes dart around the room as he continued to press his glasses into his face.
"I suppose just never saw them like this before…I don't spend a lot of time in hospitals…"
Rukia looked around, suddenly aware of what she, distracted by the scramble of patients and health care workers, had failed to notice. Wispy souls floated through the numerous walls and curtains of the emergency department, some of them gliding by in a daze, others crying out in despair, begging the oblivious doctors to save them. Rukia lowered her head, the buzzing confusion of the newly departed saturating her ears.
"I should…" she began, pulling her zanpakutou out of its holster. However, she hesitated, the reiatsu of another shinigami faintly registering in her senses. She slid her sword back into place, focusing her vision. "Someone else is here."
"Back here," Uryuu said, nodding his head towards a curtained room and guiding her inside. Rukia peeked out, watching a nervous shinigami enter her view. He drew his sword reluctantly, taking slow, choppy movements to raise the end of the hilt to the forehead of the various spirits.
"Don't worry," she heard him assure them as they drifted out of the world of the living. "You'll be all right."
"They often send new Gotei members to hospitals for some practice," Rukia said softly as she and Uryuu continued to watch.
"It makes sense," Uryuu conceded, sitting on the edge of the hospital bed.
"We should go," Rukia sighed. "It wouldn't be good if he saw us here."
"I suppose not," echoed Uryuu, reaching to pull open the curtain. Before he could finish the motion, however, a hand thrust itself inside and yanked back the curtain with a swift "swish".
"Excuse me, what are you doing here?" demanded a nurse, cocking her head to the side and clutching onto a chart as she waited for a response. She was followed closely by a sniffling child and her parents, all three of them eyeing Uryuu cautiously as he recoiled in shock. Rukia gasped, remembering that while she was invisible to most humans, Uryuu was not.
"I-I'm very sorry, I was looking for my grandfather," Uryuu mumbled, seemingly stumbling backwards (but in reality being dragged along by Rukia).
"Well he is not here," snapped the nurse, glaring at Uryuu as he made his way back towards the waiting room.
"Hey, aren't you that Quincy kid?" someone shouted. Rukia and Uryuu froze as the shinigami they had been trying to avoid jogged over to meet them, obviously alerted to their presence by the small scene they had just created.
"Ah…no, I…I don't know what you're-"
"And aren't you Rukia Kuchiki?" he asked once he'd caught up to them, eyes widening as Rukia exhaled impatiently, massaging her temples.
"Yes…I guess I am," she answered, her mind racing as to how she could get herself and Uryuu out of this situation without having to offer a lengthy explanation to the Soul Society upon her return.
"Why didn't I sense you, then? Are you hiding your spiritual pressure?" he accused, looking back and forth between Rukia and Uryuu.
"…That certainly seems to be the case…" explained Rukia, drawing out each word slowly in the hopes that it would buy her some time to come up with a believable story. "I was just…um...supposed to watch over you and report your progress back to…" her eyes quickly searched him for any hint as to which squad he belonged to, but found nothing that could be of use.
"To Vice-Captain Kira, right?" said the shinigami, finishing Rukia's sentence to her relief.
"Yes. He asked me to…to check on you…" she said, realizing how far fetched her lies sounded as the words materialized.
"Um…no offense intended, but wouldn't the Vice-Captain ask someone within his own division to do something like this?"
Rukia and Uryuu stared back at him, their mouths gaping, hoping that the words to get them out of his mess would magically fly inside.
"Are you…are you questioning your superior officer's judgment?" Rukia asked, feeling a pang of guilt as the young shinigami shook his head vigorously and offered his apologies.
"Not at all! I never meant-"
"It's quite all right," Rukia said curtly, trying her best to fall into the role she had created for herself. "Why don't we just forget this meeting ever happened?" she suggested, closing her eyes and waving her hand nonchalantly. "I've seen enough." She opened one eye, the shinigami looking back at her with wide, unblinking eyes; panicked by her most recent statement. "You're doing a fine job," she reassured him quickly. "Your Vice-Captain will be proud," she said, softening her expression.
"Oh…that's good to hear," breathed the shinigami, relaxing into a smile. "You know, it's just so nerve-wracking to be doing this for the first time-"
"Uh-huh…you know I should really be going, my friend and I have some…other business to attend to," Rukia said quickly, looking around quickly, suddenly remembering that she was being tailed by Yoruichi Shihouin of all people. "You know, official business."
"Oh! Sure. I'll forget I ever saw you," he beamed, throwing Rukia a wink that engaged the better part of his face.
"…I think that's for the best-"
"Sir, do I have to call security?!"
"Crap – let's get out of here!" Uryuu urged as the nurse from before advanced on him. Rukia nodded, once again following him as he ran out through the waiting room and burst out of the front entrance of the hospital through the lobby doors.
"Where do you want to go next?" Rukia asked, squinting through the bright midmorning sunlight at Uryuu.
"Mm…perhaps the restaurant district; it's just a few blocks that way," he said, pointing out through the parking lot.
"All right. Let's walk there…we still have about forty minutes left," Rukia noted, a bit dismayed that so little time had past.
Uryuu nodded. He and Rukia began to make their way through the parking lot, dodging cars as they weaved in and out of cleanly lined slots, occasionally honking at each other when a distracted driver got in someone else's way.
"It's a little funny," Uryuu commented as they left the lot behind them. "These humans just go on with their lives, unaware of just how dangerous this world really is."
Rukia glanced at the people walking past them, happy, sad, angry, but never afraid. "That's how it should be," she replied. "There's no reason for them to worry about such things."
"I don't know which is easier," Uryuu continued, "living peacefully in ignorance or knowing the truth."
"I couldn't tell you." Rukia looked down at the sidewalk. She walked with Uryuu in silence, thinking about what he had said. It couldn't have been easy for him to grow up as he did, able to see things other children couldn't. But then again, she thought, it hadn't been easy for any of them. She remembered Ichigo the first time she met him. He was jaded, bored, and stagnating, worn down from the isolation of living a life he thought no one could understand. She remembered the way he looked at her when she offered him her powers that night; frightened, thrilled, vulnerable, and prepared. Completely trusting a mysterious stranger to drive her sword through his chest. How reckless of him, she thought to herself, smiling. She could still feel herself shiver upon seeing him transform, the dullness and vacancy with which he had been living from day to day melting away in favor of a fiery, passionate resolve. Rukia felt her cheeks flush from the memory.
"…Everything all right?" Uryuu asked, cutting into the silence. He glanced over at her, eyebrows slightly raised into a smug expression.
"I'm fine," answered Rukia, her voice sounding more defensive than she intended. Something about the way Uryuu looked at her made her uneasy; it was as if he knew something she didn't. Or, rather, as if he knew something she didn't want him to know.
"You just seemed rather lost in thought," he remarked back casually. Rukia scowled. His comment was innocent enough, but she still couldn't shake the feeling that there was something more under the surface.
"I suppose I was."
Rukia stopped on the sidewalk, having thoroughly had enough of Uryuu's roundabout statements. "What are you trying to get at?" she demanded, her harshness taking both of them a bit by surprise. Why was Uryuu getting her so worked up?
Because he's acting like he knows how I feel about-
Rukia stopped herself, forcing her mind not to finish that sentence. Her face burned red once again. She lifted her hands to her cheeks, pressing her palms into her skin and picking up her stride once more.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what's gotten into me. Let's continue," she mumbled, frustrated that she allowed herself to show so much emotion.
"Y-you know," Uryuu began cautiously, "it's not like we don't notice it…it's just different with you two," he said, shrugging.
Rukia felt her stomach drop. She couldn't decide which surprised her more – the fact that Uryuu had evidently picked up on her developing feelings for Ichigo or the fact that he felt the need to talk about it.
"I…I don't know what you mean," she said, desperately hoping to somehow change the subject. "But we have about thirty minutes left, so do you think we should go somewhere-"
"I just wish…" said Uryuu, obviously not listening to a word Rukia had just said.
"You just wish…what?" she asked, the realization dawning on her. He wasn't talking about her at all with his arrogant questions and cryptic remarks. He was talking about himself. Rukia couldn't deny that she saw the way Uryuu looked at Orihime Inoue, and the way that she rarely looked back.
"She doesn't even…she has no idea," he sighed, once again sliding his glasses up his nose.
"Then give her something to think about," Rukia said, glancing back at Uryuu. His pale skin quickly lit up with a reddish hue.
"So what were you saying about only having thirty minutes left?" he asked, refusing to make eye contact.
Rukia smiled. "Well, now it's only about twenty five…" she stopped, feeling a small breeze brush against her from side street. "Did you feel that?" she asked, peering down the narrow alley. It was completely deserted except for a young man sitting on an old milk crate, his shoulders hunched over and his elbows resting on his knees.
"That breeze just now…it came from a different direction than how the wind's normally been blowing," she said, eyeing the man cautiously as he straightened his posture.
"I didn't feel anything…and I don't sense anything abnormal…perhaps it was just from a car or something-"
"Where did he go?" Rukia interjected, suddenly bracing her stance and gripping the hilt of her zanpakutou.
"Where did who go?" Uryuu asked, frantically looking around.
"That man sitting in the alley! I could have sworn he was-"
"You're far too clever for your own good, Miss."
Rukia whirled around, drawing her sword as the man from before stepped out from behind her. "You're…!"
"Mmhm, I'm no friend of yours," he teased. "That was awfully mean of you, hiding your reiatsu like that. How am I supposed to find you shinigami if you walk around without any spiritual pressure?"
Rukia smiled bitterly through gritted teeth. "I could say the same for you." Neither she nor Uryuu had sensed any sort of abnormalities in the spiritual energy surrounding them. And yet here, standing before her, was what she assumed could only be an Elemental. Before she had time to think about how completely unlucky the current situation was it pounced at her, barely brushing her shirt as she jumped out of his way.
"Get help!" she ordered Uryuu, immediately judging by the swiftness of his reflexes that this Elemental was much stronger than the last she had encountered.
"Are you sure you'll be all right?" he asked, backing away as Rukia continued to defend herself from the Elemental's attacks. She sensed Uryuu slowly beginning to release his spiritual pressure, undoubtedly having figured that now was not the time to be concerned with completing Yoruichi's game.
"Just go!" she shouted, wondering why her opponent had yet to try any attacks other than hand-to-hand combat. However, instead of contemplating the matter, she took the opportunity to dart forward at him, swinging her sword upwards in one smooth motion. She scowled, the Elemental just barely dodging out of her way at the last moment. She began to dig her heels into the ground to stop her movement, but instead felt herself being pushed forward until she made impact with a nearby wall.
Rukia quickly turned around, resuming her stance and holding her sword out in front of her. What just happened? She wondered, her shoulder throbbing from where it had make contact with the side of the building. She hadn't felt the Elemental grab her or anything of that sort. So how was it able to throw her around like that?
"Haven't figured it out yet? Why don't I give you another chance, then," laughed the Elemental, stretching out its arm and jerking it back in towards its body. Rukia once again felt herself being thrust forward. Her hair blew in front of her face as she extended her legs in front of her, firmly planting her feet on the opposite wall so she could push herself backwards and land smoothly.
"You can control the wind," she said, beginning to release her own spiritual pressure and barely whispering a kidou spell to herself.
"Finally getting serious, are we?" the Elemental said, once again stretching its hands in front of it. But Rukia didn't give it the chance to finish. She quickly extended her hand towards the Elemental, reciting the final lines of her incantation.
"…divide into six! Bakudou number sixty one, Rikujoukourou!" The Elemental gasped, stunned as six rods of light shot through the midsection of its body and pinned it in place. Rukia lowered her hand, brandishing her sword in preparation to deal it the final blow.
However, before she had the chance to attack, she felt her kidou spell begin to falter. The prison of light began to tremble as the Elemental fought against it.
"Dammit," she hissed, preparing herself to call her zanpakutou into its shikai state. She opened her mouth to speak Sode no Shirayuki's command, but stopped, sensing two familiar spiritual pressures approaching.
Rukia looked up to see Orihime and Chad sprinting towards her, with Uryuu leading the way. A barrier closed around the Elemental, effectively trapping it inside.
"Orihime!" Rukia exclaimed as her friends came to a stop in front of her. "Isn't that your healing technique?" she asked, confused.
"Yes," replied Orihime breathlessly, "but it shouldn't be able to get out of that barrier. Let me know when you want me to release it," she said.
"How…how did you get here so quickly?" asked Rukia.
"Ah hah…well, I was worried since I couldn't sense anyone's spiritual pressure…and so when I felt Ishida-kun's reiatsu I ran to go find him," Orihime explained. Chad nodded silently, clenching his left fist and eyeing the struggling Elemental cautiously.
"What is that?" he asked, but Rukia and Uryuu were left with no time to explain.
"What's going on, Kuchiki, Ishida?" Yoruichi asked, jumping down in front of them from a nearby rooftop. "What have you got here?"
"It's an Elemental," Uryuu said. "Inoue-san was able to trap it in her barrier."
Yoruichi turned sharply to face them. "But I didn't sense anything," she said.
"Neither did we," Rukia responded. "It took us completely by surprise."
"That is indeed troubling," sighed Yoruichi, stretching out her fingers. A glowing, white light emitted from her hands. "Inoue, release your barrier. I'll finish this quickly."
Orihime nodded, and the barrier around the Elemental dissolved into nothing. Before it had time to react, Yoruichi disappeared, only to suddenly reappear a few yards away from her original location. The Elemental keeled over, collapsing to the ground before it could process what had just occurred. Yoruichi picked it up and slung it over her shoulder.
"Let's head back. You too, Sado, Inoue," she said, nodding at the group.
"Um…Yoruichi-san? What exactly was that thing?" Orihime asked as she ran to keep up.
"I'll explain everything to you once we're back at the shop," Yoruichi replied coldly. Rukia clenched her teeth, a new wave of unease hitting her. Yoruichi's tone could only be described as nothing short of ominous, and when a person like Yoruichi spoke in such a way it usually meant that the situation was much worse than previously thought.
They finally arrived back at the Urahara Shop, a few moments before the hour Yoruichi had given them to play the game was up. Rukia looked around anxiously, waiting to see if Ichigo had made it back yet. To her dismay he was nowhere to be found.
"Wait out here while I deal with this," instructed Yoruichi, carrying the Elemental's limp body inside.
"I wonder if Kurosaki's made it," Uryuu muttered.
"I suppose we'll find out soon enough," Rukia shrugged, still glancing around for any signs of him or his partner. She straightened up, suddenly aware of two people running towards the shop. Ichigo stopped just in front of her, bending over as he gasped for air.
"What happened to you?" he asked, pointing to her face. Rukia raised her finger to her cheek, suddenly aware of a small gash under her right eye. She looked back at Ichigo, the relief of seeing that he'd passed nearly bringing her to her knees. She opened her mouth to speak, but was stopped as Yoruichi stepped outside once more.
"Congratulations," she said, "you have all passed. And you're all just in time, for it seems we have a bit of a situation on our hands…"
"A situation?" asked Michiko, crossing her arms in front of her.
"Yes," answered Yoruichi. "If you'll all come inside I'll be more than happy to explain."
The six people followed Yoruichi to the back room, to the same circular table they had sat at when Urahara had first told them of the Elementals. Rukia purposefully weaved her way through the line of people so that she would end up next to Ichigo. She couldn't explain exactly why, but the urge to be near him had hit her particularly strongly.
"You all right?" he asked again, nudging her lightly with his elbow. Rukia nodded, smiling up at Ichigo. They took their place at the table, fidgeting around on the floor until they were comfortable.
Yoruichi began by filling in Chad and Orihime on the history of the Elementals, of how they were created to upset the balance of souls and throw the entire world into chaos so that the man called Yasuo could extract his revenge on the Soul Society for banishing him hundreds of years ago. She also recounted what Uryuu and Rukia had told her about their most recent encounter with the Elemental, and how, unlike before, they could now hide their spiritual pressure.
"…You can all see how this could be a problem," continued Yoruichi. "We can't have these Elementals wandering around without our knowledge and further upsetting the balance. We need to be as proactive as possible in eliminating them once and for all. So that's why I'm moving up the start of our mission," she said, looking from face to face. "Kurosaki, Kuchiki, Ishida, Nakamura, you have three hours to ready yourselves. Meet back here and be prepared to depart."
"We're leaving in three hours?!" Ichigo exclaimed, leaning forward across the table.
Yoruichi glared at him. "Yes, will that be a problem, Kurosaki? We need to take care of this as quickly as possible. The balance has already begun to shift significantly. If we don't act soon…they'll be getting restless…Sado, Inoue, I need you two to stay here and work with Urahara. You'll be in charge of taking care of the Elementals that appear around here and stopping them from defeating any more hollows. Can you do that?"
Orihime and Chad nodded, still wide-eyed from all of the information they had to absorb in such a short amount of time.
"All right. The rest of you go and take care of any business you need to. Remember, we're leaving in three hours."
Rukia stood up, suddenly remembering something as she walked out the door.
"Yoruichi-san," she said, "didn't we lose? You found my team, didn't you?"
"You still have your ribbon, right?" replied Yoruichi, grinning.
Rukia smiled. "Oh…yes! And one last thing," she added quickly, another thought entering her mind.
"Who did you mean when you said 'they'll be getting restless'?"
Yoruichi looked down at Rukia, the playful grin she wore mere seconds earlier completely gone. "Put such questions out of your mind," she advised. "With any luck, you'll never have to find out."
I'm surprised it took me 7 chapters to mention Kira XD
Until next time!