A/N: For explanation on the tingle, if you don't want to come up with your own explanation, check the fic out at my deviantArt account (same nick) and the Author's Notes below the fic there. This is written to the same universe as Frozen Sky by Jedi Bodicaea here on ff-net.
Memory (the Past)
I can still remember, if only vaguely, the last face I saw before I died.
He must have been a relative. A father, or a much older brother perhaps. I recall the pain in his dark eyes as he called my name, before I slipped away. Maybe that's how I knew who I was.
As if destiny thought it was bending the rules by letting me have that scrap of my past, I don't remember anything of my first years in Zaraki. My family said that I came here, looking like I was sixteen or seventeen perhaps, but it doesn't matter much once you're dead.
As all who come here, I was found and accepted into a family as one of their own. Then I made myself a name in the chaos that makes up the back streets of Rukongai. I was tough, but someone, somewhere had taught me to be kind also. The man in my dreams, perhaps? Even though it is just a few moments and a memory of a loving face, that man has changed my death – as I imagine he changed my life, when that still mattered.
I remember the first time I saw a Shinigami.
Few things frighten me as much as that did, especially back then when all I lived for was today, tomorrow and the dream in between. Rukongai changed me, as Seireitei would later. Death… well, death changes everyone, one way or another.
The second time I saw Shinigami, they were two. A man and a woman, looking for people like me. People with reiatsu. Spirit pressure. I ran until I had no air left, until my legs ached, until my eyes were burning. I wouldn't let them take me away from Zaraki, the shithole I called home, away to some place I knew nothing of, other than that they had been wearing way too nice clothes to be from anyplace I'd be comfortable with… but something about them had stirred a flame inside me.
When I finally managed to get back home, the day and night had passed, and the dawn was breaking. The Shinigami were long gone, of course. My family couldn't understand me, running from something like that. The wonder in their eyes when they spoke of Shinigami and having a chance at life in the Court of Pure Souls, the Seireitei – that made me wonder if I had made the wrong decision, but outwardly I stood by it as firmly as I ever had. Between the first two meetings, a few years had passed. It would be another decade before a Shinigami patrol passed our way again.
I remember how my mother begged me to go out into the street and let myself be tested by that patrol. I remember looking into her eyes and thinking that they were my family, but my older brother had disappeared earlier that year and my father was having trouble feeding us all. I knew that if I allowed myself to be swallowed up by the Seireitei and that kind of life, I would never see my mother again.
I know exactly what changed my mind. My little sister Yuki came rushing in through the door. Her eyes were shining. I hadn't seen that gleam in them since my brother died. My family would be able to support both her and my younger brother better if I were taken care of.
I held my little sister for a long time before disappearing out of her life. That hovel in Zaraki had served its purpose and I didn't have a right to stay there anymore. I never spoke to my family again. That was the second time that I had lost loved ones. Only this time, I would remember their faces.
Getting into the Shinigami Academy wasn't a problem. I had known ever since that first patrol came that I had something in common with these people that my family couldn't compare with. Then again, that didn't mean I had much in common with them any other way. Most of them were born inside the walls. In my veins ran the dirt of Rukongai, I was bred from the filth of the Zaraki district.
I worked hard, but made few friends. Even the teachers often disapproved of my personality, though I know they found my talent intriguing and my hard work commendable. I would hear as much occasionally. Something like 'if only she would apply the same concentration to other things as she does to battle training – I swear, that girl is headed for squad Eleven!' Of course, I couldn't stop myself from asking about the Thirteen Court Guard Divisions after that, especially Squad Eleven. I was amused to no end to hear the name of their leader – Zaraki Kenpachi-taichou – but no matter how much I wanted to aim for joining them, I found myself sitting up late at night, knowing that doing that would keep me chained to the past. So instead of training my strengths – the sword and destructive arts – I concentrated on restraining and healing kidou, and later shunpo. Once I found myself appreciating that training, it all fell into place. This was at the end of my first year at the academy, at the same time as I made a friend.
He was a tiny guy and before I started training my kidou I wouldn't have looked at him twice. He was obviously not suited for swordplay and everyone was rather certain that if he was headed for a Court Guard Squad, it would be the healers of Fourth. Otherwise, he would probably do best in the Kidou Corps. He was pretty much my opposite, definitely insignificant in swordplay, but I liked plain old Taro.
We made friends surprisingly quickly. It was even better when I realised that he was incredibly skilled with healing kidou, the demon art that practically made me tear my hair out in frustration. It was more than just a friendship, it was a partnership. He helped me past the hurdles on the way to being a decent healer and in return I would work with him on his swordfighting. By the end of my second year, my teachers had changed their attitude toward me, but I didn't notice anymore.
One thing I did notice was the first time we got high-ranking visitors. I was sparring in the training yard with another fairly decent student. I remember thinking that I needed to loosen up some of my tension before starting my kidou exercises. Then my opponent suddenly froze and I had to manoeuvre like crazy to keep myself from cutting off anything important on either of us. I shouted some appropriate obscenities at him for spacing out like that.
Then I felt it. It was like standing next to a confined thunderstorm. The power was in the air, just under the surface, suppressed so tightly that it was impossible to tell how much it was – just that it was abnormally much. I gaped in pure amazement at the odd pair following the head teacher over the yard. I recognised a captain's haori, of course, we had been instructed well enough and with nothing to go back to I had soaked in every piece of information eagerly.
The taichou was slightly shorter than his companion. She didn't seem all that dangerous with her golden hair and scandalous dress code, but since she didn't hold back her reiatsu quite as firmly as her captain, it was still obvious that hers was respectable in its own right. I had heard of them, but then who hadn't? The boy genius and his… impious fukutaichou.
My opponent, having spent a few more years at the Academy than I, unfroze sooner and aimed a half-serious swing at me. The eyes that fixed on me as I sidestepped and held up my hand in a gesture asking my sparring partner to wait – those eyes were sharper than any sword that had been pointed at me until that moment. They were a startling sea green that deepened as they widened just ever so slightly, only to be instantly blanked out and turned away, as if that intense glance, that moment's surprise, hadn't even existed.
That was the first time I saw a leader of Soul Society and during my time as a Shinigami I would come to appreciate Hitsugaya-taichou's restraint. Then again, that was the last thing on my mind as I watched the two, who were almost mythical to me. That was the beginning of the end of my time at the Academy, though it would take me a full year to actually finish my education.
After that day, I would occasionally feel something like a tickle at the back of my head. I must have looked like a paranoid idiot, looking over my shoulder like that, but the fact is that I felt something. It wasn't reiatsu. Even after getting better at kidou, sensing spiritual pressure wasn't my strong point. It was more like that expression, 'someone walking on my grave'. I would think I saw a glimpse of white, but after the first few times of almost running over my classmates trying to figure out where that glimpse came from, I decided to ignore it as best I could. Taro would say 'you're seeing it again, you need to relax if you ever want to be better than average at kidou'. I would respond with a sneer at the foolish idea that I could be better than average in that class and he would keep trying to teach me in that patient way of his. Hado class spells were still a different matter, it seemed I had an affinity for anything destructive. I was almost ready to graduate, though I wasn't aware of it, and some eyes were focused on me for reasons other than my skills.
At the end of my third year at the Academy I was invited to a mission that would change my life yet again. The mission in itself was hardly worth mentioning. We were a group of ten, the others were more or less at the same stage as me in their studies, some of us had cooperated as sparring partners and those I knew were all very skilled. It really was an honour to be included with them, but I couldn't stop wondering why I was invited in the first place. Being less than a gossip, the fact that this was a test had somehow passed me by completely.
Two days later I stood in my new quarters. I had passed the test even though I didn't know I was taking one and from sharing sleeping quarters with a dozen other Academy students I now had my own quarters – small ones, but impressive all the same. I was Seventh Seat, serving under the Tenth Division and Hitsugaya-taichou
I spent five more years pushing papers, training recruits and developing my skills, slowly rising first to sixth and then to fifth seat. Occasionally, I would still feel that tingling sensation, but once I had more things to occupy my mind it was more seldom. Then, in my fifth year at Tenth, Taro fell to a Hollow during a rescue mission. I would have rushed to his side, but once the news reached me he was already dead and all I could do was fall apart on his grave.
I had many acquaintances within the Division and my fellow ranked officers were sociable enough, but Taro had been my only true friend. In all things that mattered, I was alone. Again. That was the first time, though almost a decade had passed, that I ventured into Zaraki to gaze at the hovel that I had once called home.
I'm not exactly sure what had happened to mother, I never saw her there. I couldn't bring myself to just walk up to them and act as if I still had anything in common with the rogue girl that had left that place, so I left soon again. I had been right all along. There was nothing left for me in that place. That was also the first time I truly talked to my fukutaichou.
Matsumoto-fukutaichou would usually be hanging around the office, or be out drinking with any number of people. She was well liked and had many friends, but though as Fifth Seat I was ranked high enough to register on the scale, my personality wasn't such that I would be part of that circle. With Taro's death I suppose the social skills that had been uninspired at best turned off completely.
While she usually left us a lot to our own devices, apparently she had a sixth sense where troubles were concerned. That day, about a week after I had heard the news, was when I found myself almost forcibly pulled out of the office by my jovial fukutaichou. For a moment, as we passed the door of the taichou's office, I thought I could see a smile ghost his lips as he glanced up at us. I didn't believe it, then, but from a different perspective he probably approved of her handling of the situation. I hadn't been much of an officer that week, after all, with all that grief pulling me down.
She tugged at my shihakusho and used her considerable skills at persuasion until I finally agreed, exhausted from pure frustration since she wouldn't leave me be. That night was the first I heard about my past, the past that my memories don't stretch back to. The past when I lived with the man I still occasionally dreamed of. I couldn't forget those words even if I wanted to. Matsumoto-fukutaichou was, as some sort of excuse for the slip of her tongue, rather smashed at the time.
"Well it's not all that surprising that you're strong. With a brother like yours, I'm surprised Zaraki-taichou hasn't… you know… challenged you yet."
"A brother like mine?Zaraki-taichou?!"
"Hm? Oh, whoops. Forget that I said anything. Have some more saké!"
I never was very good at forgetting, maybe because there were so many things I didn't remember to begin with. That mistaken comment gave me a purpose, now that I had none. She quickly made it clear that I ought to leave it alone, but I'm not exactly someone to be deterred by others' opinions. If she'd made it an order, then maybe I would have done as she said, but, Matsumoto being herself, I'm sure it never occurred to her to make it official.
I started searching the Academy records, but found no evidence of a Kurosaki anywhere in the last century… and I knew enough about time in the World of the Living to know that even if I had been dead for twenty or thirty years by now, there was no way any brother of mine had been older than a hundred. That left me frustrated for a good while, but at least I was doing my job properly in the meantime.
I'm pretty sure my superiors kept an eye fixed on me during this period, because the moment I finished with the records and brought home a different book, I got a fancy visit at the office.
I was alone that evening, I'm sure he'd noticed as the other three I shared the office with trooped off after his cheery fukutaichou. He's much too considerate to say such things in front of others, but once they were gone he stood there in the doorway looking dangerous, even though he was barely five feet. If he had grown any in the five years since I first met him, it wasn't enough for me to really notice. That didn't make him any less intimidating when he strode over to my desk, decisively closing the book in front of me and looking at me with that soft, unyielding gaze of his.
"Some things are best left in peace, Kurosaki."
After that, I didn't seriously consider to keep trying. I must admit that as a thought, the idea to keep searching more carefully did cross my mind. I will admit that much, at least. As time went on, though, I realised that even if I was desperate for the knowledge that was being denied me… that was one order I couldn't disobey. Anyone else and the need might eventually have overpowered me, but what could have been possible to work around in a direct order from Matsumoto-fukutaichou was impossible to ignore in a simple, unspoken request from the taichou. In hindsight, they would have known if I'd tried.
To get rid of the spare time that was plaguing me I started spending occasional evenings with the group trailing after Matsumoto. I wasn't exactly expecting to worm any more information out of her – she's always been the happy-go-lucky type, but after a few early mistakes I never mistook her for stupid. Other evenings, as discreetly as possible, I would train for bankai. I dreamt of what my zanpaktou would look like, waiting, training and going about my business as if my dreams weren't plagued by a new shadow… a shadow with unruly strawberry blonde hair.
I don't exactly know why I aimed for bankai so early. Perhaps my zanpaktou was calling to me. Perhaps I secretly wanted a reason to get out of Tenth, away from the last few people I cared for and into something new. It took me seven years to get to the final stages, a very respectable time.
I have advanced twice more in rank to an impressive third seat. Impressive to anyone but myself and my division. Matsumoto keeps bugging me to take the vice-captain's exam, something I keep putting off. Hitsugaya-taichou says nothing, as usual, but he always seems to get a philosophical look on his face whenever I come around with paperwork. In seven years, no one has replaced Taro. And my dreams are still haunted by a dark-haired, dark-eyed man crying my name and a faceless boy with orange hair.
I lie here, bleeding out on the ground. It's ironic, really. Whoever heard of someone killed by their own bankai? Matsumoto has gone to get Fourth Division, but they will be too late. I know that Hitsugaya's healing kidou hasn't stopped the blood flow perfectly. It's a bit unnerving how quickly my taichou and fukutaichou were here, actually. Hearing the strain in his voice betray him brings a smile to my lips. Our taichou. The boy more manly than all the other captains combined. The smile slips as I focus on his sea green eyes and the pain in them. I try to speak, but he silences me with a simple gesture.
"I know you've been curious," he says quietly. It isn't a whisper, for though it's just barely audible he speaks with the same command as he always has. "Your brother's name is Kurosaki Ichigo. He was born in the human world, but he saved all of Soul Society." He sees my unspoken question and shrugs slightly. "You deserve to know."
Ichigo. Ichigo. Ichi-…
"Ichi-nii." Yes, it fits. The strawberry boy isn't faceless anymore. Only then do I realise that the memory is three decades too late and turn back to my most important taichou as the world is slipping from my grasp.
"Thank you… Toushiro."
sequel – Dream (the Present)