A moment can last for eternity. I know this, as I feel my foot slip on the slippery stone at the water's edge. It's strange. I've fought the most powerful Hollows imaginable; I've run with a dragon as we outpaced the wind. If I was prone to falling, I would have been dead long ago.

Unfortunately, the algae-covered rock glittering wet in the sunshine doesn't seem to care that I could usually keep my footing in the middle of a raging monsoon.

Maybe my head has cooked in the heat; considering I let myself be bullied into going with this mad crowd to the beach, that doesn't sound unfeasible. I turn my body to place my other foot on steadier ground, but all these bloody stones along the shoreline seem to be the same.

There is some tiny relief in the fact that I've wandered off so far it's unlikely anyone will see my wretched downfall. I'm determined not to make a sound; Matsumoto would be here before I could say shunpo and there would be no end to my misery.

Something touches my fingertips. My arms are outstretched in an attempt to regain balance before I go down completely, so it's too far away to easily tell in the blur of the moment who's the person behind the skin brushing mine. As I shift a little to keep my balance, fingers slide in between my own.

The brush of skin on skin is almost electrical. I don't touch people. If someone needs a hug they can go to Fourth Division. Physical contact outside battle is not something I do. Momo and Matsumoto seem to have missed this point, somehow.

Slender fingers rush up over my knuckles like the water meeting rock under my feet and I find myself hoping that maybe, just maybe, I might still be saved from the indignity of actually falling. Stumbling, even. How humiliating. I don't need much to get me back on my feet, if I get a tug in the right direction now.

I feel the hand closing over my own, finally managing to get my eyes to stop focusing on the water and dart up to look at my aspiring redeemer. A flash of dark hair. Kuchiki? No, she wouldn't have left Kurosaki's side for the world. Stupid lovebirds. A pair of intense, dark eyes. I recognise this girl, but I've never forgotten a Shinigami in my life and I can't seem to specify her division.

Her grip on my hand tightens, it's rock steady and very warm. I dislike warmth, but hey, I'm still falling, even though her grip has given me something to help slow the process.

Then that face, hauntingly familiar, smirks at me.

I see the muscles ripple up her arm even as she starts to tense up. My mind doesn't seem to work as fast as usual, she can't be doing what I think she's… but the arm keeps tensing up and the hand over mine holds even tighter. It would be pointless to pull like that, it would only…

Then, as if time had given me all it cared to spare, I feel the tug I know is coming and the world spins out of that dead instant. I use the momentum to jump to a dry rock, but I don't have to turn around and see her fall, or hear the splash for that matter, to know that for some reason she's pulled me away the only way she really could. I still turn around, though.

The water is dark and deep, probably cold, and she looks a bit disgruntled. The frown between her eyebrows reminds me of Kurosaki. Then she starts crawling up on land again. I move to help her.

"Gosh, Toushiro, I guess I owe you some for saving my life back in elementary school, but next time fall in somewhere warmer, would ya?"

She grabs my hand and this time I've made sure I have my feet planted steadily on the ground when I help her up. I still don't know who she is and I haven't saved the lives of enough Shinigami to forget their faces.

A few glittering drops land in front of my feet when she shrugs. Then she starts jumping from one rock to the next, back in the direction of the beach. She only stops, balancing precariously, to look back at me.

"I was going to say hi, but I'll need to dry up. I think Ichi-nii and Ishida-kun are trying to make sure no one gets poisoned from 'Hime-chan's cooking. See you back at base camp?"

She doesn't wait for me to answer, leaving me watching her back as she jumps away, sloshing and splashing over the rocks. I've spent all my time learning how to need no one; my life and others' depends on me never failing. Here's to hoping she won't tell Matsumoto.

Well, I suppose the younger Kurosaki sibling might at least find a chilled drink waiting for her one of these baking days. I don't save lives to be repaid for it.





I found myself amused and annoyed in turns by episode 228 of the anime. I must admit I wondered if they'd left a newbie to do the job or if Japanese summer had simply cooked their brains. Here, Shiro-chan's actually been convinced to join them on the beach, but seen a nice rock face and some shade to hang about in. Moving about on slippery rocks in the summer isn't the easiest, though. Especially those covered in algae, I seriously doubt even our beloved genius boy would do well against those.

I'm following Kubo Tite-sama's shining example and ignoring all concept of time to simply do whatever I please.