Dying Light

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. That honor belongs to Tite Kubo.

Warnings: Au-ish

AN: For the Bleach contest on LJ. The prompt was "Wonder." There was a 300 word limit; otherwise, it would've been longer.

Out of the three worlds, Hueco Mundo surprisingly has the cleanest air. It carries a tang of blood, but that is just an undertone to the crisp and sharp bite. To each breath of unending and refreshingly cool night.

The living world is too polluted. Too crammed with the ignorant and unknowingly doomed.

And Soul Society has the heavy weight of malevolence. The cries of the starved, the screams of the dying. Tainted with sorrow and desperation and agony in a way that makes even Hollows take a step back and retreat for their home.

If anything, Seireitei proper is the worst. The underlying disease in the air that steals into lungs and slowly poisons them. The bile that clings to the throat and slowly burns its way through.

Stark hates this place. Hates the acidic taste in his mouth that lingers as he steps back through the gate, following after the boy and his friends. Just glad to be free from there. Of the accusing eyes and the waggling tongues that would dare to damn him for simply existing.

It is evening when they return to the shouten. Urahara all relieved smiles and the cat-lady a bemused presence at his side. Stark retreats to the roof in short order, and he's not surprised when he catches a glimpse of orange hair. He walks up to the boy and tilts his head back to gaze at the sky as well.

The living world may not be the cleanest of the three, but it does have this. Have the brightly shining stars. The laughter of children in the building below. The soft voices of those willing to risk their lives for an Arrancar. A former Espada.

It has hope. It has friends. And both are more than worth the effort.

Ever Hopeful,