A.N. Set 110+ years before current Bleach time. You shouldn't need to know Bleach to read this. Now finally edited by Vorpal. Many thanks to him.
Rukongai, that's what they call this place. I never expected my next great adventure would be like this: a place so full of misery and strangeness. It wasn't the first time I cursed myself; I shouldn't have waited so long to decide what I wanted when Dumbledore had asked if I wanted to take the train to move on or go back to fight Voldemort. I had known something was wrong as soon as the two doors made of twisted human skeletons had opened to take the part of Voldemort's soul inside me. And after that shock there was only darkness.
Rain tapped on the roof of the inn while I waited under its awning for the storm to pass. Others were huddled near me, but kept themselves away from the warm light pouring out of the inn's doors. We didn't want the owner to see us making free use of his awning. Nothing was free in Rukongai and little was to be had. A warm place, dry shelter, morsels of stolen food were what we lived for day to day. It was a wretched place.
I often wondered if those terrible looking gates had pulled me inside them like they had Voldemort's soul. Was I in Hell? Would I run into the murderer of my friends and family again? Bitterness and hunger squatted in equal measure in my gut. I had done enough, I deserved better than whichever circle of Hell Rukongai was a part of.
At first I searched for familiar faces; I asked if people knew of Dumbledore. I thought surely even in the afterlife they would know him. Most people didn't even know who they were before they got to Rukongai; some people only knew Rukongai, and many died in Rukongai. I didn't believe this really could be the afterlife. I didn't think this was where my mother and father were when I had summoned them with the Death Stone. What happened to the choice Dumbledore had given me?
I stared out at the rain with flat eyes. Everyone looked the same; you didn't need mirrors in Rukongai. We all had the same slack faces, mean lines, and broken lips. Everyone said the same things, how life was shit, how everyone was a crook, and how wonderful it would be to be a death god. But right then under the awning it was too cold and wet to crow on about who had it the worst; we were just trying to get through the night, jealously protecting our few inches of ground under the shelter.
Death gods - the only evidence that I might actually be in the afterlife instead of stuck in some desperate other reality. I didn't like them; I didn't like thinking I might really be dead, that Rukongai might really be my life. I wanted to escape but others told me that the death gods would hunt me down. There were only two ways out of Rukongai: either you became a death god, or you died again. My first time dying had royally fucked up my life; I wasn't interested in trying out a second time, thank you very much.
When I'd first woken up in some dirty alley that I can't ever hope to find again I didn't understand a word people around me spoke, and they had no idea what I was shouting at them. When I got hungry and tried to look for work I couldn't explain what I wanted. So watching kids in the street I learned to steal. I didn't have my wand; I was powerless mostly, but there were little things I could do without a wand. A little levitation, a little summoning, and once when I had accidentally insulted some local thug I even disapparated. I tried doing that again but I was afraid to splinch myself. So I trained when I wasn't hungry, which was hardly ever.
People wore strange clothes too; they reminded me of pictures I had seen in my world history books when I still used to go to a muggle school. Japanese, I had thought, and wondered for a long time if I had somehow ended up in the magical community of the land of the rising sun. But there were too many people of different races that showed up every day and disappeared the same day for that to be true.
I wanted my magic back. I needed a wand so I could do something to get out. I could fight the fucking death gods who kept us in the slums and leave, go to some other afterlife. Late at night I wondered what had become of Ron and Hermione. Were they mad at me for going to Voldemort alone? Did they make it? Were they lost in Rukongai like me?
Looking back maybe it wasn't too long before I started understanding the language and people starting understanding my words too. I learned soon not everyone was as hungry as me. As poor and worn as they looked most of them weren't going around working hard to make enough to eat. They just wanted money so they could lose themselves in alcohol or buy fancy things. I didn't understand it. If they just ate to pass the time they could give the food to me! I needed it!
I had to be careful; sometimes people cringed away from me when I passed them. At times they looked terrified and would run away. There was something about me that wasn't right and there were those in Rukongai that didn't like whatever that was. I had to start moving around, because if I stayed in one place too long they would always come for me with crude weapons. It wasn't always so, but it was never too long I would pass a stranger who would stare at me in wide eyed fear and rush off. At times it was the same people I had been around for weeks, and then one day without warning they would start falling like flies around me in throes of pain. And then I had to leave, move on to another district, yet another street corner or alleyway.
I started looking for my kind, someone who could explain to me what was going on. Maybe I could find a wand maker. If only I could do magic again. I don't remember how much time passed by but I found no one.
My travels brought me to the inn in this nicer area of Rukongai. There were more merchants here than beggars and thieves. Well, there were still thieves; they just dressed better and fleeced the wealthier people. Paupers like me weren't worth their time. Though there was a different kind of predator here - the merchants kept gangs on hand to keep their streets clean of those like me. They didn't want the death gods, shinigami as they are called in their language, to see the filth from the worst parts of Rukongai. Who would want to spend money in their brothels and gambling houses if we were around? But it was for the shinigami that I was there. I hadn't found a single person like me and the death gods were the only ones I could hope to get answers from.
What I knew of them was filled with ghost stories people in Rukongai told each other. Each story as wild as the next, talking about their unbelievable powers, their ruthlessness, and, of course, their wealth. I was finally in a district they were known to visit frequently across from a gambling house that served them.
I sneezed and cursed the cold rain. If I still had my wand a simple charm would have kept it off of me, another charm would have made me warm even in a blizzard, but there I was as helpless as any muggle. As I waited for the shinigami to leave I busied myself trying to cast magic without a wand. I had seen many people do small charms without the aid of one so I knew it was possible - I myself could summon and levitate things already. When the beggar next to my suddenly slumped I knew my luck had turned for the worse – again. The people I was huddled with were falling to their knees and staring at me with fear. Why did it have to happen when I was so close to finding out more about the shinigami?
Knowing I would attract too much attention I rushed out from under the cover of the awning, pulling a worn burlap cloak around my head and face to hide my features. I took a sharply climbing street to my right and none too soon. I got my first sight of shinigami leaving the gambling house. Dressed in black clothes of the same Japanese style I had seen all over Rukongai they stood on the porch with drawn swords. Idly I thought that there may have been something to the stories of their swords being magical artifacts, but I didn't linger. It was lucky that the street I had taken led up to a temple on a hilltop; it gave me great line of sight on the people below. As I shuffled up, trying not to look like I was running, I glanced back at the black clad swordsmen to make sure they weren't following me. They had fanned out from the building they were in and were talking to the people who had fallen to their knees under the awning. I could only hope that they hadn't seen where I had gone.
I saw two run faster than I thought was possible down other streets, obviously looking for me. Another jumped to the top of the inn to take a look around. The inn was only two stories high but for a woman to just get there in two jumps is incredible. I wondered if they were some sort of lycanthropes and hustled faster to get under the cover of the trees I saw up ahead.
The night grew old but the Shinigami searched up and down the surrounding area. They brought torches and patrolled in groups of three, but they didn't trouble me much when they came to the temple. It was a rundown, abandoned place. Stone pillars held up a thatched roof that did little to keep the rain out. Water stood in the crevices of the cracked floor. I sat leaning against a wooden beam that had long fallen. My head hung between my pulled up knees, all to make them think I was just another drifter from the fringe parts of Rukongai.
One of them came and nudged me with his foot. "Hey!" He called out in a gruff voice. "Seen anything?"
I shook my head, hoping whatever strange reaction people had around me didn't happen to these Shinigami. The man spat near my feet and groused something about being too tired for the shit. He moved off but was replaced by another from his squad. This was a slighter man and he crouched in front of me.
"It's not safe here right now. There might be a hollow. You should find a place inside somewhere," he said in a gentle voice.
I raised my head to look at him more clearly. "Hollow?" I asked.
The first shinigami laughed rudely. "He's soft in the head, rich kid. Look at him. You think he has a place to stay indoors? Let's move." He was right of course about me not having a place to go, no matter how callous he sounded.
The shinigami in front of me stood up but stayed as if undecided. He reached inside his black robe like clothes and took out a bun which he handed to me. It was still warm somehow. It cut me inside to accept the charity but I was playing the role of a beggar and I was ravenous.
"Thank you," I said. "You're kind."
"Wish I could do more," he said and sounded genuine. I wanted to talk to him, but with the rest of his squad around I couldn't just start asking questions.
Still I needed to know what they were looking for. "What's a hollow?"
"It's a monster. You must be new here. They have a hole in their chests and eats souls. If you come across one, run. Find a shinigami. I have to go," he said and then ran off with that same incredible speed I had seen after his other squad mates.
Left alone again I wolfed down the steaming bun, thanking god for the shinigami. My short encounter with them didn't tell me too much. They looked like regular people except with super physical powers, and apparently had assholes and decent ones like anywhere else. I thought about hollows. Only creature I knew consumed souls were Dementors. I didn't want to be within miles of them if they were in Rukongai. Without a wand I had no defense. Fear gripped me until I reasoned to myself that the shinigami hadn't shown up until people around me had started acting strange.
If I was the reason they were there, then I had nothing to fear. I hoped. I took cold comfort in thinking it was better to be hunted by shinigami than have Dementors on the loose. Fairly soon with my stomach fuller than it had been in days I drifted off to sleep.
It was several days since my first encounter with the death gods I had heard so many tales of. I didn't think it was smart to go back into town and so went deeper into the forest around the temple. After the temple hill there had been another and one after which flattened out to a plateau. I was living off berries and leaves. My belly ached fiercely but I wanted to put as much distance as I could between myself and the last town.
I found myself walking along the edge of a cliff. I stood sometime looking out from the drop off. At the cliff's foot was civilization and far out I saw a city closed in by a circular wall. From afar I couldn't tell much but it seemed more organized than the rest of Rukongai. I thought I could make out neat rows of buildings and streets.
By then I was dazed with hunger and weakness. I contemplated jumping off the cliff and take my chances of making it all the way down; if it meant being closer to real food. It was tempting but somehow I got myself to trudge near the cliff edge hoping that the land would eventually slope down or I would see a path cut into the side.
At a certain point I couldn't go on anymore and simply sat down, dangling my legs off the edge. I thought I was becoming delirious when I started hearing someone humming but there was no one to be seen. Soon the mystery solved itself. Much further down from me a young woman with a long braid of black hair climbed over the edge. She gave me a dreamy smile and wave. I waved back, more than a little surprised that a svelte woman had climbed the high cliff. She dusted off her clothes, a light green robe of the kind I had seen some women wear in the towns. It didn't look like it would be very comfortable to wear when gamboling over mountains, but neither the woman nor her clothes looked like they had suffered. She waved to me again and humming went into the forest as serene as could be.
I stared after her wondering if she could help me get to the bottom of the cliff. Maybe she knew a way other than climbing down the face. It took me a while to get over being dumbstruck by the entrance of a comely woman. Also I wasn't entirely sure she wasn't just my imagination. By the time I made it to the spot she had entered the woods and she was nowhere to be seen.
I was too tired to be disappointed. I went into the forest hoping to find her. If I had my wand I could have used some simple tracking charms I had learned back in my fourth year. After the TriWizard championship training I knew many spells that would be very useful when trying to get over hurdles while searching for something. At least I still had my luck.
I found her bent over picking herbs and flowers in a small glade. On my trek through the forest the last few days I had seen plants familiar from my Herbology and Potions classes. It looked like she was harvesting them. Relieved I had found her I quickly made my way over, but before I could get there I saw three men holding clubs slip out from behind trees. They were going after her unprotected back.
"Watch out!" I shouted, and before I realized it I apparated between them.
I was disoriented going from being too far to reach her in time to seeing a club being swung at me. I put up my arm to block the way-layer. Pain shot up to my shoulder. I'd felt worse but in my condition it hurt like hell. I punched at him, but swung wide. Another of the three smashed his club in my ribs. It felt as if he broke bones and fell to the ground breathless.
Suddenly the woman was standing before me. I tried to groan out a warning but I was trying to keep from passing out. She caught one man's club singlehanded as if he wasn't a hulking gangster but just a baby. She swung her arm out throwing him many yards from her. The other two rushed her, but she disappeared from their path. In another second she appeared in front of me again. The two low-lives had been thrown away like rag dolls. Even from the ground I could see they were knocked out. Cursed night! I had run into a Shinigami. I couldn't think of anyone else I had seen with that kind of physical strength.
I saw her run to them in that unbelievably fast pace Shinigami were capable of. She put her hand on their heads; where she touched the skin glowed yellow. She looked to me and smiled angelically. "Why, you look like you're about to die. Thank you for coming to my rescue." She continued to beam at me. Was there an edge of insanity to that smile? Maybe. I was dying after all and she looked like she found it quaint.
I just stared at her and took shallow breaths because it hurt too much to breathe. Maybe I passed out at that point but when I was aware of anything outside of pain again she was over me with her hands on my chest. Her eyes were shut with the softest of frowns. As I lay there I thought her skin was very smooth and fair, before long I was blushing, realizing I was staring. It was hard for me to pin her age down. She looked very young, maybe just in her later twenties, but somehow I felt she was older. I put it out of my mind thinking Asians usually looked young for their age, but then I hadn't met too many older Asian women so I wasn't sure. At least I was breathing easier and feeling much less dazed than before.
"You've been very hard on yourself, haven't you? Tut tut," she said opening her eyes. The look in them said that she was disappointed in me.
"Sorry," I said, not knowing why I felt chastised.
"If I am right you are very hungry," she said.
She didn't wait for me to answer. She had me resting against her shoulder and had placed a box of food in my lap. I didn't recognize half the things but I cared little. Merlin, I didn't even mind her holding me up like a child, I was half in love with her by then.
Unohana Retsu contemplated the boy half in her lap critically. The contact was allowing her to palpate his reiatsu. Despite her calm expression she was perturbed. Not unlike Shinigami, his reiryoku was healing him, but at a rate much faster than she had encountered in anyone. Being the foremost healer of Soul Society she was a master of the mysteries of spiritual power, but what she found in him baffled her. At one moment he seemed to have the utmost control over his reiryoku, so much so that she could hardly find it, and at other times it was a rushing river barely kept from overflowing. She didn't think it was prudent to see how deep that river ran; there were too many inexplicable aspects to it.
She recognized him as the boy she'd seen lazing at the cliff edge. He had seemed worn down to her even from afar and she had planned on going back to check on him after collecting the healing herbs. She hadn't expected to get lost in her errand and even expected less to be attacked. She had sensed the vagabonds, of course, and was going to twist their arms a little to send them on their way. But just as she was about to turn around to give them a scare she had felt an unimaginably oppressive spiritual pressure. In the next moment the boy had simply appeared in front of her to shield her from the men.
He hadn't lasted long; the spiritual pressure of his reiatsu showed itself only for a blink in time. If he had maintained it for a few seconds more those poor men would have collapsed. She hoped his fluctuating reiatsu was only caused by a lack of training, but she was worried how one with so much strength hadn't been noticed yet. As he ate her lunch she felt him get stronger and the tempest of reiatsu inside him calming. She massaged her spiritual power against his to take better measure of it and drew back feeling at one discomfited by and attracted to its rawness.
The boy had fallen asleep while leaning on her. She smiled seeing the weariness melt away from his face to leave something innocent behind. He was so terribly young, she thought to herself. She sighed, allowing herself a moment of frustration when no one was around to see it. This was why her subordinates always accompanied her when she went anywhere in Rukongai. She had a bad habit of collecting strays to heal and feed. Even though her long years had taught her she couldn't help everyone it never assuaged her guilt for leaving the needy to their fates. Climbing mountains and collecting herbs was one solitary activity she had far away from civilization, but she had managed to find herself someone in need of saving.
She knew this one was different than the others. She couldn't simply walk away from him. The criminal gangs in Rukongai were always looking for those with high spiritual power. He had too much reiatsu to be ignored and he was too young to defend himself. If the gangs didn't abuse him for his power he would frighten some shinigami into killing him with his out of control reiatsu. No, Retsu thought, she couldn't leave him behind.
Unohana Retsu left the boy resting while she collected herbs and plants she had climbed up for. The goons had woken up and after receiving her pleasant smile ran away as fast as they could. Idly she wondered why people were so frightened of her. She did her best to be nice. She finished loading her satchel and got ready to return home.
As she was about to pick the boy she felt a strong reiatsu approaching fast. It was a day for unusual things, she mused. She waited patiently, sensing she could handle whoever was coming. But when the shinigami in all white clothes appeared she was momentarily stunned.
"And what is one of the Zero division doing here?" she asked, surprised by the presence of the Spirit King's guard.
The man had a white veil on his face with the symbol for zero painted on it. Retsu recognized him when he removed it.
"Captain Unohana," he greeted solemnly.
"Sagara-san, it has been many years. You look well," Retsu said, remembering the old shinigami from many years past. She couldn't even recall exactly when he had been promoted from the regular divisions to the very secret and never to be seen Zero division. It was too long ago.
"Did you come across a creature or a being with high reiatsu? We have a report of something appearing in this region," he asked brusquely.
Unohana resisted the urge to chide him for his rudeness. She suspected he was looking for the boy who had attempted to rescue her. She needed to find out more about why, so she stayed cordial. "No, Sagara-san. Maybe it was me you noticed? I was startled by some thugs earlier. Why would the Zero division get involved in hunting something inside Soul Society? That is the work of the Gotei 13. Is this being a threat to the Spirit King?" she asked with as innocent a look as she could.
The shinigami in all white lost his arrogant pose, as if deflated by her questions. He brushed the white stubble on his cheeks while looking undecided. "You were always the most perceptive of us, Captain Unohana. The reiatsu is immense and has shown up in short bursts in many places in Rukongai for several months. I cannot discuss anymore than that. The work of the Zero division is not to be spoken of. I hope you understand." He gave a short bow.
"Of course," said Unohana Retsu, understanding that by not denying what she had said he had confirmed her thoughts. "I am sorry, perhaps it really was me and your…analysts confused me for this being?"
Sagara nodded his white head. "As someone who has seen you in battle, Captain
Unohana, I would never discount your power. Perhaps it truly was you. Though, it would be utterly frightening if there were two of your strength walking Soul Society." He bowed shortly again.
Unohana kept a smile on her face with difficulty. She didn't like how he had changed from patronizing to complimentary. It worried her that he thought he could fool her. Maybe he had forgotten her in all the decades he had been gone.
"Sagara-san" she said sweetly. "I am just a healer."
He snorted, straightening up. "You weren't always, Captain Unohana. Please don't mention you saw me. The business of Zero division is-"
"Secret," she cut him off. "Yes, I know. It was good seeing you Sagara-san, please say hello to our other friends in Zero division. They are gone but not forgotten. Hmm?"
The man nodded, covering his face with the veil again. "Farewell."
Unohana waved after him until he disappeared from her sight. The perfunctory smile dropped from her face once she knew he was gone. She looked at the boy just a little behind her, glad he was hidden by the trees. She had lied to Zero division without thinking much of it because it was a rule of hers to not give up anyone in her care, enemy or friend.
Her plans had to change, she knew. She couldn't simply take the boy with her back to her division like she had planned. Zero division would find out about his presence and the lie she told to protect him. He had tried to save her, no matter how little she needed protection. She smiled warmly, thinking it had been many centuries since anyone had mistaken her for a damsel in distress. She owed her young hero for trying at least. If later it seemed that the Zero division's reason for wanting his head was right, she would do what was necessary, but not before she knew for certain he was an enemy.
With her mind set she left him quietly to collect things for the plan that was forming in her mind.
It was dreary and dusty. The outlands of Rukongai were in some ways even more wretched than the squalor of the slums in the fringe districts. Cracked earth, twisting thirty trees, and hardly a soul in sight; that was what the outlands were. I slept huddled in a cloak, using my bag for a pillow. Luckily it never rained in the outlands and there weren't any animals either, so there was little need for shelter. Except when it got hot during the days it was awful. The nights were cool and peacefully silent. The sound of wind and the sight of stars at night often soothed me. I think sometimes that helped me find my 'reiatsu' better than any exercise Unohana Retsu taught me. Though she was the one to actually explain to me what is 'reiatsu.'
Meeting her was a miracle; she saved me from starvation and helped me find where I was. The reason people suddenly became fearful of me or became ill around me was because of my spiritual power in this place. She called it 'reiatsu.' Apparently those with strong reiatsu could become shinigami. But she said that anyone with my strength who couldn't control himself was dangerous and there were those who would just chop of my head for fear I'd go evil…or explode. I think she made up the last part, but I believed her anyway.
She brought me from Rukongai to these outlands, telling me that I had to train and meditate and slowly make my way to the Shinigami Academy where I could take an entrance exam. She didn't want me near people or worse other shinigami. I didn't want a beheading so I dealt with the loneliness.
I spent a long time asking her questions about the afterlife. She told me I was in a place called Soul Society; Rukongai was just one part of it. The walled in city I had seen was where the shinigami lived. Their work was to tend to the souls that had died on Earth. I was fascinated and the more I learned from her the more I was convinced the knowledge to escape this wrong afterlife was inside the walled in city called Seireitei. I wanted to go back to Earth and see if I could find my friends again; maybe there were books in Hogwarts about shinigami and the world I was in.
The way to all my dreams lay in becoming a shinigami. And that was why I studied constantly from the books Retsu brought me, and practiced the lessons she'd taught me. I didn't intend to fail the entrance exam to the Shinigami Academy.
Retsu asked me many questions about myself, when I let up about Soul Society. I only told her what I knew after waking up in Rukongai. I'd known that people didn't really remember their pasts and I didn't want her to be suspicious of me. But I don't think I ever did a good job. Whenever I lied to her she'd tell me in her beautifully gentle way that if I disappointed her she would have to hurt me. She seemed really sad at that and I always promised I wouldn't let her down. She'd remind me that I had every reason to trust her, and to my shame I didn't really have an answer to that.
Even then, she believed in me at least a little because I had a hardy cloak, food, and some money all courtesy of her. She would find me every few weeks to check on my progress in meditation and reiatsu control. We would talk long into the night while she trained my reiatsu and told me stories of Soul Society. Despite myself I was excited to become a shinigami to see all the things she talked about.
She was amazed at the little magic I could do and tried to show me what was happening inside me when I was casting magic. I couldn't really follow her but apparently it helped her heal me. I didn't even realize I was injured. She was happy to figure out why my reiatsu felt different to her than any other she'd felt. She enthusiastically taught me the kind of magic she used so I could sense what was happening inside me too. The kind of magic she used is called 'Kidō.' Practicing it was calming my reiatsu, she claimed, so I went on with her lessons. I didn't know any healing spells but the one Tonks used on my nose so it was all new to me. And doing Retsu's magic without a wand was brilliant!
More than anything I was happy I had a friend. She really was a kind girl and very patient teacher. I found out that she was part of the healing corps of the shinigami. There were thirteen divisions, and she was in the one responsible for taking care of the others. I couldn't think of a better fit for her. She was always smiling and sweet, I really couldn't see how anyone would expect her to fight monsters like Hollows. When I said that to her she laughed and joked I didn't want to see her bad side. It became a game between us. She would tell me outrageous battle stories about herself and I'd refuse to believe them. She did have a frightening imagination and it made me uncomfortable how she told her stories of gore and grief with her faint little smile. She was scary, in a lovely sort of way.
She had brought me a sword, a katana. She said that I was getting closer to towns and I would start running into people again. She warned me that they would want to take advantage of me, to try and use me as an enforcer, or just rob me. I didn't need her to tell me the dangers of Rukongai but it was news to me that my high spiritual strength made me a candidate for a criminal.
After taking lunch I sat with the katana unsheathed but couldn't get myself to play with it like I did sometimes when I was bored. I don't know swordplay, but it is fun to pretend at being some great knight. I was losing hope and didn't want to do anything but brood. Even if I became a shinigami the battle of Hogwarts was already over. I couldn't go back to fight Voldemort. I could only hope that my friends had made it somehow. With Professor Dumbledore dead I didn't know if there was anyone who could even kill Voldemort. It was too late either way, whatever was going to happen had already happened, and I was too far away to know. I hated thinking about it; usually I pushed it out of my mind, because it sapped my courage.
I sighed and stood up, ready to continue walking towards the hills I could see in the very far distance. There was a town after the pass between the hills, Retsu had told me. She wanted me to stay there a while and see how I did around other humans. If they noticed my reiatsu I would have to go back to the outlands and train more. I don't think I could take being by myself any longer, making no progress towards the Shinigami Academy. So I was determined despite despairing for my friends to make it.
I wondered if I could learn enough to pass the entrance exam. So far my Kidō studies were going well. The magic was strange with long incantations and it was all wandless. But I was already able to do a few spells wordlessly. I hoped that my Kidō strength would make up for anything I was weak in. Besides Kidō I had to learn the shinigami martial arts, without a teacher that was impossible. I wanted Retsu to teach me but she kept telling me to focus on my reiatsu training. Apparently learning Kidō helped with my reiatsu so she encouraged that. She was happy how fast I was learning her healing spells. But I was worried. There was swordplay 'Zanjutsu,' martial arts 'Hakuda,' demon magic 'Kidō,' and last that incredibly fast way they moved 'Hohō.' She told me to be patient. She didn't understand what was at stake for me. I wanted to be the best, to get the most responsibility, so I could have access to the most information. I didn't want to be a one trick pony.
Frustrated with my situation, I disapparated to a point in the distance. I was becoming much better after Retsu meditated with me and worked on my reiatsu. My reiatsu didn't explode like it used to when I accidentally did magic before. I was learning to move the power around my body, and hold it tightly when I did magic. I disapparated five times in succession, getting closer and closer to the hills. I could have disapparated all the way to how far I could see, but if I got there too fast Retsu would be suspicious. She didn't know about this ability.
I took out the sword and felt a little silly at how cool I felt with it. No one was there to see me so I swung it wildly, disapparating all over the place, pretending I was fighting a dragon again. Soon I was out of my funk and trying new things with my reiatsu. With a lot of concentration I moved it around my body. My skin began to glow. Looking in the reflection of the katana I saw I had gone from soft white glow to shining silver – I thought it meant I was getting better. Summoning a rock to myself I punched it with a Bruce Lee shout. The rock shattered and I laughed. No matter how many times I did that I never got tired of it.
"Harry-san, do you feel manly when you make that noise?" a voice said behind me, scaring me out of my skin.
I whirled with the sword swinging. Unohana Retsu was standing in her black shinigami garb smiling at me sweetly. I felt my face heat up. She laughed and patted my cheek making me feel even more like a child. Honestly, she was only a couple of years older than me but she treated me like a five year old.
"Why don't I ever sense you?" I groused.
"Because you haven't been training hard enough, Harry-san. If you couldn't tell I was coming how will you know when powerful shinigami captain want to sneak up on you?" she asked innocently, putting down her satchel.
I would have been irritated but it was great seeing her. I smiled and said as much. She motioned me to sit down with her characteristic angel smile.
"I see you're glowing, Harry-san. Just so that you know that might give away your high reiatsu level to others," she said conversationally, laying out food she'd brought.
I sighed. "I was practicing, Retsu-chan."
She laughed. "It's been many years since I was a little girl. Maybe you meant to say Retsu-san?"
I was embarrassed; she constantly had to correct me on my manners. I hadn't fully caught on to Japanese honorifics; they made me uncomfortable. "I wish you would just call me Harry, and you're not that old."
She smiled as if I had said something very amusing. As much time as I had spent with her she still managed to be mysterious. I shut my eyes slowly letting go of my reiatsu so it went back inside me, wherever it usually was.
"So, I see you can break things with your reiatsu. Have you made your skin harder with it yet?" she asked, pouring some tea. I looked at the sky, yes, the sun was beating down on us but she still wanted tea.
"I didn't know you could do that," I said, seeing the advantage of that use.
She nodded, motioning me to start eating. It often worked this way; I would eat while she lectured. "Many proficient shinigami do so; it reduces the impact of a hit, but it is useful only against shinigami of lesser power than you. There are other more important things you can do by manipulating your reiryoku. You can be faster, cast Kidō spells, increase strength, like you have, use your sword to its full potential, and…run on air." She smiled.
I stared at her wide eyed. "Run on air?"
"Mhm, like so," she said. In another instant she had jumped straight into the sky and was standing on nothing ten feet above me. She jogged a circle around me playfully leaving me stunned and then came down to earth.
She laughed and wiped something from the corner of my lips. She has a knack for embarrassing me, or I just look like an idiot whenever she's around. "I will teach you. You had little control over your spiritual power, Harry-san. But now that I see you can manipulate it a little we can move on. Do you know how to show your reiatsu to frighten people now?" she asked pulling me to the ground and serving me more food.
"I thought you didn't want me to do that," I said between mouthfuls.
"No, I wanted you to control it. Releasing your reiryoku, that's your spiritual power, in that way is very useful. Being a master of your reiatsu will make you rise above average shinigami," she explained. All her terms still confused me but I accepted it all as best I could.
"I still don't understand the difference between reiatsu and reiryoku. Aren't both my spiritual power?" I asked.
She hummed. "They are related, Harry-san. Reiryoku is your power, and reiatsu is a measure of how strongly you use that power. You could be powerful, like you are, but know very little about how to release it. That is how I found you. Aren't you lucky?" she asked, taking a sip from her tea cup.
"I am," I said sincerely. "Thank you, Retsu…err Retsu-kun."
She sighed. "Harry-san, 'kun' is for boys. Perhaps you should just call me Retsu."
"Sorry," I muttered. "I thought 'san' was for boys." Why couldn't I get it right? I was learning new magic, breaking rocks with something called reiatsu I didn't understand, but I always messed up around her.
She laughed hiding her amusement behind her hand. I pretended I was offended but was soon smiling with her.
Unohana Retsu enjoyed his company. He was so earnest and awkward she couldn't help like him. She was glad she was helping him. She just had to make sure he understood forms of address when he finally came to shinigami academy. She could just imagine the scandal if someone heard him calling her 'Retsu' so familiarly.
He was looking healthier even though he was by himself in the elements. Having enough food and more control over his reiryoku had obviously been good for him. She was still amazed how quickly he was learning healing Kidō from her. It had helped him mould his reiatsu at an immensely fine level, but it seemed it was all instinct to him. She planned on bringing him into her division as soon as he was settled in the academy. It would draw attention to him, but his reiatsu didn't feel the same as the day she had found him and wasn't leaking everywhere. Zero division would have no reason to suspect him. She did feel a little sad as she saw him getting closer to becoming a part of Seireitei. Once he entered the academy she wouldn't be able to hide that she was a captain and oh so many centuries older than him. She liked being treated like a friend, even if it was from a little boy. Sometimes all the respect and deference from her colleagues in the Gotei 13 left her very alone. She vowed to keep the secret from him till it was absolutely necessary he knew. She had become very fond of him and felt protective.
She half listened to him as he told her what he had trained in for the last few weeks, her attention was on the sword she had left with him. She couldn't sense a presence in it. It was as dead as it had been when she left it. She decided that Harry needed a push in the right direction. Maybe expecting him to surprise her every time was unfair.
"Retsu, Retsu?" Harry's voice brought her out of her musings.
"Forgive me, Harry-san, my mind wandered," she said, feeling bad for ignoring him.
He only looked concerned. "Are you alright? You look tired. I can cast the rejuvenation spells on you, if that's okay?" he offered.
Unohana nodded and motioned him over. She was embarrassed to admit that having Harry minister to her in name of his education had fast become a guilty pleasure. She would never have allowed it from her other subordinates and students. But seeing as Harry didn't have anyone else to practice on she was only doing him a service.
She sighed in relief as he put his hands on her back and began working through the Kidō she had taught him. The first step was to see how the patient was injured or ill. The healer moved her reiatsu into the patient looking for pain. For someone like her who was so sensitive to others' spiritual power, just the basic spell was like a massage. She didn't think that Harry was knowingly feeding her his reiryoku. She would have to teach him not to do that during the diagnostic spell…but maybe she'd tell him later. Maybe next week.
It was nightfall when she came out of her meditative state. She had been aware of the signature of Harry's reiatsu throughout. It had improved beyond measure since she'd started teaching him. It was no longer the tempest she had felt the first time she had met him. His strength was still curiously raw even though he had become skilled at wielding his reiatsu. She wondered if it was just the nature of his reiryoku and nothing that needed to be healed. Over the months he had been practicing on her she had felt the discomfort of touching his reiatsu go away; she had become familiar with it. Every shinigami was different, but Harry was just more individualistic than others.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, sounding worn out.
She gave a soft laugh. "I think you overdid it, Harry san. I feel ten years younger. How are you?"
He rolled onto his back and sighed "Hungry."
"You are very talented but you have to learn to conserve your reiatsu. You don't have to send your patient so much of your strength," she said, passing him some fruit.
He stared up at the night sky and looked very content to her. She liked to see him at peace. It was rare to see him happy. Something in his past drove him almost maniacally. She knew he lied to her about what he remembered, but she didn't think it was because he had done something criminal. People from Rukongai always had pasts they didn't want to remember or talk about.
"It just feels good to help. I think I can sense…" he trailed off, frowning.
"What can you sense, Harry-san?" she smiled gently.
"I think I can feel you becoming happier, no, that's not right, maybe just-"
"Peaceful?" she prompted.
"Yeah, that's it!" He smiled taking a bite out of an apple.
Retsu was more pleased than she could express. "That is wonderful. You have the instinct. You will be a great shinigami." Someone of his strength hadn't joined her division in many decades. When trained he could easily outstrip her current lieutenant in power. But more importantly he felt what he did, and there were few Kidō experts who could do that.
He grinned. Retsu was tempted to pinch his cheeks. He looked so young when he was happy. She felt waves of reiatsu come off him, but they were gentle and calming. Yet another thing that made him different. Outside of herself she didn't know of any other shinigami who could calm others by releasing reiatsu, usually the affect was opposite. After many years an old pain surfaced inside her. She wondered if she could have had children, would they have been like the boy.
"Retsu?" he called, jerking her out of her sudden melancholy by being so familiar. She noted again she really had to teach him manners.
"Do you think I can become a shinigami captain? To be one of the best?" he asked, looking at her very seriously. She caught the passion and determination in his eyes she always saw during their lessons. She didn't think it was glory that drove him, but she was reluctant to ask what did.
"Well, Harry-san, captains are traditionally at least experts in all four disciplines and master of one amongst the four. So maybe you should start working on your swordplay more," she teased.
He scowled at her. "I don't know how to use a sword, and I don't know martial arts either. You said you'd teach me how to move fast, but how can I learn the other two?"
This was not a new reproach. "Harry-san, I cannot be gone long enough to teach you Zanjutsu or Hakuda. It is your innate talent in Kidō because of which I have been able to teach you so much so quickly. The basic steps of Hohō are simple for someone who has trained his reiatsu to the level you have. You will learn the other two disciplines when you get to the academy," she explained.
"But don't you need to know all four to pass the exam?" he asked.
She nodded. "I hope your talent in Kidō and strong reiatsu will mean they take you anyway. I don't want you to show them the full strength of your reiryoku but enough to impress them." He didn't look happy and in his place she wouldn't have either.
"Retsu, I don't want to fail. Maybe I can go to a town or district where they teach-"
"No," Retsu cut him off, showing her displeasure in a rare moment. "The places that would teach you those skills are too close to the shinigami. You will be noticed. You cannot afford that."
"Why? You said yourself I am doing much better now. I haven't let my reiatsu out of control. There have to be others who are powerful in Rukongai too. Do shinigami kill all of them?" he argued sitting up.
Retsu marshaled her fear for him. He had unknowingly given her an opening to find out something she had wanted to know. "No, but others are not being sought by the Zero division."
He looked bewildered. He had no idea what she was speaking of. She almost sighed in relief. She had been afraid that he would recognize the name and then she wouldn't have been able to ignore whatever bad history he had with the Spirit King's guards.
"Who? Why do they want me?" he asked getting angry.
"I thought you might know them. Never ever mention their name to anyone. Do you understand?" she said releasing just a bit of her own reiatsu. She saw his anger bleed away as shock and wariness replaced it. It was better than downright terror with which most other shinigami reacted.
"Retsu…was that your reiatsu…Merlin!" he swore and wiped away the sweat that had broken out on his face. She continued to look at him blankly. He held up a hand. "I understand. Forget I even asked."
"I am sorry, Harry-kun, I don't want you to be hurt." She smiled to put him at ease and lighten the mood.
He nodded. "I need to be the best," he whispered.
Retsu frowned. There weren't many who persisted in something after she had scolded them. "Begin meditating with your Zanpakutō, that is your sword, a soul-cutter. Every Shinigami's sword has a spirit which is a reflection of his or her soul. Any worthy shinigami knows the name of his Zanpakutō. The spirit is the Shinigami's partner and helps train him as well."
He beamed at her and it lightened her heart. "Thank you, Retsu. Can you teach me how to meditate with my Zanpakutō?" He was back to being excited and seemingly the dark cloud between them was lifted.
"Of course, I will teach you the practices tonight before I leave. The rest is up to you, Harry-kun. But you're used to that by now." She smiled knowing he would succeed. "You have to know, keeping your reiatsu in check alone by yourself and away from danger is very different than when you are around people who mean to harm you. So you must advance to training in towns now."
"I will." His face was drawn in some memory that made him look old. She didn't like it but she knew minimizing the importance of his reiatsu training would not help him.
"And maybe…" she began but trailed off realizing what she was about to say was a bad idea.
"What?" he prompted.
Retsu steeled her heart. She knew Harry needed to learn how to wield a sword well enough to fight the examiners at a decent level. The sooner he was inside the Shinigami Academy the safer he would be from Zero division hunters. Perhaps this was the only way. "You cannot come close to Seireitei to train, but there are places in Rukongai that all shinigami ignore. There aren't dojos for Hakuda or Zanjutsu there…but there are many to fight. If you learn the name of your Zanpakutō and go there you will find enough trouble to gain experience." She looked away from him, unwilling to show him how much she didn't want him to take that way. He was quiet for a long time and she hoped that he would choose a less bloody path.
"If that is what I have to do…I was in District 67 when I woke up, which was awful. But people said it was paradise compared to District 80," he said.
Retsu clenched her eyes shut. "District 80. The worst of the eighty districts of Rukongai. It is called Zaraki. You shouldn't go there."
"I know, but I will," he said. "I can't be weak, Retsu. If someone is after me again… Are they powerful?"
"Some of the strongest," she answered without inflection. "Once you enter Rukongai I won't be able to come see you. I will be missed if I spend time searching for you. But in four months time if I don't see you appearing for the shinigami academy exams, I will come looking for you."
"Thank you," he said with feeling.
"You shouldn't be. Now sit down, let me teach you how to commune with your Zanpakutō."
Retsu met with me one more time before I walked through the pass in the hills. I was returning to civilization and it meant I was on my own until I went to the Shinigami Academy. She didn't say goodbye for long, just told me to be careful. I was confident about being myself, but knew I'd miss her. The pass town wasn't much. Along one major road thatched buildings stood with bare minimum of everything. It was a poor and frayed place like so many in Rukongai, but there weren't many people around so you could still breathe.
I thought two weeks in the nearly abandoned town was enough and was ready to move on. I was going to miss the convenience of disapparating to the outlands to train Hohō. I could now run on air for at least half an hour. It was the most exhilarating thing I'd ever felt. It was like getting on a broom for the first time. After seeing my progress Retsu explained that Hohō was more than just running on air using surrounding spirit particles. It was all that included agility, speed, and the incredible pace of movement I had seen in shinigami. Shinigami used it to lend speed to their swordplay and martial arts. Since I didn't know either I could only practice with spells. I wanted to show off to someone how fast I could move and cast. It was that itch that got me leaving the town in the hill pass. I was supposed to be looking for trouble and I knew where I was going to find it.
The outskirts of town showed some signs of life. The same twisted and starved trees dotted the place like they did the outlands. But here and there was a lean-to shelter. Theft and robbery was common in that area or so the town folk said. With my burlap cloak wrapped around myself I walked casually down the main road, looking for the turn off someone had told me to take. I couldn't wait to be gone from the dusty and empty place.
It was two hours into my journey when I heard the sounds of fighting and screaming. Perfect, I thought, time to get my hands dirty…or dirtier. There was a small rise hiding the fight from view. Using my newly learned skills I sped up over it to come to a shocked stop. There were two men holding down a girl with a knife to her neck. One was starting to kneel between her legs trying to push them apart, but the girl was screaming and kicking. The one holding the knife to her neck was shouting he'd kill her if she didn't stop.
It took me only a second or two to take this in. After that I lost control over my reiatsu. In a moment the girl's attackers were on the ground staring at me with round terrified eyes. The earth under my feet cracked and the world got darker. I felt insane from rage. In a flash the incantation of a Kidō destruction spell flew through my mind. I thrust out my hands shooting red balls of fire. They burned through the two men throwing them off the girl.
"Please…stop," the girl begged. Her eyes were about to roll back. She was sweating and shaking from fear.
Seeing her brought me back to my senses. I controlled my reiatsu at once, and realized that I had punched melon sized holes right through the men. Their eyes were vacant and smoke was rising from their seared flesh. I almost threw up but the girl distracted me.
She was crawling back from me. Her face was bruised and her neck bloody where the son of a bitch had cut her. Her clothes were torn, showing an indecent amount of her legs. They too were bruised.
"I'm not going to hurt you. I was trying to get those two off of you. Here," I said, throwing her my burlap cloak. It wasn't very comfortable but it was big enough to cover her head to toe.
She wrapped it around herself and still shaking turned to look at her assailants. She had nearly orange, reddish hair coming below her ears, and large gray eyes that stared out of a tear streaked face. She stumbled over to the two men I had killed. I stayed frozen where I was unable to believe what I'd just done.
She started screaming incoherently, kicking their heads, and punching at their faces. She picked up a rock and smashed it on one's head then fell back losing her balance. I ran to her and picked her up, pulling her away. She was swearing and shouting but I couldn't make out a word between her tears and animalistic shrieking. She was in shock.
"Enough! Enough! They're dead. They can't hurt you!" I yelled at her.
She pushed me away and after walking a distance fell to her knees. I stayed close but didn't approach her. She was breathing hard through clenched teeth. Very slowly she stopped shaking. Thinking I could take the risk I walked around so I was facing her and kneeled as well. She still looked furious, she was glaring at the rocks in front of her and her mouth was set in a grim line. Her lips were cracked and her face was smudged with dirt. She looked wild, but I thought that if she was healthier and cleaner she'd be pretty.
I guessed her to be a little younger than me. She could have been fifteen, but maybe she just looked small after her ordeal. I unlatched the gourd of water I was carrying and offered it to her. She looked at me but averted her eyes quickly. Either way she took the water and gulped it all down.
"Don't suppose you have anything to eat?" she asked.
"Hungry? You must have high spirit power," I said smiling, and brought out some food.
She frowned but took the offered food and began eating it with little dignity. She thumped her chest to swallow the dry bread. I gave her more water earning a thankful glance.
"I have a friend. He also said I got hungry because I have spirit power. I wish I didn't. I wouldn't be hungry then," she said when she was done. I waited for more but she withdrew into herself.
I was ignoring the presence of the two bodies but I couldn't anymore. I stood up and offered her my hand. She didn't take it. "C'mon, we should get out of here before someone shows up."
At that she took my help to stand up. I guided her back to the road and set off on the way I had been going with her in tow. "As soon as we see somewhere to shelter we'll stop. I need to heal you." Out of the corner of my eyes I saw her nod. She was still closed off and looked lost.
Late afternoon we were in an area with a lot of rock outcroppings. I began looking for something with a long enough overhang to give us cover for the night. Without my cloak it was going to be a cold night for me. I wondered if I could somehow spell the fireballs to stay in one place and warm us. That reminded me of what I had done that morning again. I scolded myself for feeling guilty when the damage those men had done was walking next to me. I was glad I had stopped them before they could actually rape her, but she was still wounded and shocked. Idly I thought my Kidō spells were pretty well powered even if I hadn't incanted the ridiculously long spell 'Ye lord! Mask of blood and flesh, all creation, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Inferno and pandemonium, the sea barrier surges, march on to the south.' I knew from Retsu there were shinigami who were capable of 'Eishohaki,'the ability to cast spells without reciting the incantation, but the power of the spell was supposed to be lower. I didn't see any difference between the fireballs I had thrown around in the outlands and the ones I had killed with earlier that day.
"Hey! Let's stop there," I said finding a near perfect spot. There was what looked like a shallow cave in a small hill, surrounded by trees upslope. It would shelter us from winds and if there was rain.
She didn't say anything but simply followed me up the craggy hill. Once we were settled in the cave I turned to her. I motioned her to sit down facing me. She was wary but she did so. I held out my hands, hoping she'd trust me. She folded back the cloak from her arms and gave me her hands. She had fair skin under all the grime and it looked like it bruised easily.
Calming myself I started casting the healing Kidō Retsu taught me. Her hands got better immediately. I smiled when I heard her gasp of delight. She was looking at her hands in wonder. I took the chance to clasp her face in one hand and rest the other against the cut on the neck. She hissed from the pain of contact. This time I kept my eyes open and smiled at her in hopefully a confidant way. The bruises didn't take much time but the cut didn't close all the way. I moved my reiryoku, bringing more of it to my hands, and sent my reiatsu in her as Retsu had shown me.
She felt different from Retsu. I almost lost my concentration. I should have expected that, Retsu had said every person's reiatsu was different. I guess I had just gotten used to her. The girl sighed and relaxed into my hands. When I pulled away the cuts and bruises were healed. She touched her fingers to the slice in her neck hesitantly. She smiled beautifully when she found it was healed. I was right, she was very cute under all the things Rukongai life left on you.
"Um…your legs," I said and blushed.
She laughed throatily and I was stunned by it. She looked like a completely different person. There was a mischievous gleam in her eyes and a smirk on her lips. The lips I noticed, now that they weren't cracked anymore, were very full. I was fast becoming embarrassed. She's younger than you; don't let her get to you! I told myself. She parted the cloak and with surprising flexibility unfolded one leg to put in my lap. I tried to look professional, only making the bare minimum contact, but there was no way getting around holding her inner thigh.
She giggled. My face spontaneously caught fire. Not literally, but it was a close thing. We ate again after she was healed. She was livelier after the food as well.
She leaned against the cave wall looking out at the trees. "It's funny. I was sticking around that town for my friend. I met him when he saved my ass from a beating. And now I've met you." She smiled. "Though rape is a little worse than getting punched and kicked." She rolled her eyes.
I was a little off balanced by her. She had been out of her mind before about it and now she was making light of it? "Well they didn't get to…violate you," I said, then cursed myself for my lack of tact.
She laughed with abandon again. "Nope! You burned holes in them before they could. Thanks for that, by the way. I did have it under control. I was going to kick him in the balls as soon as he dropped his pants."
"Yeah…you're a fighter," I said, even to me I sounded distant. I didn't like being reminded I had killed two men. I'd sworn I wasn't going to kill anyone.
She punched me in the shoulder. "Don't you forget it! Just because you saved me you're not getting any. I'm saving myself for true love," she said with a firm nod.
"That's not why I saved you! How can you-" I stopped.
She was giggling again. Her gray eyes danced in amusement. "You're easy to tease, aren't you?" she asked.
"No," I denied and groused.
"Rangiku," she said, tossing her head back to get her hair out of her eyes.
She pointed to herself. "My name, since you don't have the good manners to ask. Matsumoto Rangiku."
I rolled my eyes. "Harry Potter, nice to meet you."
She smiled devilishly. "I wonder how 'nice?'"
I decided that if I didn't rise to her bait, she'd let up. "So is your friend expecting you in town?"
That seemed to deflate her. She shrugged. "Dunno, don't care. He comes and goes as he wants. That's Gin for you. I thought he might come back for me."
Once again I cursed myself for my tactlessness. "I'm sorry."
She shook her head and smiled sweetly. "No need. I'm an idiot. Thought he and I could go around together. But he doesn't need anyone. So! How can you throw fireballs and do that scary thing you did?"
I heard the subject change and thought a bit before answering. She'd been very forthcoming, maybe that's just the kind of girl she was. I didn't feel too comfortable telling her what I was up to but it felt a little unfair after she was so open.
"I'm training to be a shinigami. I was hungry all the time like you and found out I had high spiritual power. That's how I can do those things. You could do it too if you knew how," I said, not knowing what her wide eyes meant.
"Shinigami," she whispered. "They're scary. You really think you can be one? Well you can, you made me piss myself, but I can't, right?"
She really said whatever came in her mouth. "I think anyone with high reiryoku can. They just need to know how to use it. I'm learning, you could probably too."
She hummed to herself tapping her lips with her finger. "How do I know I'm strong enough?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. Suppose I could teach you how to train your reiatsu, if you get a reaction you'll know you're strong enough." Then I realized what I was saying and backpedalled. "But that would take time, and you probably need to get back to town. I'm heading someplace to learn how to fight with a sword anyway."
"Oh," she said, all humor left her face. An awkward silence fell between us.
I wish I knew what to say or do. She had withdrawn into herself making me realize how much I liked her teasing and brash personality. Damn it!
"Yeah, you don't need me either. I'd just be a burden. Well Future Shinigami-sama, thanks for the food!" She cheerily smiled and stood up, dropping the cloak.
I took one look at her torn clothes and grabbed her hand. I was too embarrassed to look at her. She'd been abandoned by her friend, almost raped, and if I left her too, she'd have no one.
"There's a Shinigami Academy entrance exam in four months. I am going to go there after my training. Are you in?" I asked. I knew she was going to turn me down. I probably didn't say it the right way to not hurt her pride.
She leaned down and kissed my head. "I like that idea," she said. She plopped back down and drew the cloak around her again.
"Well…that was easy," I said suspiciously.
She grinned making her eyes dance again. "Nothing like a warm cloak to sooth hurt feelings."
"So you're staying for my cloak?" I couldn't keep the smile off my face.
"Mhm. So where are we going to learn sword fighting?" She had lain down on her side and tucked her legs into herself.
"District 80, Zaraki," I answered.
She bolted upright. "What?" she shrieked and stared at me with very wide eyes.
"It's a hard place, I need to learn to fight," I answered seriously. "It will be dangerous."
She seemed to think about it but then coming to an internal decision lay back down and shut her eyes.
"What? That's it? Don't think I'm insane?" I asked, stunned by the girl.
"I'll be safe with you. I'm not worried. Go to sleep, Potter-kun."
I didn't understand. "Why do you trust me? You don't even know me."
She opened her eyes and gave me a steady look. "In Rukongai every day and every night is taking a chance." She closed her eyes having had her say.
She was right. That is exactly what Rukongai was like. I wondered how someone who knew that could be so cheerful. I had a feeling I'd be glad I met her. I wondered if her eyes would still dance when we reached Zaraki district.
"Goodnight, Rangiku-chan," I said.
She giggled leaving me wondering if I'd used the wrong honorific again. Sleep didn't come easy.