- Chapter 14 –
The irritating strain in his neck was a sure sign that today was clearly not his day. It wasn't that kind of a dull ache that accompanied him in the evenings when he spent the whole day hunched over his desk, dutifully filling report after report.
It wasn't a pulled muscle, either, like the one he could get if he trained too much.
It was just something,like a nagging feeling of something very unpleasant coming up, as Tōshirō made his way back towards his Division. Never did he imagine that day would come when he felt like he was dragging himself around the all too familiar streets and corners …
Today, the heat wave was unbearable.
Today, he didn't even manage to get into his office, and after half of the day, the stack of reports were sure to wait for him untouched.
Today, Captain Commander asked the Captains to meet with him, to listen about the newest discoveries and ,most probably , newest dangers.
Because today, by all means, things weren't looking pretty.
Kurotsuchi's reports were never a good thing, but the latest ones - about the unexpected activity in Hueco Mundo - were probably worse than usual.
It seemed that peace and quiet have graced Soul Society too long with their presence, and apparently somethinghappened in the blasted space. The mad Captain of the Twelfth presented charts that indicated that indeed, there was an abnormality among the low class Hollows. Their number was rising in a dangerous pace, too quick for Soul Society not to worry.
After sending a prototype drone, the reports got more detailed and even more alarming; the Hollows were more aggressive, not only towards anything that didn't belong in their dark world, but towards themselves as well.
Cannibalistic; the only word that came into mind.
The sight of them tearing each other apart, ripping rotten flesh and crushing bone… While this itself wasn't a thing that sickened any of them – they were Captains, they faced horrors more gruesome than this before - but this was the first time they all have seen such aggression directed towards other Hollows.
The Hollows never killed their own kin before.
Combined with the attacks from barely a few weeks ago – his lips arched lightly at the memory of Byakuya's sour voice as he described the damages to the Estate – it became clear that Seireitei had to prepare for more battles.
And there was something else, something Tōshirō kept completely to himself and what made me feel just the tiniest bit sick.
I see them in my dreams.
She said those words in a whisper, among blood and ice, said them with no hesitation or any emotion at all. It was just cool statement, a simple answer to his question…
And even the memory of them made his heart clench and stomach coil unpleasantly.
Tōshirō didn't ask her about it. He told himself that he wasn't privy to her dreams – they were nothing, after all, night's illusions and tricks of mind – and what connection could she have to the abnormal situation in Hueco Mundo, anyway?
At least he hoped so.
He didn't really get to see the little Kuchiki in these days and most of his free time – scarce as it was - was dedicated to heated, ironically so, inner arguments with his own spirit. Because he never even suspected that Hyourinmaru could be as much of a curse, as he was a blessing. Because there were long hours when the stubborn dragon wouldn't simply shut up, driving the young Captain near mad.
And then, when he finally did, it was even worse.
Then, amidst the cool silence, Tōshirō couldn't help but actually miss the other ice-wielder. It made the memory of her words – of the sudden hunted look on her face – cut deep and through, his mind failing to understand their meaning. Failing to understand if there even wasa meaning behind them…
He took a deep breath, pinched the bridge of his nose as he stopped in a shadowed alley.
By all, he shouldn't let himself get sidetracked like that.
He felt a drop of sweat trail down his spine, making him shiver with contempt. The sun was blazing, high in the skies, and it caused the usually loose fabric of his shihakusho to cling uncomfortably to his body. With each move the shitagi seemed to peel off and plasters itself to damp skin, making him so aware of each move that Tōshirō wished for nothing more than to strip down and take a dip in a lake, ice cold most preferably.
Not that it could happen, he had to get back to the reports after all, Matsumoto going off somewhere as usual.
Really, that woman… One day – oh, one glorious, glorious day – he really would shackle her to her desk and make her work like never before.
He'd take a wonderful nap, then.
The shuffle of feet not so far behind him caused him to stir out of the pleasant daydream. He was still too warm, too confused and in a middle of a dusty street. Hardly the state in which the Captain of the Tenth Division wanted to be found on any day.
The barracks were not far away, after all, Tōshirō sighed, rolling his shoulder-blades and cringing at the uncomfortable feel of the damp fabric at his back. He had to go back.
As he stepped out into the sun filled street again, his mind kept wandering, between Rukia's words, the slightly addictive feel of her reiatsu – cold, so pleasantly cold – to the horrid imaged from Hueco Mundo, bones crushed and muscles torn. He could hear the low, almost dangerously low growl in the back of his head, as if the powerful dragon knew more than his wielder had.
Which was hardly a comforting though, Tōshirō frowned, his hand once again rubbing at that sore spot at the back of his neck.
He nodded at some of his Division's officers as they welcomed him back at the compound. Non tried to stop him or speak more than a simple greeting; they all knew how to read his mood. And knew better than to try and even make contact when their Captain's brows were that furrowed and his lips were that flat a line.
Therefore, not one of the officers came up to him, not one said a word and Tōshirō reached his own office completely unprepared for what was inside.
And because of the haze of thoughts and conflicting emotions, the young Captain remained oblivious of the flickering reiatsu, one he would recognize immediately on any other day.
His hand fell lifelessly to his side, and all thoughts – rational or not – were erased from his mind as soon as he slid the door open, quiet as ever.
Tōshirō couldn't really tell for how long he stood there, mouth slightly agape and eyes unblinking. He heard Hyourinmaru's low growl – dark, needy – and it vibrated through his whole body. Time lost any meaning and all he knew was that he will be unable to forget the image of Abarai's naked ass and Matusmoto's fingers digging into tattooed shoulder-blades for as long as he lived.
The fuck where they doing here anyway…?
Something clicked in his mind them, perhaps the obscurity of the question he asked himself, and before he had the chance to think calmly – to yell, throw them out, naked or not, demand explanation or anything along those lines – he flash stepped as far as he could, his eyes literally tearing up from the sight he was greeted by.
In his office.
On his desk! Dammit all, he will have to burn it…
Wasn't it bad enough, that weeks ago he actually had to listen when Matsumoto described with great detail all the positions and tricks to be used in the bedroom, when a desperate, less experienced officer asked for her help? He dared not interrupt, not with his cheeks burning and his imagination –damn it for being so vivid!-filling his mind for the rest of the day and following night.
Now he witnessed first-hand the languid move of muscles and the shine of slick skin, heard the low sighs and took a whiff of heavy, sensual air.
He will have to change the whole office, not only the desk…
His lungs ached and he stopped to breathe, tried to regain his composure. He physically felt the flap of ice-carved wings within his heart, the dragon demanding something Tōshirō could not provide.
It did not help his current state.
And no, he thought as he wished hard for a little bit of air to breathe.
It clearly was not his day.
Rukia stopped half-way through her sentence, her eyes becoming dazed for a split of a second. The sudden tug at her heart, the sudden rush of blood to her cheeks told her enough and as she noticed her Captain's amused expression, she quickly continued with her report.
But Shirayuki hummed, bright and pleasant and a shiver of anticipation ran down her spine, as if foreseeing a snow storm that was deemed impossible.
She shook her head lightly, concentrated on her words.
"Is everything fine? You seem… flushed." Her Captain's voice was laced with something she couldn't recognize as he regarded her carefully, "Rukia?"
"Yes, I'm fine, Captain. It's just…", she smiled then added without thinking it through, "I'm afraid Captain Hitsugaya is in a small… pinch."
Ukitake raised one brow in wonder, cocked his head to the side before asking, "And how would you know that?" and Rukia realized her small slip up.
It was not Captain Hitsugaya's reiatsu she felt after all – it was that strange something they both acknowledged and could not recognize – and her own Captain had no possibility of sensing him like she did. Her mouth opened even if she already knew that there was no good explanation for this, cheeks warming up under her Captain's curious gaze.
"I… that is…", she stumbled on her words, promptly ignoring the giggle that echoed through her head.
"Now this is mostly curious. Especially…", Jūshirō trailed off for a second, took the time to taste his tea, "Since I can't feel Shirō's reiatsu at all."
From the corner of his eye he saw her fidget ever so slightly, and he would have missed it if he wasn't paying as much attention. Rukia's fingers skimmed the rim of her sleeves and she shifted her weight from one leg to the other, all the time keeping her eyes at a spot on the floor.
"A pinch, you say…", he smiled lightly, before raising his voice, "I know the perfect solution for that!"
"Ca-Captain, sir?", that got her attention and she looked up.
Her Captain – the kind and gentle man she respected and devoted her duty to – never ceased to amaze her with his quickness for gathering candy. In a mere second there was a pile of sweets on top of his desk, their fragrance spreading through the office in no time.
And the feeling of an upcoming blizzard grew, her heart skipping a bit or two before she wished it to calm down.
"Yes, these should do just fine!" He smiled again, a twinkle visible in his green eyes and he looked at Rukia again, "Do you think that you…"
The air turned simply freezing then, causing Jūshirō to stop mid-word and Rukia to sigh with sudden content. She had no time to say anything, before a squeak from one of the new officers reached their ears and then, the doors were literally thrown open.
And she cringed inwardly, for if she ever saw a royallypissedoff Tōshirō Hitsugaya, it was right now.
Lips drawn into a tight line, a heavy frown and she could easily see how strong was the clench of his teeth by the square line of his jaw. Gone was the cool teal of his eyes, an icy hue of blue in its place instead and if not for the soothing whisper in her ear, one that said stay,littleone,stay,don'trun,Rukia would already be on the other side of Seireitei.
He glanced at her and the fury died, if only by a little, his mouth relaxing visibly as he took a deep breath.
It wasn't what he intended to say.
Jūshirō tried to brush off the hoar frost that appeared on the papers scattered all over his desk, frowning slightly at his now cold tea, before looking up at the younger man and still managing to grin rather brightly.
"Why, little Shirō, we were just talking about you! And I think Rukia's presence Is hardly surprising, since it is myoffice we're in," he said pulling out another cup, "Tea?"
"No. I'm… fine," Tōshirō slumped to the sofa, trying his best to keep his gaze at the fellow Captain.
In his mind, Hyourinmaru was still, silent, the strain in his neck gone and replaced by a surprisingly pleasant feeling. As if someone's cool hand rubbed ever so lightly and massaged the ache away, lifting a heavy weight from his small shoulders.
"Sweets?"The older Captain offered and Tōshirō cringed visibly, noticing the bon-bons on the desk.
"No. No. I need… a moment of quiet." And promptly ignoring Ukitake's raised brows or Rukia's tilt of the head, Tōshirō pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes.
He swore that in the sudden silence he heard a hum, light and pleasant and it soothed his sizzling nerves. Coming here was desperate, he knew that, but usually she was near her Captain – he didn't expect her to be inside of his office – and he hoped her reiatsu would wrap around him. Even if lightly it would still be enough.
And maybe it's cool thread would allow him to distracted his mind from the heated images it spurred with each passing second.
It did just that, just like he hoped, and he could finally breathe, and now frost painted distorted images of flowers and spiderwebs behind his closed lids. He heard a shuffle – Rukia moved, he knew that– and when the talked, they kept their voices strangely low, as if complying with his wish for silence.
But Ukitake couldn't hid his amusement even if he wanted to and the Kuchiki girl…
Tōshirō's eyes snapped open.
"You were doing what just now?" He asked, straightening his back and resting elbows on his thighs.
They both looked at him again, their gazes clear and curious – Hyourinmaru stirred then out of his strange reverie, reared his head and the growl of sudden appreciation knocked the air out of his lungs – and they said nothing for a while.
"Oh yes ,right, we were" the bright smile was back and the look of pure horror on Rukia's face caused him to wonder all of the sudden, "Rukia said you were in a pinch of sorts. Were you, Shirō?"
"How many times I have to tell you it's…" he caught her flushed cheeks then, "A pinch?"
"Yes, we interrupted a very interesting discussion about the inhabitants of Hueco Mundo in your favor. Which I have to admit, made me curious. Since I couldn't sense a thing and my subordinate here was quite amused by your, most probably, unlucky predicament. "
The flush deepened as Rukia turned her gaze towards the garden's outside, a "not amused, Captain" muttered under her breath and for probably the first time, Tōshirō felt as if he had been handed too much information in too little time.
Something unpleasant coiled once again in the depth of his stomach as from the bits hidden by the dark part of his memory he recalled that yes, her indeed. They were connected.
Because she was there. With Kurosaki, with Abarai – no, no, not Abarai of all people! – when Aizen… he held that leek-loving girl there, before… before everything went downhill at Karakura.
His fists tightened, knuckles turned white and Jūshirō shivered at the wave of cold that rolled through the office.
"Is there any kind of trouble you don't get yourself in, Kuchiki?" he seethed through clenched teeth, rubbing one temple with his fingers.
He needed to calm down, the older man was of frail health and the last thing he needed today was Unohana's lecture.
Ukitake chuckled and there was a spark of cold, like a nip of Winter, across his cheek and Tōshirō looked up. Her lips were twisted, eyes set ablaze and for a fleeting split of a second he wanted nothing more than to kiss her.
Her Captain didn't deserve a heart-attack, however, despite his strange obsession with giving him sweets and calling him that infuriating pet name.
The said Captain cleared his throat then.
"Rukia, could you escort Captain Hitsugaya back to his Division?" Again, there was a gleam in his eye as he touched Rukia's elbow lightly, "I'd happily do that myself, but I have some… frost to get rid of." And he brushed a few ice crystals off the desk, as if trying to emphasize his point.
"I don't need an unseated officer escorting me, Ukitake", Tōshirō snapped and furrowed his brows as the fellow Captain only laughed.
"Oh? So you really came here for my special brand of tea then?"
Damned be that man.
"Yes, sir." Rukia bowed her head lightly, the small smile from her lips not once reaching her eyes.
"I'd like to talk to you after you come back, if that's ok. I'll send Kiyone with a note to your honorable brother's office, explaining that you'll leave the Division later today. I'm sure Renji will give it to…"
"I wouldn't count on it," it came out more of a growl than a spat and both Ukitake and Rukia looked at him curiously. The truth wouldn't make it pass his lips, though. "He was… very busy last I saw him. And not at his Division."
"A direct note to Byakuya will suffice, then." Jūshirō smiled, not bothered at all that his slightly hyper Third Seat would have to face the haughty noble soon.
"Thank you, Captain," the purple of her eyes softened for a moment and then she turned to the younger man, her voice flat and neutral when she spoke, "Shall we, then, Captain Hitsugaya?"
Tōshirō sighed then, thinking that someone had to curse him today. For once he came into the Thirteenth on his own and he got literally thrown out. He bid Ukitake farewell, managed to avoid the candies once again and walked out through the gardens, intent on avoiding most of the officers in the division.
As Rukia followed him out – with soft, small steps - he heard her Captain chuckle and felt his ears burn.
"I wanted to talk to you." Tōshirō spoke when they were out of earshot.
He felt very, very tired out of the sudden and even more so as Rukia threw him an unphased look.
"It's quite a walk towards your division, Captain. I'm all ears."
He snorted, "We're not going there."
Ah, something more than the impassive, flat tone. He felt the dragon flap its wings and clamped down the urge to smile with the greatest of ease .
"My orders were clear, Captain, and…"
"Believe me, Kuchiki, you don't want to go there either," Tōshirō snorted again, with disdain this time, took a look around.
The alley they entered was empty, not a soul in sight. Good. There was no need for witnesses. He felt the pleasant sting of ice, it prickled his fingertips as her grabbed her wrist.
She made a surprised sound in the back of his throat and the roll of Winter felt toogood. Even if it still made him realize how chaotic, unbelievably so, everything today was.
"Come." The order he gave was cur and short and he didn't even wait for her reply, simply tugged her along as he flash-stepped away.
She followed with some effort – he caught her by surprise and she wasn't as skilled at Shunpo as he was, after all – but his fingers remained curled around her wrist for the whole time. The world was a blur of shapes and dulled colors.
He stopped in a poor, secluded part, behind a ruined building Rukia did not recognize at all. She tried to calm her breathing ,tried to ignore the shivers down her spine and concentrate simply on where she really was.
Ignore the heavy thump-thump-thump of her heart against her chest as Tōshirō looked at her, eyes between ice blue and teal. Still holding her wrist and surely able to feel her quickened pulse.
She took a step back, hit the wall and he followed.
"I've had a terrible day, Kuchiki," Tōshirō said, his voice a strained rasp and his hand a disturbingly familiar weight on her hip, "So kindly keep your mouth shut for a minute."
Her brain came into a screeching halt as he took that missing step, thumb pressing into the sharp of the bone and then he leaned closer, nose brushing against the juncture of neck and shoulder. The longer ply of his hair tickled and Rukia blinked then.
He certainly had a way with compliments, she thought.
She shifted a bit, made herself comfortable against the cold wall and his warmth, threaded shaking fingers through the mess of white hair. He had nice hair, she thought absentmindedly, feeling its texture.
Tōshirō let out a shuddering breath and swayed, his fingers lessening their bruising grip.
"Don't.", it came more of a growl and Rukia chuckled lightly, even if she didn't even begin to understand his behavior.
Somewhere between ignoring Hyourinmaru's obviously happy flight and the uncoiling of his stomach, Tōshirō finally felt at peace, the tension leaving his body with each intake of air.
And he registered the smell of her skin; calm and soothing. He expected her to bear the scent of the ever blooming Sakura trees, that grew all over the Estate.
He was glad she didn't.
It would be too predictable and she was anything but.
Fingers brushed against his ear, as she tucked a white tuft behind its shell.
"Better now, Captain?"Rukia's voice was smooth and ever pleasant.
He looked up then, finally, lids heavy and saw the way the purple of her eyes darkened. And she was close, so close and he let go of her wrist, only to catch her chin.
Tilted it just so, thumb brushed against lower lip and ice bound them together.
"No. But getting there."
Her lips were already parted, inviting and all thoughts of questioning her about her dreams, her ties to Hueco Mundo were erased from his head as he saw her eyes close.
Her fingers twined at the base of his neck and she pulled him closer.
By Abarai's naked ass, kissing her shouldn't feel this good.
He pressed, she pressed back and amidst dust and sun and heat, Winter flicked around them.
After over a year of not writing almost any fan-fiction at all, picking up "First Frost" seemed quite the inhuman task for me. The manga has been a massive disappointment for most of the time and the lack of inspiration was just too frustrating to even fight against. I've received quite the number of PMs and reviews during this break of mine and I'd love to say thank you for each and every one. Knowing that there were still readers who didn't give up on this story made me want to break my block and finally I got to do it.
And to make up for it, some kissing to make the readers forgive me…?
I've received some wonderful gifts connected to this particular pairing and they too played an important role in the writing of the above chapter, and for each I'll be eternally grateful because they are just too wonderful **loves**
By the wonderful Rae: http:/ www. youtube. com / watch ? vQ99kAvx5Fuw&fmt18
Homaki's : http:/ homaki. deviantart. com /gallery /#/ d39rtp6
And Holly's gorgeous art: http:/szajn-sama. deviantart. com /art/Melt-205966757
You know what to do, just erase the spaces and squee with delight!
The biggest thank you goes to my HVoD girls, though, who calmed me down whenever I hit the "oh my god I can never write it again, I lost the will the idea etc." phase, which happened more often than not. Thank you guys, I love you so so much!