This is a one-shot companion piece to Like Brothers, although it is not necessary to read the main fic. I more-so wrote it to get my head back on track for the sequel, Remembering the Heart.
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. None.
Note: If you haven't read Like Brothers, then all you really need to know is that "Katashi" is the younger, human version of Ulquiorra.
He ran from the darkness encompassing everything that fell right behind his heels. Speeding up didn't matter because it maintained the distance. That could only mean one thing:
It was toying with him.
Gritting his teeth, he cast a look behind him. A white mask headed the procession of shadows. It was grinning. The young boy had to push back the fear welling up. If he let this overwhelming feeling take him over, his legs would freeze and it would get him.
Fight back, his mind urged. The heaving lungs in his chest couldn't hold out much longer. He had to do something. Electricity tingled on his fingertips at the determination.
At the end up his rope, the boy came to a halt and spun on heel. Eerily green eyes stared down the monstrosity. The lighting had bled the blue from them, leaving the apparition of sheer emptiness. Pale hands moved in front of him. There was no guarantee, but he had to try or else…
And that was it.
Blinding daylight greeted his eyes. A small face hovered above him, smiling brightly.
"Ne, Katashi, you're awake!" the child exclaimed. His short, spiky black hair bobbed as he jumped up and down. "Mr. Ukitake said you were outside last night. He brought you back. Do you remember? Huh, huh, do you? Why were you outside?"
The older boy, Katashi, thought back. Digging into his thoughts and memories was hard, like pushing a shovel through a layer of permafrost. "I think…" he said, "I was sleepwalking."
"Why?" the younger asked.
"I don't know, Toshiro," Katashi answered. He sighed. A dreadful feeling still lingered. This wouldn't be the first time he'd gone for a midnight stroll while asleep. The sensation was always the same when he woke up: like he'd had a horrible nightmare. He could never remember what it was about, only that it caused him to sleepwalk. All his muscles ached still. So, more like sleep-run, he assumed.
"Ah, good morning, Katashi," the bright and cheerful voice of his uncle greeted. Said boy steered his attention to the man at the door.
"Hello, Mr. Ukitake," Katashi replied, voice uneasy. Though the man with the white pony-tail was nice enough, Katashi just couldn't bring himself to trust the guy. Something about Mr. Ukitake set his senses off in a way that brought the slightest unease, but which was strong enough from referring to the elder as "Uncle Ukitake" as frequently as his younger brother Toshiro did.
The preteen took a deep breath and blinked slowly. He patted down his messy black hair, which was beginning to get longer and more unkempt. It held heavy contrast with his ever-lightening skin, which was faded to a shade a little whiter than was probably healthy. It made him look sickly, but distraction was found in the vividness of his green-blue eyes. They had the power to help people look over all the other faults. Hypnotic, one could say.
Katashi pulled himself out of bed, Toshiro clinging to his side a little too closely. The older placed a hand on top of the boy's spiky black hair, as if to assure him that everything was fine. The five-year-old smiled, eyes lighting up. Eyes whose color was so scarily close to Katashi's, yet found the difference in holding so much more life and hope.
"Your mother is still asleep," Ukitake informed.
Katashi nodded, holding his younger brother even closer to his side. No words needed to be spoken to confirm what they all knew: she was still grieving. It was to be expected. It had only been a month since their father died in that earthquake.
"Why don't you two go outside?" Ukitake suggested. "It's a beautiful day."
Katashi heard the hidden message and led the younger outside. Toshiro's smile had fallen at the reminder of their missing family member. Tears started to well up in his eyes. His small hand reached out for his older brother's.
Seeing this, the eleven-year-old let the little one hold on. Toshiro hardly ever spoke of the accident. It would be too much for him. The last time he'd tried, he broke down into sobs. He was only five, for crying out loud! He wasn't old enough to understand like Katashi did or to learn what it was to have to stand up on your own. So Katashi had be the supporting beam; had to be strong so that Toshiro could grow around him like a young plant until its stem was sturdy enough to do so alone.
"Come on," Katashi said softly, "do you want to see my favorite thinking spot?"
Toshiro stopped crying at this. He rubbed away the wetness and nodded. Katashi pulled the younger along, confusing the boy as he circled back around the house and to the base of a tree.
"Can you climb?" Katashi asked.
"Of course," Toshiro huffed. He started up.
The older watched with wariness. "I'll stay right here to catch you if you fall."
Toshiro's tiny foot slipped a few times, but he was soon at the top.
"Stay right there," Katashi ordered. He began to head up as well, doing so much more gracefully and with a quickness that spoke of experience. When he got to the top, he hopped onto the roof and held out his hand. Toshiro grabbed it for dear life as his brother led him over.
"You can't tell mother, okay?" Katashi asked.
Toshiro's head tilted to the side. "Like a secret?"
"Yes, exactly," Katashi said. He ushered the boy to a comfortable spot and they sat down. For a second, their two sets of teal eyes took in the view. Then, Katashi explained, "This spot is impossible to see if you are close to the house."
"So this is where you go when you disappear?" Toshiro questioned.
The older boy nodded. "One time, I fell asleep up here."
"Why is this place so special?" Toshiro was honestly confounded by this.
"Dad showed it to me."
Toshiro's head dipped at this. He brought his knees close to his chest and hugged them. This place…it was special to his older brother. And he'd shared it with Toshiro.
"Being up high helps me think," Katashi explained, "but Mom will think it is dangerous. That's why we can't tell her: because she'll take it away."
"Oh," Toshiro whispered in understanding. "Katashi?"
"What do the stars look like from up here?"
Katashi paused. "Unbelievable."
It was dark again. He sat on the roof in exactly the same spot he'd shown Toshiro earlier that day. The clouds were thick and heavy. The air was densely cold. He let it fill his lungs until he drowned in it. Up here, everything became clear. In this spot, at this time…this was the only way he found peace.
Lying back, he closed his eyes. The thick clothes protected him from the chill. In his room, sleep had been impossible, but here, his eyelids were drooping. He'd lied when he told Toshiro he only fell asleep up here once. The truth was, he'd done it several times. It was getting to be a bad habit, one he should really get rid of, but no one could blame him for it.
The tranquility seemed to be just about complete when a shuddering weight shattered it. Katashi shot up, suddenly wide awake. This feeling…
His heart pounded. It was so familiar. This was the sensation he woke up with after his nightmares. When Mr. Ukitake had to drag him back in from sleepwalking, it was this feeling.
A piercing scream split the air. Hastily, Katashi scrambled down the tree he used to get up. No sooner than his foot touched the ground, the weight increased. He became frozen. Out of the darkness, a white mask appeared. He pushed the fear down. It was survival instinct. His legs pumped into action as he ran. Head throbbing, he was hit with déjà vu. At the same time, energy flooded from his soul and into his fingers.
The actions seemed routine. His muscles moved as if they'd done this before. Everything about it was so familiar. He spun on heel perfectly. He hands shot out in front of him like a thousand times before. The sparks began to grow, making his heart jitter. It was only now that his body crossed into unfamiliar territory. His hands began to shake. This thing was getting closer.
Then something suddenly clicked. In one heart beat, his brain comprehended what needed to be done and how to do it. The electric energy jolted forward, away from him. It was sickeningly beautiful the way his own power struck the white mask's edge; the way the creature roared in pain.
Katashi blinked. That had worked?
However, the being only seemed to get angrier. It charged at him in its rage. Katashi backed away, unsure of what to do now. When he was sure certain death was inevitable, everything stopped. A long swipe slashed the white mask clean in half. It shattered instantaneously. The boy watched in awe.
A sandal touched the ground in front of him, barely making a sound. Katashi's eyes widened.
"M-Mr. Ukitake?" he stammered.
The white-haired man frowned. "I'm sorry about this, Katashi Hitsugaya, but you're not ready."
"What do you mean?" the boy questioned.
Ukitake pulled a device out of his robes and pressed the button. A flash sprung from it. In the next second, Katashi was falling. Ukitake caught him before he hit the ground.
"I can't have you remember this," Ukitake whispered. A sigh escaped his lips. "I don't know how you managed to learn kido, but these are things you shouldn't have to face."
Ukitake slung the boy into his arms and began to head toward the house. He would bring Katashi back once more, just as he had the other nights the youth had "sleepwalked."
"And tomorrow," Ukitake said, "this will be nothing more than another nightmare you can't remember."