Second and last prize fic for the winners of the IchiRuki Deviantart contest. Soundtrack: Lay Me Down by Ashley MacIsaac.
Kumo- the Japanese word that can mean both "spider" and "cloud." An old fairytale says that the first clouds were woven as a gift of gratitude from an endangered spider to her savior, the sun.
The spider lady curled one slim hand around the thick, opaque strands of her web. It was hard for her to believe that she had once loved this web, prided herself on the beauty of the delicate swoops and the strength of the taut lines. Absolutely straight and neat, she had kept it. Lovely and perfect so that it tangled bits of cloud in the early morning, trapping them as shimmering droplets of water to shine for the rising Sun.
Now it was a prison.
She had been happy once, trying to make her web the most lovely of them all, the best and most glorious. Trying to make one of the seraphs of the Sun proud of her. He hadn't been the most handsome of the solar attendants, nor the most powerful; his sunbeam hair stuck up in messy spikes, and though he was strong, he was tall and angular enough to be almost gangly. His soft, shining white robe had always been a bit crumpled and his nose stuck out too far.
But despite those flaws, his fiery eyes were warm and kind, his hands gentle as he showed her how to weave clouds into pleasing shapes. Normally, the other arachnids would have helped a newborn like her to find her way around in the vast light-realm of the sky that was home to Sun, showed her the process of sculpting the vapor into towers and battlements and spirals of color, with Gothic arches and engraved windows for the Sun's light to illuminate. They would have explained the story of their fore-mother, how she was rescued and fell in love with the Lord Sun, who took her to live with him after her gift of clouds to make him a castle. Now her descendants worked the clouds, gaining skill, until the day the Sun noticed their work and touched them with his beams, transforming them into seraphs.
Yet she had been an orphan of sorts. Her arachnid parents had forgotten their hatchling daughter upon their ascension. The seraph who had helped her, the one who called himself Kaein, was the only one who had wandered to her corner of the sky and been willing to help the skinny, frightened spider-girl with the huge purple-grey eyes. He'd even given her a name, when most arachnids only got theirs upon ascension.
"You," Kaein told her one day, flicking the tip of her nose with a spark of heat, "are Rukia. I just decided."
"Ru-ki-a?" she asked, rubbing the spot.
"Yes. Isn't it great? A pretty name for a pretty girl." Kaein grinned and looked very pleased with his wordplay. "It's a unique name, too. No one else will be mistaken for you when you ascend, Rukia!"
"Thank you, sir." The newly named Rukia smiled, a feeling as warm as sunlight filling her up to the tips of her toes.
"Ah, new rule- now that you have a name, Rukia, no more calling me sir. Call me Kaein."
She'd gasped with shock and protested, but eventually she crumbled. From that day forth, she spent twice as much time working over her architecture, sweating over every gentle curve and delicate wisp. Rukia did not do it for the Sun's approval and transformation alone, however; she was waiting for the time that she could become a seraph. When that day came, at last, she might be able to face Kaein as an equal, at last call him by name without feeling like she was sinning.
Then he had died. In those ritual battles between the seraphs of the darkness and the light that happened every time the sun set, there had been a false move somewhere. A misstep, a falter- who knew, in the confusion of brassy, colorful posturing the two sides put on? It had ended in the onyx spear of some dark seraph piercing Kaein's good, kind heart.
Rukia didn't know, at first; the next morning, she had restrung her web to catch the clouds and the dew. She was sure that that day would be the one that she would catch the attention of the Sun, and finally ascend .But then a seraph she barely knew had come swooping in on golden feathers, bearing the news that the only person who had been kind to her since her miserable childhood had died. From that moment, she lost all will to create.
So Rukia sat in the darkness, her hand wrapped around the transparent rope of her web, looking out at the stars and meditating silently. Without Kaein, she did not see a reason to become a seraph. To die, perhaps as he had, as a seraph. The only other alternative was to sit in her mouldering web and wait until she died anyway. She used her other hand to smooth down the black rags of her once-fine dress. Kaein would not have been happy to see her this way.
Perhaps she could let go of the web, dive through the surrounding clouds, push her way down through the cotton-soft mounds of them, fall through the realm of the Moon below until she dropped to Earth like a shooting star. There, Rukia knew, she would lose her body and become a true spider, no thoughts, just instinct and a life only a little longer than the mayflies'. But something inside her protested at that. She had memories, she had a talent for shaping soft grey rags of clouds into lovely, wind-dragged lines. She did not want to lose all that and become a blind hunter that hid from the light of the Sun, no longer comprehending it. Allowing her hand to loosen from its tight grip on the strand, she sighed and was about to lean back, when someone behind her spoke a single word.
Rukia jumped. "Who-?" She turned to her right and saw nothing.
"Over here," laughed the voice. It was rough, young, and decidedly male. Rukia turned left and was enveloped in grey fog, soft as a kitten's fur. The fog lifted away with a soft rushing noise, revealing a seraph with spiky hair, a big nose, and a rangy build. At the sight, Rukia's heart tried to force itself upwards in her chest.
"Kaein!" she cried, but the seraph shook his head.
"Wrong person," he told her, spreading his wings in a shrug. For the first time, Rukia saw the ebony black of his feathers and the way they trailed away into the mist that had enveloped her. Saw the moonlight in his eyes, a mere shadow of the sweet light in Kaien's.
"You," she said, "are a seraph of the Moon."
He glared at her. "So what?"
"So you shouldn't be here at all!"
"Yeah? And what about you, sitting up when it's dark? Shouldn't all little spider-brats be in bed by now?"
Rukia ground her teeth together. "'Spider-brat'? It doesn't look like you're all that old yourself, star-baby."
"This is coming from a midget?" The seraph planted his hands on her web and leaned forward. "What are you, two feet tall?" He tried to lean back triumphantly, but halfway through he stopped and tugged on his hands.
"I am four feet nine inches!" Rukia spluttered indignantly, than noticed his problem. "And now you've sullied my web."
"Never mind that, just get the damn thing off me!" the seraph shouted, beating his wings in a futile attempt to give him more pull. The strands stretched and let off high notes like a plucked harp, but did not release the struggling boy. The mist at his wingtips tore into streaming shreds with the effort,
"Only I can command my web to release you, and I don't see any reason to do so at the moment."
"And rudeness will give me even more reason to leave you there forever."
The seraph took a few deep breaths, folding his wings tidily behind his back and settling the feathers, the fog at the edges smoothing itself down and blending together once more. "Okay. Fine. What do I have to do to get you to free me, midget?"
Rukia said nothing. The seraph scowled. "What do I have to do to get you to free me, uh- what's your name anyway?"
"Arachnids don't have one until they ascend."
"It's true. But I am different, because I have one."
"Well, just say so then! What is it?" The seraph's eyebrows seemed like they might collide with the ferocious scowl he was directing her, but his tone did not seem very angry. Rukia could almost have closed her eyes and imagined it was Kaein standing there. Suddenly, she felt very tired.
"Rukia," she said curtly, and with a liquid 'plink!', her web let go of the seraph's hands. He went tumbling backwards, saving himself with a quick flip of his ink-dark wings, and hovered for a moment.
"Thanks," he called, waving his hand. "I'll be back tomorrow. Oh, and I'm Ichigo!"
And before Rukia could tell him that the last thing she wanted was to see him again, he plunged downward like a hawk and was lost to her view. Rukia was left with only the soft glow of the stars and the lonely splendor of the clouds for company.
She looked down for a moment, trying to assess the damage the seraph had done. Not that she cared overmuch about her web anymore, but if he was coming again, she'd better be prepared for more entanglements.
There, caught in the threads, was a single, silky black feather. Rukia picked it up and smoothed it through her fingers before setting to work on her web.
That night, she went to sleep with a smile on her face for the first time in a long while. Ichigo, huh?
Ichigo came the next night, and the next, and for many after that one. They told each other bits and pieces from their life, when they weren't arguing. Rukia learned that seraphs of the Moon were not the dark, alien creatures she had believed them to be; they were descendants of a spider themselves, the son of the original spider lady, who had fallen in love with the Moon. She learned that Ichigo himself was only recently ascended (though he said "endarkened"), and that he, too, was an orphan of sorts, not knowing who or where his parents were.
In return, she told him about Kaein. When she finished, Ichigo leaned in close to her for a moment, almost as if he was going to whisper something in her ear. Which was ridiculous, because they were alone anyway. In Rukia's secluded spot, very few people even knew she existed, and in the nighttime the few who did were asleep. But instead of whispering, he brushed his knuckles along her cheek and said,
"Hey. Want to go flying?"
"Flying?" She looked at him in astonishment, putting one hand up to touch his.
Instead of answering, he slipped one arm under her knees and the other around her back, and with a powerful beat of his night-dark wings lifted them off the cloud and into open sky. Rukia gasped and held on tightly, the cool air pricking at her eyes and blowing her black hair into disarray. As they leveled out into a smooth glide, she asked a question that had been nagging at her for a time.
"Ichigo, why did you come to me that first time?"
She felt him shrug. "I was exploring, and I saw you- the only one awake. I thought I'd say hello."
"But why did you come back?"
Ichigo was silent for almost a minute, spiraling higher and higher on a warm current air as he thought.
"Because you made me want to."
For almost an hour, Ichigo carried her as he flew, skimming around the curve of clouds, weaving in and out of windows, fluttering high and swooping down in dives that left her breathless from the rush and speed of it. It was almost like Rukia could fly herself. She never wanted it to end: the air silky like water against her skin, the beat of Ichigo's wings in her ears, the stars shining like silver against the velvet midnight blue of the sky.
But of course it had to end, and when Ichigo set her back down on her web she felt a pang of loss that went beyond regret for the end of the flight.
"You'll come back, right?" Rukia asked, stretching one hand out to touch the mist that clung to his feathers. He scowled at her. "Of course, midget. I wouldn't just leave you. But I have to go now, the night's almost over."
Rukia nodded and very firmly did not ask him to stay with her longer.
But the next night Ichigo did not come. Nor the next. Rukia, looking at her reflection in the drops of dew, began to see dark circles appear under her eyes from the lack of sleep. She started to sleep during the day, a deed that almost taboo for the servants of the Sun, so that she could be awake and watchful for Ichigo all night. Fears that he had been hurt, been killed, tore at her. The not-knowing was the worst; she thought that at least if she knew he was dead, she could have some peace. Being eternally in waiting ripped up her heart and made her tense as a string stretched to breaking.
Once again, she began to neglect her web and her duties, allowing the clouds she trapped to float away unchanged.
At last, almost a month later, when she sat silently staring out over the darkened sky, a voice breathed in her ear.
She whipped around and plunged into a swirl of black feathers.
"You keep doing that," grumbled Ichigo, disentangling her from his wings and setting her down next to him.
"Idiot!" she cried.
"Where have you been?"
He shrugged and hunched his wings, scowling at the ground. "Damn bureaucrats."
Rukia glared at him, fisting one hand around a web-strand and pulling on it so hard that it broke with a soft pizzicato-like sound. "I don't know what those are," she said, and was horrified to find that her eyes were pricking with heat as though she were about to cry. To prevent that embarrassment, she created a bit of silk and began mending her torn dress, jabbing the hardened end of the thread in and out of the cloth so harshly she pricked both her finger and her thigh in the first few seconds of work.
"The celestial government- you don't know about them?"
Ichigo told her, slowly, of the fight between the Sun and the lady Moon; the commotion caused by Kaien's death and the tensions between the realms, of the squabbling luminaries and how the clouds between the kingdoms of the dark and the light were slowly being made impenetrable.
He trailed off and allowed his wing to brush her shoulder.
"So you can't come anymore." Rukia said it not like a question, but a statement; by this time, she knew Ichigo's expressions and thoughts as well as she knew the correct curve for a cloud or the exact tension to use for her web. With a tiny, final click, she snipped off the end of her thread and stared at the mended tear in her silk dress.
Rukia looked into his face, and he did not look away, but stared back down into hers. They were a study in contrasts as they sat so; he, tall and strong, soft darkness and light combined. She, small and thin, ragged and longing for a time when she wouldn't have to be alone any longer.
"You don't have to stay here, you know," Ichigo told her slowly.
"What do you mean?"
"You could come with me."
"I am a sun creature, though," she said, reaching out without thinking to run her fingers through his misty wingtips.
"I could take you anyway- you don't look like you're from the sun." Ichigo turned to her and slid a hand up to cradle her cheek. "Rukia…will you come?"
For a moment, Rukia considered. Stay in the safe, known place, the one where everything, even her loneliness and sadness, was familiar? Stay, and perhaps someday become a solar seraph like Kaein? Or leave to somewhere she had never seen with Ichigo as the only familiar thing, somewhere new?
She looked up straight into Ichigo's moonlit eyes, and without a second of hesitation, she leaned forward and kissed him.
So, this is an odd AU, I know, but it is a request from the winner, noodlemie, with her lovely digital painting "ichiruki: my demon". Check it out here, removing the four spaces of course: http:/ noodlemie. deviantart. com/art/ ichiruki-my-demon-181673637. It does relate to the story and is the original inspiration. The process went like this: stare at art for a long time, research Japanese mythology, stare at that for a long time, write a few words, listen to Lay Me Down, write more, repeat. ;) It was the slooowest I've ever gone in writing a oneshot but it was interesting.
And yes, I dismantled Japanese mythology and spliced it with a Greek-ish view of the cosmos- got a problem with that? Lol, just kidding. Hope this is enjoyable and makes a modicum of sense.
…did you know that I promised 800-word oneshots to these two winners and gave one a multi-chapter crossover and the other a nearly 3,000 word AU? XD *overachiever*