You really have Syc Fuk to thank for this update, because they would not leave me alone! By the way, Syc Fuk, while you weren't looking, I freed the characters you were holding hostage and you can never, ever steal them away again! Ha! And don't you even think about taking away any other favorites of mine, because they are being held in a safe location! Make one wrong move and Aslan gets it!
Anywhoos, here's the twentieth chapter of SUTAADASUTOO. Sorry if it seems a little rushed, since someone was being rather annoying about wanting a new chapter. Eh-heeeeemmm! :3
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach or InuYasha. … … … …Really, that's all I have to say. What, you expected a fight? Pfft! Nah!
Chapter XX: Whisper of the Apocalypse
Just for a moment
He lets her see through the veil
Of lies and darkness
"I'd be happy to lend you a yukata, Higurashi-san," said a friendly Hinamori Momo, her arms full of folders. "But I have to drop these off at Aizen-taichou's office first. You're welcome to come along if you like; I don't think my captain will mind."
"Arigatou, Hinamori-chan," said Kagome gratefully, her face breaking into a relieved smile.
Kagome's search for a yukata to borrow for the Nagareboshi Matsuri had come up dry. Maybe that was because she had immediately gone to Kuchiki Rukia, who was much easier to access, though Kiyone would have been a good start too.
Rukia had invited Kagome over to the Kuchiki Manor in order to look at the collection of yukata she had for formal occasions. What Rukia had forgotten to mention, which hadn't surprised Kagome in the least, was that they were to have tea with her brother after looking through the clothes.
Kagome, panicked at the thought of having tea with said nobleman, had not been able to focus on choosing something to wear to the festival though there had undoubtedly been something suitable.
Having tea with Kuchiki Byakuya was like listening to fingers scratch across a blackboard or to millions of cicadas after they had crawled out of the ground. Nobody said anything. The three of them—Kagome, Rukia, and the mansion's lord—had sat at a low table and had sipped green tea out of clay cups for the better part of half an hour. The silence had been so deafening that Kagome had wanted to jump up, scream like a banshee, and tear off into the manor's yard to make her escape over the wall.
That was the last time Kagome was going to ask Rukia for anything. Ever.
If she had known how much a pain in the ass trying to get a yukata from Kuchiki Rukia was, Kagome would have immediately gone to Hinamori or Kiyone. As it was, Kagome was only asking Momo such a favor because they were nearly the same size and she had had paperwork to drop off at the Fifth Division's barracks anyway—Momo was carrying it right now, despite Kagome's protests.
"So, I hear that you've gotten yourself a new pet?"
Snapping out of La-La-Land, Kagome blinked and said, "Huh? Oh, yeah, that's right…"
Momo smiled at Kagome as they walked through the wooden-floored hall of the Fifth Division's barracks, heading for Aizen Sousuke's office in the more business-like section.
"It's an onagadori, right? What color is it?" asked Momo curiously.
"He's red with green tail feathers. He's very pretty," said Kagome, smiling at the thought of her new roommate.
"A rooster?" said Momo with surprise. "Aren't they bad-tempered?"
Kagome shrugged and shook her head.
"I dunno. Ou-sama (King) seems well-mannered to me," she said dubiously.
"'Ou-sama'?" repeated Momo with amusement, her lips curling in as she tried not to grin at the name.
"I called him that one day when he was being all prissy and picky, and the name just stuck, I guess. He seems to know that he's a king, too," said Kagome, laughter evident in her voice.
"It's a pity you couldn't have brought him," she said ruefully. "I would have liked to have seen him."
"He was in one of his drama-king moods today. Thought his meal was unsatisfactory for him or something," Kagome sniffed. "Usually he likes to tag along with me on my rounds."
The onagadori rooster that she had rescued from the mostly-naked shinigami back in the izakaya had happily made itself at home in Kagome's quarters in the last several days. Although Kagome had made a little bed for the bird, she sometimes woke up to find the chicken resting on her pillow. Perhaps it was because she had rescued him from an uncertain fate that he was so well-mannered and loyal; this devotion was more evident during the day, when Ou-sama followed after Kagome's heels or rested in the medical pack (courtesy of Hanatarou) that Kagome wore in case he got tired.
Seeing Momo's fallen look, Kagome immediately tried to cheer the girl up.
"Oh! But I'll bring him around the next time he's ready to stop sulking, so you can see him then!" she said exuberantly, hoping that Hinamori's frown would lessen.
"Un!" said Momo, sending Kagome a small smile.
Kagome mentally wiped her forehead with relief; a sad Momo was a melancholy sight indeed.
Momo slowed to halt in front of a large shoji door in the hall; Kagome immediately figured that it was Aizen's office, judging from the door's resemblance to the one leading into Ukitake's and…his.
"Could you knock on the door for me, Kagome-san?" asked Momo, her arms wrapped tightly around the folders in her arms.
Kagome did as she was told, rapping sharply on the wooden frame of the door with her knuckle.
Momo, meanwhile, called out in a loud voice.
"Aizen-taichou, I have some paperwork for you! May I come in?"
The two of them waited for an answer, but all that met Hinamori's inquiry was silence.
"Maybe he's out?" Kagome suggested, glancing dubiously at the door.
"But Aizen-taichou is always in his office!" protested Momo.
Kagome sent the other girl a deadpanned look and said, in a dry tone, "He's not some household appliance, Momo-chan. He can get up and go places if he needs to."
Momo sent Kagome a frown and said, "What I meant was that Aizen-taichou is always in his office when I come to deliver paperwork or to report to him."
"Well, he doesn't appear to be in there now," said Kagome, ignoring the impetuous tone of the other girl.
She moved to open the door a crack, but was stopped when Hinamori let out a little shriek.
"Higurashi-san! What on earth do you think you're doing!" exclaimed Momo, her eyes bugging out with panic. "You can only go into a captain's office if you're invited!"
"And if said captain is somewhere else and cannot invite you in?" asked Kagome wryly.
"Well, uh…" said Momo, blinking with confusion; she obviously hadn't thought of it before.
"Good enough for me!" said Kagome happily, grabbing the hand slot on the door.
"Wait!" cried Momo, as the other threw open the door.
"Taa-daa!" said Kagome, sweeping her hands towards the interior of the room. "See? He's not in there. Now let's drop off the paperwork and get going."
"Um…" said Momo hesitantly. "Shouldn't we…wait for him to come back…?"
Kagome resisted the urge to roll her eyes and then pound her head against the doorframe. It was well-known throughout the lieutenants of the Gotei 13 that Momo had an obsessive crush on her captain. While most of the time it was cute and endearing, sometimes it was just a real pain in the ass.
"No, because we're just dropping off paperwork," answered Kagome, her eyebrow twitching with irritation.
She moved her foot towards the entrance of Aizen's office, watching for Momo's reaction.
"Don't you dare!" gasped Hinamori, her brow furrowing with anger.
"Or what?" asked Kagome, a devious grin spreading across her face as she moved her foot even closer to the office.
"Or I'll—! I'll—!" stammered Momo, her face turning red with anger.
"I'm gonna do it…!" said Kagome teasingly, moving her foot mere centimeters from the entrance of the office.
"You'd better not!" cried Momo furiously.
"Here I go…! Ready or not…! I'm almost there…!" continued Kagome, her grin widening to the point she looked like the Cheshire cat.
She was abruptly cut off when Hinamori rammed into her in an attempt to stop her with a loud, "Iya!"
Momo, like Kagome, obviously didn't have a sense of direction. She had probably meant to knock Kagome aside, but that wasn't the case.
Both girls went sprawling into Aizen's office. Kagome landed on her back with an 'oof!', while Momo landed on top of her, color-coded folders scattering everywhere. An especially large amount of messy folders ended up on Kagome's face.
With a groan, Kagome thought, 'Mission accomplished. I got her in.'
"Hinamori-kun? What are you doing on the floor of my office?"
Both girls froze at the sound of the Fifth Division captain's voice and then scrambled to get up.
"S-sumimasen, A-aizen-taichou!" stuttered Momo, rolling off of Kagome and trying, unsuccessfully, to get the folders up. "W-we'll get this cleaned up r-right away!"
Kagome was trying to dig her way out of the folders lying on top of her head. No matter how hard she tried to get out, there always seemed to a huge pile of paperwork on her head. That stack of folders must have been bigger than she thought.
"And who is 'we', Hinamori-kun?" asked Aizen with amusement.
"'We' as in Hinamori-fukutaichou and myself, Aizen-taichou," said Kagome, managing to raise a hand out of the depths of the folders. "It's Higurashi Kagome."
"Oh, Higurashi-kun, I did not recognize you!" said Aizen playfully.
Kagome sweatdropped and said, "That would be because my face is full of folders, Aizen-taichou."
With a gasp, she managed to surface from the folders and breathe freely. Looking up, she saw that Aizen was looking down at both girls with amusement, his chocolate-brown eyes twinkling behind his scholarly glasses.
Kagome plucked a folder from off the top of her head and immediately began helping Hinamori pick up the folders from the floor. Every time Aizen made a move to help them, Momo would nervously assure him that they would do it, while Kagome merely sent him apologetic smiles.
Within a minute, both girls held a messy, disheveled stack of folders.
"Oh dear…" whimpered Momo, seeing the state of the paperwork. "It'll take forever to sort it all out!"
The young woman began to tremble, her eyes large and wide with the prospect of sorting out the mess. Kagome was immediately sorry that she goaded the girl into knocking them into the office and began to panic when she saw that Hinamori was on the verge of hysterical tears, but so too did Aizen, who came to the rescue.
"It's quite alright, Hinamori-kun," soothed the captain, putting a hand on the slight girl's shoulder in an affectionate manner. "Just take a deep breath and calm down."
Momo whimpered and gulped, nodding her head before obediently doing as she was told. Kagome watched in amazement as her fellow lieutenant instantly changed from a nervous, panicked wreck to a tranquil—more or less—and optimistic—mostly—individual. The color in her cheeks, which had drained away in her anxiety, was now slowly returning, perhaps even more than before now that her superior was present.
"There now," said Aizen, smiling down at his lieutenant. "And look, the folders aren't as disorganized as they appear. See?"
Kagome looked down at her own stack of folders and saw that he was right. The papers, although sticking out every which way, had stayed in their respective piles since they were being held in place by their fellows. They merely needed to be straightened out. In Kagome's eye, this stroke of fortune was damned lucky, especially considering that the incident involved Hinamori—the younger girl was actually quite sensitive.
Momo smiled slightly, her features still gripped by the aftereffects of her earlier panic.
"Yes, you're right, taichou!" she said, happiness filling her voice. "We'll get these straightened out right away!"
She proceeded to look around for a place to accomplish this, her head moving this way and that.
Seeing her predicament, Aizen said, "Go ahead and use my desk, Hinamori-kun."
Momo went wide-eyed and stared at her captain as if he had suggested she stab him in the heart.
"Oh no, Aizen-taichou, we couldn't possibly—" she began.
"Thank you, Aizen-taichou," interrupted Kagome smoothly, brushing past Hinamori and placing the folders on Aizen's desk.
She opened the first of the folders and took out its contents, shuffling and tapping them into neatness. Momo stared at her indecisively for a moment, looking back and forth between her colleague and superior. At a nod from Aizen, the young woman joined Kagome at the desk and began tidying up her own folders.
"So tell me, Higurashi-kun," began Aizen amiably, striding over to the window behind his desk and looking out, "are you looking forward to the Nagareboshi Matsuri?"
Kagome half-shrugged as she took out another stack of folders, despite the fact that she knew the captain couldn't see the gesture.
"I suppose," she said, frowning a little at her indifference towards the festival.
Aizen turned from the window and looked at her.
"You don't sound very enthusiastic," he said humorously, a small smile tugging at his lips.
"It's just that it's the same every year," Kagome explained in an elusive, nervous manner.
She wasn't going to admit to a captain that she didn't like going to the festival because she was extremely uncomfortable with the things that occurred during the night-long celebration period. People running around without their clothes on was the least of her problems—she had stumbled upon a drunken couple having sex in the bushes more than once, to her eternal humiliation.
"But you're going to wear a yukata this year!" Momo spoke up. "Surely something changed!"
"Kotetsu-fukutaichou managed to persuade me to wear one," grumbled Kagome, taking the papers out of the last folder in her stack. "It's hard to say 'no' to her when she's giving you her puppy-dog eyes."
"Eh? She's always so professional around me," said Hinamori, pouting slightly. "Even during the Women's Association meetings."
Kagome didn't know exactly how to respond to that. Maybe it was because Isane was a mature, responsible individual (in contrast to her slightly immature sister). Momo was responsible, but she was well-known for her naivety and gullibility; the girl looked up if you pointed at the ceiling, for goodness' sake! Perhaps Isane was hoping some of her maturity would rub off on Hinamori before the younger girl got hurt.
"There!" said Kagome instead, sliding the newly-straightened paperwork back into its folder. "All done!"
She smiled at Momo, who smiled back. Good; the 'Isane' thing hadn't bothered her.
Hinamori finished her last folder seconds behind Kagome. At an expectant look from the childish-looking girl, Kagome handed over her own files and Momo placed them on top of her pile. Then Hinamori set the whole stack down square in the middle of Aizen's side of the desk, smiling triumphantly.
"Finished!" she chirped, looking up at her captain with adoration in her large eyes.
Aizen smiled with affection down at his subordinate from beside the window, the light illuminating the chocolate color in his irises to a melted brown. For a moment, Kagome could see why Momo devoted her life to this man; he was handsome and kind, something a girl like Hinamori wanted in a male.
With a sudden clarity, Kagome realized that he wasn't what she looked for in a man, not that she was attracted to the captain or anything. If she didn't want a handsome and kind man for a companion, then what did she want?
An image of Ichimaru flashed in her mind from deep within her subconscious, causing a dusting of red to appear on her cheeks.
'Absolutely not!' she practically screeched at it. 'I do not find that sneaky, fox-faced bastard appealing in the least!'
The little demon that was her subconscious seemed to snigger at her and say, in an eerily familiar phrase, 'Who are ya tryin' to convince, Kagome-chan? Me? Or yerself?'
Blinking, Kagome looked over at Momo, who was looking at her with a sort of expectation.
"Un?" she grunted, trying to shake the remnants of her unconscious from her head.
"You ready to go?" asked Hinamori, looking at her fellow lieutenant dubiously. "We have so many yukata to look at."
'Oh goody,' thought Kagome dryly.
She nodded in response to Momo's question and the two of them turned to Aizen.
"Thank you so much for letting us use your desk, Aizen-taichou!" said Momo gratefully, bowing deeply towards her superior. "We will be on our way now."
Kagome bowed too, more to appease Hinamori than Aizen.
"You're very welcome, Hinamori-kun," said Aizen with a laugh in his voice. "You may go now."
Momo smiled happily, a blush dusting her cheeks. Like a little dog, she obediently scurried to the door and almost seemed to wag her tail.
"C'mon, Higurashi-san! I think I have the perfect yukata for you to borrow!" she said in an excited voice.
Kagome watched with a mixture of amusement and exasperation as the other girl darted out into the hallway to wait for her. Shaking her head slightly at Hinamori's antics, she sighed and turned to Aizen.
"Good afternoon, Aizen-taichou," she said politely, bowing again and then heading towards the door.
She didn't know whether to expect a response or not, since subordinates excused themselves by saying such things. It was polite to reciprocate the excuse and often boosted the moral of said subordinates, but a captain wasn't required to respond. That was why Kagome was slightly surprised when she heard Aizen speak.
"Good afternoon, Higurashi-kun."
Something about his voice made her pause.
Stopping in the doorway, she looked back with a perplexed expression, wondering why Aizen would speak with such a tone—it was almost as if he were…darkly amused. What she saw confused her further.
Gone was the warm, caring light in Aizen's brown eyes, replaced by a glassy, almost manic look. The corners of his lips were lifted up into what appeared to be a mocking smirk, as if he thought Hinamori's actions were pathetically amusing. Kagome was shocked at how sinister he looked.
Then, he seemed to shift slightly by his place by the window, and the alarming new aspects of his face melted into his regular features. A surge of relief went up in Kagome when she saw the familiar friendly expression on the captain's face.
But still… What had she just seen…?
"Is there something the matter, Higurashi-kun?" asked Aizen with what seemed to be genuine concern.
Kagome realized that she had been staring.
"I-iya…" she stuttered, trying to recover from the surprise of what she had just seen. "It's nothing. Have a good day, Aizen-taichou."
Aizen smiled and lifted a hand in farewell while she turned and joined Hinamori in the hall. The other lieutenant took one look at her and seemed to be overcome with worry.
"Are you alright, Higurashi-san? You look like you've just seen a ghost!"
"I'm fine, Hinamori-chan," soothed Kagome, not wanting Momo to go 'mother-hen' on her.
"Well, if you say so…" said Momo doubtfully, her eyes still reflecting her anxiety.
"I am, really. Now, why don't you show me this yukata you mentioned?" asked Kagome, eager to steer the conversation away from the strange moment with Aizen.
"Of course!" cried Hinamori happily, clapping her hands together and starting off down the hall; Kagome had to hurry to catch up with her. "It's blue and it has…"
The rest of the words faded into oblivion as Kagome found herself wondering at what had just happened back there in Aizen's office. The captain's face definitely seemed to have changed into something more sinister than she had expected on such a friendly individual's features. Why had it changed?
Surely it had been a trick of the light, a mere play of shadows across his face. It was afternoon, after all, and the sunlight was starting to come in from behind him.
'Yeah, that's what it was,' thought Kagome unconvincingly, remembering the almost power-hungry look in those brown eyes. 'Just a trick of the light…'
And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed this update. I swear I did not mean to put it off as long as I did, but I got on a Harry Potter xover idea, it wouldn't leave me alone, etc. I admit I was a little lazy getting back to this, but my brainstorms mostly got in the way.
Remember to review, 'cause I love 'em so! XD
Until next time, ja ne! ^.^