disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: to Rose, because she's the best. needlekind forever.
notes: i was told to tell you about myself. um. okay. i love punk rock and sunshine.

title: beautiful somewhere
summary: Footprints in the sand. — Nnoitral/Neliel.

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"Is this Hell?"

The question hangs in the blackness around her. Nel breathes in.

No.

It is very quiet in the darkness.

"Am I dead?"

Yes.

"Oh."

Nel breathes out.

/ / /

She was sitting on a beach wrapped in white cloth, sheer and ragged and caught on the breeze. It smelled like salt and sunshine, that far sweet thing called freedom. Only this wasn't freedom—this was death.

Nel supposed it was really the same thing.

She sat on her beach in the never-setting sun with her arms wrapped around her knees, utterly alone.

Sometimes she built castles with the white sand (Nel had never seen anything but white sand—the sand on her beach was white and untouched, so like Hueco Mundo's dunes). Sometimes she built entire cities; economies and peoples and dreams. Sometimes she built roads and infrastructure. Sometimes she built spiralling towers that felt like home.

But the water crested up and washed them all away.

There was a little house not far from the beach. It was light and airy, made of bleached driftwood that didn't quite fit together properly; cracks of sunlight always filtered through the walls and the roof. It did not shut out sound or life, and that was the way that Nel liked it.

There was a window with no glass that looked out to the ocean and there was nothing to distinguish sky from sea.

It was a little globe of solitude and peace.

Nel thought that after everything, peace was something she had definitely earned.

But it was a little lonely, once in a very great while.

She drew a squiggle in the sand with her fingertips, digging down deep enough to reach the darker, wet sand below. She scooped it up. It didn't run through her hands. Nel held it there for a long time, watching as it dried.

Eventually it slipped through her fingers and rained back down to the ground.

Nel got up and walked to the edge of the water.

For a moment, she stood there. The water swirled around her toes.

And then she walked forward and forward, and submerged.

/ / /

"Am I alone?"

No. Yes. No.

The blackness shifts but does not slide into her lungs. Nel breathes in.

"How long have I been here?"

This is unanswerable.

She looks down at her hands. Her hair hangs around her hips in waves of green.

"Oh."

Nel breathes out.

/ / /

Nel sat in the branches of a tall tree. The world moulded itself to her will; climbing was unnecessary. She could see forever framed by gently swaying leaves, light and happiness the staple that she lived on.

Well, perhaps not happiness. But contentment.

And that was all Nel was looking for, really. Contentment.

The days passed in a surreal slurry of heat and sand, and finally, Nel got lonely. She missed having someone to talk to—anyone would have done, really.

And so she left the white-sand beach, and walked.

The beach went on for miles, all of it untouched. Nel wound her hair around her fingers and counted the strands, trying to differ between blue and green as if there was even ever a difference in the first place.

The ground felt soft beneath her feet. It was like floating.

So this was death—actual death, because it was different that her first death—floating in boredom forever.

Nel stretched her hands towards the sky.

/ / /

"Who are you?"

Nothing. Everything.

Nel breathes in. It is cold and she shivers.

She has so many questions.

She begins.

"Where are the others?"

Gone.

Nel breathes out.

/ / /

She wasn't sure how she first found Szayel. She'd walked down the beach for a full turn and a half, sun rising and setting as she walked. She never got tired. She never needed to rest.

It would have been a little bit eerie, but Nel took it in stride. She'd seen stranger, in her life. And death. And now this was—after-death?

Nel didn't even know anymore.

"Well, well. Neliel," he said.

Nel thought that she felt remnants of disgust. It thrilled down her spine for a very short moment, and then withered into nothing.

She tossed her hair back, and smiled. "Hello, Szayel."

Szayel eyed her. His glasses flashed in the sun and Nel wondered why he hadn't rid himself of them—he could have. She knew that.

Maybe it was nostalgia.

He reached towards her with long gloved fingers and Nel fought not to flinch back. It was only Szayel. He had nothing on Aizen or Ichigo or even Nnoitra. Nel closed her eyes—

"Oi. Hands off."

There was a garbled sound like choking. Nel cautiously opened one eye and then the other and found herself looking up at Nnoitra with his arm around Szayel's head.

Nel wasn't fazed.

"Nnoitra," she said.

He grunted.

The pit of dislike in Nel's stomach bubbled. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Nel regretted being lonely. She would never be lonely again if she could escape before it turned into an all-out bloodbath.

Death was supposed to be peaceful.

Nnoitra was so far from peaceful that it almost made Nel want to retch.

She turned to walk home. A day and a half lay between her and serenity and the air smelled like salt. Nel brushed her hair out of her face.

"See you later, Szayel," she called over her shoulder.

There was another garbled sound and the unmistakable crunch of someone hitting the ground. Fingers closed around her wrist and whipped her around.

Nel didn't feel anything, not even pain.

"What?" she asked with narrowed eyes and a churning in her stomach.

He held her there, but he couldn't hurt her.

Nothing could hurt her, anymore.

"I di'n't kill ya."

Nel's eyes turned to ice.

"Good for you," she told him.

She pulled her hand out of his grip and walked away.

/ / /

"Why do I still look like me?"

You are attached to that form.

Nel breathes in.

"Can I change it?"

If you wish.

"I don't.

Oh.

Nel breathes out.

/ / /

She really didn't want anything to do with him.

But after that first long walk, the others began to appear. Hallibel, Starkk and Lilinette, Barraggan and even Ulquiorra—but not Pesche or Dondochakka and they left an ache in her chest.

Nel thought that maybe they'd lived.

She hoped so.

The wind whispered through her little house. Nel curled in the fabric hammock that slung from wall to wall and wondered about creaking boards and whether the water tasted like tears.

It was as beautiful as fire against the evening sky.

The hollow sound of knuckles against wood roused her from her thoughts.

Nel had no inclination to move.

"You can come in!" she called.

The soft padding of bare feet against wood had her looking up. Nel peeked over the side of the hammock and sighed. "Never mind, I recall my statement. Go away."

Nnoitra smirked. "Jus' came t'say hello. Tha's not allowed?"

Nel hid her face in the hammock. Death was peaceful, death was peaceful, death was peaceful—

"Oi."

"What."

"M'sorry."

Nel stopped hiding her face and she peeked over the edge of the hammock again to blink at him curiously. Nnoitra just stood there with his hands in his pockets.

Sixty years of sorrow ended with a word.

Nel almost smiled.

/ / /

"Will it be dark forever?"

Not if you will it differently.

Nel breathes in.

"Can I go?"

You may.

Nel thinks she nods.

"Oh."

A flash, then—

Nel breathes out.

/ / /

They sat together on the beach.

They spent four days like that, caught between perfection and perfect hell.

After a very long silence, Nel spoke.

"I didn't watch you die."

Nnoitra looked down at her. She ducked her head to avoid his gaze because she didn't want him to see the weakness on her face.

She'd watched so many die.

But she hadn't wanted to watch him die.

"I know, princess."

Nel sighed and wrapped her arms around her knees. She rested her head against them and looked at him from the side. "You looked funny," she told him succinctly.

He snorted. "Shu'up."

"Nope," Nel said.

It was kind of nice.

When they couldn't kill each other, Nnoitra was actually kind of tolerable, Nel thought. She surveyed him sleepily for another moment and then chose her words very carefully.

"You look better with your hair short."

(Or not.)

"Huh," Nnoitra grunted and flopped backwards onto the sand. He pulled her down with him and Nel was caught trying not to scream because she was still scared of everything (she would always be scared).

But she was tired.

Nnoitra pulled her to his side.

Nel closed her eyes.

/ / /

"So this is how it ends."

No.

Nel breathes in.

"It's not?"

No.

"Then what is it?"

A beginning.

"Oh."

Nel breathes out.

/ / /

Death—true death—was calm. Quiet. Peaceful.

Nnoitra slung an arm over Nel's shoulders. His fingers tangled up in her hair, curling around the nape of her neck. Nel would have shivered, but the sun was warm and low, sinking into the horizon and washing the world in a rainbow of hues.

(It always should have been like this.)

They walked along the shore together.

Nothing but footprints in the sand.

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fin.
notes2: lalala, i love this pairing.
notes3: please do not favourite without leaving a review. :)