Disclaimer: see chapter one.
A/N: Thanks so incredibly much for all he reviews and rec's. They always mean so much.
Also this chapter is a little shorter than most by a couple hundred words but that'sw because I felt that it was the best spot to stop and considering I rewrote this chapter over a dozen times I'm willing to finally give up and let it stand as is because I'm tired of beating my head against the proverbial and once or twice literal wall trying to make it exactly like I wanted it.
So here we go.
She smiled, she couldn't help it. It was Shiro, her Shiro. Her teacher, best friend, confidant, adviser, brother in arms, he was just-he was just Shiro. And there he was, just standing there like the last time she'd seen him. Nothing about him had changed, well except for the fact that his hair wasn't held back in a ponytail but that didn't count.
The point was still the same, it was Shiro and it felt like everything that had happened since she'd been pulled away was gone, erased like it was nothing. No waking up in her own coffin, no Tara being murdered, no First Evil, no Potentials, no feeling like she'd been ripped apart and put back together wrong. All of it, gone, just gone. Because for the moment it was just her, Amaya, and her best friend standing in Soul Society on a bright summer day.
So she smiled, could anyone really blame her? If they did she'd punt them into the next week because that moment meant more than almost anything ever had to her. Because that moment gave her back something that nothing else had been able to do so far-it gave her herself back. It reminded her more fully of who and what she was than any reatisu could. Who she'd once been had never been defined by power or position but by the people closest to her and aside from Kasumi and her okaa-san no one had helped her define herself more than Shiro and Shunsui.
Words couldn't describe it, couldn't even come close. How many times had she dreamed about seeing her old friends again those last two years in Sunnydale? She'd lost count. How many times had she replayed the little moments? The big moments? That day that they'd first really met when she'd been in the Academy because those memories were all she had to hold on to in order to keep herself going? It would have been easier to count all the grains of sand in the Sahara.
"What the hell?! You're a Captain?!" and just like that she came back to reality. It was like someone smacking her with a smelly sock across the face. She twisted her head to the side, eyed Ichigo out of the corner of her vision. He was having the typical teenaged over reaction and it had just ruined her moment. She'd have to make him suffer for that. Quite possibly by dropping a lightening bolt on his ass.
"Who are you?" it was the girl who spoke and she finally focused on the tiny figure in white. So this was Kuchiki Rukia. Not really what she'd been expecting. Though to be honest she hadn't even thought about what their rescue-e would look like. The girl was short, not even five feet tall, with almost black hair and dark purple eyes. She was pretty but looked fragile. And short. Really short. And as someone who bordered on midget like on her own that was really saying something.
"Mimasaka Amaya." Rukia's eyes widened with shock, and gods that was starting to get old. Seriously old. So she wasn't dead, big deal. It wasn't like she was Elvis or anything. "I know that name. But you're..."
"Dead. Yeah, I've been getting that a lot lately." she waved her fingers in front of Rukia's face. "See? Not dead." she ignored Rukia's almost annoyed look and turned to Ichigo. She used the same hand that she'd waggled in front of Rukia to reach up and smack Ichigo in the back of the head, hard.
"See? Not dead." such simple words, so simple. Boil a complex thing down into nothing but the most bare of bones, that was Amaya-chan. That had always been Amaya-chan. She was alive. So very alive. And so very like she'd always been as she reached up and smacked the orange haired ryoka in the back of the head.
"Ow! What was that for?" he held the back of his head and glared at Amaya. That glare...it was so like. No. Not possible.
"For being a moron. What did I tell you about using your brain?" she shook her head, that long golden hair moving around her. It really was her. But it was impossible, she'd died. No, she'd disappeared. "Now take your friends and get out of here. I'll handle this."
She smacked the ryoka boy again. His mind suddenly went back to all the times he'd seen her smack Shunsui or Isshin or Shinji-it was her. How? How? Why?
"Ow! Stop doing that!"
"I will when you stop acting like a moron." the two of them just glared at one another. Amaya-chan was smaller than the ryoka boy but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered at the moment except that Amaya-chan was alive.
"I'm not backing down." he got a stubborn look across his features. "I came to save Rukia and I will."
“You fool.” Rukia sounded like she was on the verge of tears. Who was the boy that he could cause that? “I told you not to come.” ah, so that was it. This was the human that Rukia had given her shinigami powers to, Kurosaki Ichigo.
“You can yell at me as much as you like later.” Kurosaki, that name brought so many other old memories. But it was impossible. Isshin was dead and had been for over a century. This human boy was still in his teens. “It doesn't matter if you want to face the death sentence, I'm gonna save you even if I have to drag you away.” the boy pointed at Rukia “From here on out all your objections are just gonna be ignored. Got that dumbass?”
“What the hell? You're just gonna ignore all the rescue-e's opinions?! What kind of tyrannical way is that to save someone?!”
“Shut up! The one getting saved doesn't get to complain! Just stand around and act the part, trembling and saying 'Save me!'.” the two of them fighting, it was like...
There were too many old memories of what it was like, too many.
“Save me my ass! And I do. Not. Tremble!”
And then Amaya-chan reached up with both hands and...
Twin smacks to the back of each of their heads. Both of them glared at her. He couldn't see her face, her back was to him, her haori standing out like a beacon. “Knock it the hell off you two! What are you, twelve?” Amaya-chan sounded like she was dealing with younger siblings. What was the connection? How did his old friend know the ryoka boy? Nothing made sense, nothing. Two hundred years had passed while he believed Amaya-chan dead and now she was back and nothing made sense. “Geeze, you two are a pain.”
"I'm gonna beat him and rescue you." the ryoka, no Ichigo turned and set his eyes on Byakuya. There was determination in those eyes, an history, a need to prove himself. Oh the foolishness of youth.
"Beat who?" Amaya-chan turned and followed Ichigo's gaze. And he knew the very instant that she recognized the now Captain. He could tell it by the look of shock on her face, by the way she tensed. "Byakuya." the wind carried the almost whisper, and with it something else was carried, realization perhaps.
Further down the bridge before him he glanced at Kuchiki Byakuya's rod straight back and wondered what the man would do. Once upon a time the current head of the Kuchiki Clan had been only a few decades away from marriage to Amaya-chan only for her to disappear and them to believe in her death. Now she had returned two centuries later with a young ryoka and his companions in tow with the obvious intent of returning Kuchiki Rukia to the human world.
The human world.
"Where have you been?" they'd searched the human world for her, all of it. The Captain Commander had even ordered it. How had she remained hidden? He needed to know, had to know. He had to understand. Nothing made sense and everything was turned sideways and he had to know.
Her gaze turned to him and he could see that something was there, behind her eyes. Something painful, old and haunting. "It doesn't matter Shiro."
It mattered! It mattered so much. Couldn't she see that? Two hundred years they'd mourned her, missed her and wondered what had really happened. "Of course it matters!"
"I'm sorry." the look in her eyes changed, a curtain falling. Nothing remained but a look he knew well. A look that was completely steel and sand and storms. "I'm so sorry." her eyes began to glow, a sign of reatisu, incredibly strong reatisu and then he felt it. The wind picked up, blowing all around them and with that wind came that smell that he had always associated with her since that first day that he had seen her defend her okaa-san. "Ichigo, take them and go."
"Go!" it was an order, a command, as Amaya-chan drew her zanpakutō from her back and began to move forward across the bridge.
Only so was Byakuya.
"I will not fight you." Byakuya, however. did not slow his pace nor did he show any intention to. He knew Amaya-chan and he knew what would happen. If she had to she would cut down anyone in her path to defend those she'd chosen to protect.
"Amaya, don't do this!" he had to put a stop to this. Amaya was alive and the moment she raised her blade against a member of the Gotei 13 her life would be forfeit. He, they, couldn't have her return only to lose her again. Everything else he could find answers to later but if she was dead, truly dead, they would never know.
All it took was a split second, one instant for her to look over at Shiro because of his shout and she knew it was a mistake. She felt Byakuya shumpo past her and he was fast, so very fast. Too fast for her to counter but fast enough to track. But it seemed she wasn't the only one who could track Byakuya's movements because Ichigo's blade blocked the blow he might have received. Her eyes widened. How in the hell had the teenager done that? Had he already progressed so far in just a day? To even be able to counter a Captain who clearly intended to kill was just beyond her considering Ichigo's lack of experience.
Only it was right there in front of her.
"I can see you Kuchiki Byakuya." Ichigo sounded so pleased with himself, so utterly certain in his own abilities. Only the boy had no idea. Shumpo was nothing to a Captain, every shinigami could do it by the end of their first year in the Academy. Ichigo had already jumped in his reatisu faster than anyone she'd ever seen but power did not mean victory. Power was just power, knowing how to wield it like a surgical tool was something all Captains could do. It was a requirement for the job.
Ichigo pushed back and their positions changed. Now Byakuya was closer to Rukia and Ichigo was closer to her and Shiro who was behind her. She had to stop this, now. Byakuya clearly wasn't the inexperienced youth she'd once known and Ichigo wouldn't stand a chance against him. The reatisu under her skin was there, waiting and wanting free and she let it go. "Michishio, Areno Ame." it was a whisper as she moved.
And she was just in time too as she felt two blades strike against her own. Byakuya on her right and Ichigo's heavier blade on her left. "This ends now." she could hear it in her voice, the slayer coming out.
"Dammit! Amaya move!" she ignored him. Ichigo was young and stupid and if she wanted to deal with that sort of crap she had Dawn for it.
"I will not repeat myself Amaya." Byakuya's voice was deep. Funny, she'd never even really thought about what he'd be like as an adult but the man who pulled his blade away from her own really hadn't been it. She glared at him. It didn't matter who she'd known so long ago, what mattered was the man in front of her now. The man who would let his own sister die. He was cold and heartless and now he was just someone else for her to get through to do what needed to be done.
"Neither will I." it didn't matter that once upon a time she'd learned to accept that she was going to have to marry him. It didn't matter that Shiro and Shunsui now stood on the opposite side from her. It didn't matter that she was going against laws she'd upheld for nearly a millenia. Nothing mattered except doing what was right. And to do that she'd face anyone.
“Get out of the way!” Ichigo wanted to fight, she didn't need to see his face to know it.
“No. Her voice had an edge to it, the slayer crawling to the surface. She looked over at him, Ame still blocking the blow that had been meant for Byakuya. She wasn't defending the head of the Kuchiki Clan, she was keeping Ichigo from getting himself killed. “Your came here to save Rukia, not fight.”
She would have said more, would have forced Ichigo to do what she wanted and taken Rukia and run but that deep voice, a voice sounded so different from the one she remembered stopped her. “Scatter...”
She tensed, put her body in motion for what she knew had to be coming with a command like that. Byakuya was releasing his shikai.
Only to have the release stop before it could finish as a white strip of cloth wrapped itself around Byakuya's blade and Yoruichi came falling out of the air above them. She flipped back, throwing her body back so that she landed behind Ichigo with both blades still at the ready just in time for Yoruichi to fill the space she'd occupied.
Yoruichi was back in human form, all coffee and crème skin and dark purple hair. “Long time, no see Little Byakuya.”
“Yoruichi, now isn't so much of a good chatting time.” it really wasn't. Someone had to have felt all the reatisu that had been thrown around and was bound to come check it out. And she, for one, really didn't want to have to take on anyone unless she didn't have a choice.
“Shihōin Yoruichi.” Byakuya's gaze moved from Yoruichi and she met it that flat stare head on. “I see.” see? He saw nothing but it didn't matter what he thought he saw. All that mattered was keeping Ichigo from using Byakuya to preform assisted suicide.
“Yoruichi, Amaya, I get that you came here to help me but I need you two to back off. I've gotta take that guy down.” she ground her teeth and was about to reach up and smack the hell out of the back of his head with the grip of Areno when she felt a hand come down on her shoulder. She didn't turn, she didn't need to, she knew Shiro by feel alone and no matter what she knew he wouldn't hurt her.
“You?” Yoruichi turned and looked at Ichigo “Beat him?” the words were barely out before she saw her former student move. The blow was quick and instantly Ichigo was out. Yoruichi had aimed for the wound to Ichigo's abdomen and if she had to guess the hand that had gone in had been covered with some sort of medication.
One that would have knocked Ichigo down flat if Yoruichi hadn't caught him.
She began to move, to put herself between Yoruichi who held Ichigo's larger body and Byakuya but the hand on her shoulder stopped her. “Let me go Shiro.”
“This is an old score between them.” somehow she knew the 'them' in question wasn't Ichigo and Byakuya though there was a grudge there. No, it was Yoruichi and Byakuya that Shiro meant though she didn't know the details of it. And she also knew Shiro's stance on pride and fighting, it was something she respected but didn't believe in. There was only ever one reason to fight in her opinion and that was to protect.
But as Yoruichi and Byakuya both began to move she knew that Yoruichi didn't need protection. Yoruichi had made it to Captain and survived for two centuries without needing to be protected, now no different. So she didn't move, didn't interfere, because she didn't need to. And when Yoruichi stood on the roof of one of the surrounding buildings and said that in three days she would make Ichigo strong enough to beat Byakuya she frowned.
Why? Why was it so important for Ichigo to beat Byakuya? What was the point other than making sure that no one, not even Byakuya, came to the human world to retrieve Rukia?
Something wasn't making sense and she needed to get to her hellcat of a former student and find out what in the hell Yoruichi was playing at. She pushed the reatisu still flowing through her to her feet as she gripped the hilts of Areno Ame and then without a word shumpoed away from the bridge.
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