Disclaimer: see chapter one.
A/N: Ok, ok I know it's been forever and I'm sorry but I do have a RL that has had me going at breakneck speeds for weeks now on top of having other fics/series that need updates/research/outlining/ect for. That's not mentioning that I've gone though no less than twenty versions of what I plan on happening in this chapter and later ones. So please, no complaining. That said, thanks so incredibly much for all the reviews, recs support and patience. They've kept me fighting with this story even when I've been ready to just chuck it to the side.
And speaking of sides, a side note. I'm altering the timeline of Bleach a little bit later in the story because, as much as I am an avid reader of the manga (I'm currently waiting with baited breath to see just what Urahara pulls out of his proverbial hat after his Big Damn Heroes moment in the most recent chapter) I like the anime and the movies too despite some, well crap, finding its way in. Trust me when I say everyone will get it later.
Now on to the next chapter. I can't promise a prompt net update but I will try. Especially because I can't wait for the fun chaos that I have planned.
Asleep he looked so young, so innocent. Well, if you looked past the bandages and faint scars and the massive sword only a few feet away. It made her wonder if Giles had ever looked at her back when she'd been Ichigo's age and felt the same. Considering what her relationship with her Watcher had once been it was very likely. For all that she'd outgrown him and for all the mistakes that both of them had made, he was still the closest she'd ever come to having a real father.
She gave herself a mental shake, like shedding water drops that clung to skin. She still loved Giles and the other Scoobies and always would in her own way but nearly a millenia of seperation followed by more mistakes in two short years than should have ever been possible had corroded an iron clad bond.
Now all that remained was a rusty and abused tie that she had decided to break herself before it snapped at the worst possible moment. But, now, standing and looking down at Kurosaki Ichigo she found herself remembering some of the good things that had come in her life before her second death. She wouldn't have traded those memories for anything and she felt something settle inside herself as she took a deep breath and made herself move on. Move on to the present and the issues before her. And there were a lot of them and none of them were exactly simple.
But then they never were. Such was life. Besides, simple was boring.
Her gaze slid away from Ichigo and to where Yoruichi stood a few feet away with the Shihōin Clan Shield propped up against one leg waiting. The Shield was important, no essential to what she had planned. The Sōkyoku, the halibard that had been created to execute any high ranking shinigami that broke the law badly enough, had been created by the Shihōin Clan. And like all uber weapons it needed to have a way to be destroyed if it had to be. And the Shield, well the Shield could do it if the seals on it were broken.
Yoruichi could have done it given a few days but her former student didn't have a few days to spend pulling apart the kido seals. No, Yoruichi had to make sure Ichigo reached bankai with the help of whatever toy it was that Kisuke had created. And while she was against the idea of Ichigo putting himself in the kind of danger that she knew would come with reaching bankai she was pragmatic and practical enough to see that it was a necessary evil. Aizen could make anyone who'd seen his shikai see and believe anything he wanted to and unfortunately she could count on one hand just how many people were free of that handicap in Soul Society.
So she was going to do what she did best, she was going to play the game by different rules. Aizen was playing by the Art of War and the Gotei 13 were playing by duty and stupidity for lack of a better way of putting it and they were also completely in the dark about just what was lurking among them. She, on the other hand, planned on playing the game by different rules, slayer rules.
"My, my, this isn't the tactic I'd thought you'd take." the twist of lips that Yoruichi had said that was only half true and she knew it. Everyone she'd once known in Soul Society knew only what she'd told them, what she'd let them see during her time among them. They'd seen Mimasaka Amaya the Catpain and head of a Noble Clan; they'd never seen the Slayer in her. Not really. And that was a good thing.
"Make sure he's ready." she let her eyes flick over to Ichigo one more time, burning the memory of the boy who was pretty much family to her because of his father into her brain before she started moving. She didn't even slow as she picked up the Shield and headed out of the cave into the darkness.
Ichigo had to be ready. They all had to be. Whether they wanted to be or not.
Her okaa-san's grave was on the far eastern side of the Mimasaka Manor, in a secluded area that she'd chosen and overseen the construction of with meticulous detail. It was a quiet place, a beautiful place. A place a peace that suited the woman who had become her mother in all ways but literal birth, though not figurative.
Birth and rebirth, death and life. It'd all started to blur around the edges a bit.
She felt the breeze ruffle her hair around her, a warm caress that brought so many memories with it as she stood before the memorial and final resting place of the woman who had changed everything about her. And then the words started flowing, the dam inside herself finally cracking.
“We're rarely only one thing, I remember you saying that. It was the day I decided to become a shinigami. It was the first time I ever called you okaa-san and....” the words 'and meant it' she didn't have it in her to say. Not ever. She sighed and tilted her head up to look at the sky for a moment before closing her eyes.
“You were right.” she let out a half hearted sound of amusement, “You were always right.” she brought her gaze back down. “I thought I was done, finished. No more getting lost and buried under all the fighting and pain and loss.” her lips twisted into something that was a parody of a smile. “I was wrong. It wasn't over, not by a long shot. They needed me and I finished it. It took a long time but I finally finished it. I'm finally free of it.” her gaze went to the Shield that was propped up on a nearby tree. “And now it looks like I picked one hell of a time to come home.”
She shifted, turned her head to look behind her to where two very familiar figures stood a little ways off. “Right in time to join the party.”
He could feel his heartbeat, his pulse inside his gut like at steady pounding of a drum. It didn't hurt, nothing did. Actually, everything felt sort of...fuzzy around the edges.
“Oh, you're awake Ichigo.” that voice, he knew that disembodied voice. Yoruichi, who wasn't a guy or a cat. He turned his head to the side “Where is this?” the question came without thought, just out of his mouth before the fuzzy feeling left and he remembered.
Yoruichi shoving her hand into his gut and everything going dark.
He was up in a flash, and crossed the distance to shove Yoruichi up against the cave wall even faster. “Why? Why did you only bring me back? I'm the one that was most likely to survive if left there. Now Ganju and Hanatarou and Rukia will be killed!"
"Don't be so full of yourself. The only person there who could have survived against Byakuya he wouldn't fight."
"You bitch!" Rukia, they should have saved Rukia. He would have been fine. He pushed Yoruichi up against the wall harder and the woman took it. At least until pain ripped though him from his stomach and he had to let her go as he bent over and began to cough. It hurt, at lot. But he'd had worse pain and him being wounded didn't change anything.
"Don't be such a child. Are you trying to reopen a wound that's only just closed?" condescending, that was the tone of voice and it only made him more pissed off.
"Carrying one person was my maximum in order to escape Byakuya for sure." escape Byakuya, ha. He was going to beat Kuchki Byakuya into the ground.
"Then why not leave me and take Rukia? If Byakuya won't fight Amaya...."
"Fool! Do you think that the amount of reatisu that you foolishly released went unnoticed? It would have only been minutes before other shinigami would have arrived. We were lucky that it was Ukitake there and not the Captain Commander." she stopped in her tracks, turning back to meet his gaze. "Of all of us only you have the potential to defeat Byakuya, that's what I believe. Not to mention that Ukitake is Rukia's commanding officer and not the type of man that would allow others to be harmed, even enemies, that were defending his subordinate. So don't worry about the others. Stay here and become stronger. Because as you are now you cannot beat Byakuya. But I can train you so that you can beat him and protect the others."
She turned, her body following her head as she faced the two figures standing under the moonlight. She'd felt them long before she'd said anything, just like she could faintly feel Kasumi across the grounds of the estate inside the manor itself. "It took you two long enough." she couldn't help the little quirk of lips, she just couldn't. It was Shiro and Shunsui, standing right there in front of her like they had the first time she'd ever laid eyes on them. Call her overly sentimental but she finally felt almost whole. For the first time in what felt like lifetimes she felt like herself again and that, well, that meant everything. Because now she was who she'd once been and something more. Now she wasn't Buffy Summers, Slayer or even Mimasaka Amaya, Captain.
She was something different now. She smiled, slow and dangerous.
Pictues and memories, day and night.
Darkness and light, fire and ice.
Past and present, honor and choice.
Night followed day and the fire was all that kept the darkness back. His vision blurred, the edges dulling because he willed it to. Because the sharpness cut at him. Amaya, the day, the sun, the bright shining light. He had been so young and she had seemed so much brighter than anything or one he'd ever seen. But then the day had ended and the night had come, his Hisana. The moon in his sky. But the moon was the moon and it did not always stay full, it waxed and waned and went dark. The moon was not the moon without the stars and that was what they were, Hisana and Rukia. That was who they were to one another even if they never saw it. The moon couldn't be whole without it's stars.
The moon couldn't ever be his, it never had been.
And then the moon had gone and he had been left in darkness searching for light. He'd found it five years after the moon had gone. Only Rukia wasn't a star, and never had been, only Hisana had not known it. The stars need the moon but fire, fire needs only to be allowed to burn. And that's what Rukia really was. She was his fire in the dark, his light and the only warmth left.
But day follows night and the sun was back. Bright and shining and harsh. The sun could burn just like fire, only the fire was sputtering, about to die.
His vision stopped blurring, all the sharp edges coming back.
Sunlight and fire, honor and duty.
Two promises made and a choice that made him burn.
“You look good.” that deep resonant rumble, the one that had reminded her of chocolate and laughter and rainy nights and big bears and so so many other things. Shunsui's voice had always been her favorite voice of anyone anywhere, a voice that just made her want to melt into safe, if sometimes highly annoyed, comfort. Home was that voice just like home was something from everyone she had come to value more than her own life.
And her home, her family was being threatened which meant that she was more than willing to take the metaphorical gloves off and fight dirty if she had to. “Yeah, I'm pretty spry for a corpse.” dark humor, at least to herself. She remembered when she'd said the exact same thing to Giles, only this time she did find it funny.
She shrugged but didn't say anything in response to Shiro's question. It really wasn't the time to discuss her very strange and complicated relationship with dying. There were more important things to discuss. She looked at oth of them, letting her eyes says all that she couldn't afford to say out loud until later. And she saw it reflected back at her. All their shared past, all their questions, all of everything and she gave a slight nod. And that was all there was to it. Talk would come later.
She glanced over at the Shield and then back at the two men who had become the older brothers she'd never had. “You have two choices. One of them will end in something you regret.”
****reviews are love and serve as a nice kick in my bum to get working on the next chapter.
Update 6/3/2010-Due to something coming up very suddenly at work that will have me not only out of town but incredibly swamped I won't have the time to update any of my fics until sometime late in August. I'm sorry about it and beg for everyone's patience but unfortunately work has to come first. In the mean time I hope everyone has a nice couple of months and with any luck when I get back I will be able to finish off a couple of outstanding fics as well as possibly start a new series.