Disclaimer: see chapter one.
A/N: Thanks so incredibly much for all the reviews. I tried to get back to everyone but I don't think I made it. Sorry. Anyhoo, new chapter and new fun. Hopefully it makes up for the lack of responses.
I'm not completely happy with it because Byakuya is a pain to write but here it is.
A picture of sakura floating in the wind, each blossom done with the greatest attention to detail. Each blossom different and yet perfect in their own fashion. A hand drawn sketch done on a bright afternoon so long ago. And he remembered every moment with perfect clarity, every sound and sight. The sound of her voice, the smell of rain and earth that never left her. The way she smiled when she finished the picture.
“I love to watch them. Every single one is different and none of them ever follow the exact same path as they get caught in the wind.” her smile had been small but so bright, so serene and content. “Like people. Some get caught in the wind of life.” she pointed with one delicate hand at a lone blossom that did not flow in the direction of the others. “And some find their own wind and go their own path no matter what.”
His eyes trailed over the picture, to the lone blossom fighting its way on its own path. A million times he had gazed at it, a million times he had remembered that day. The last time he'd seen her. She'd smiled and laughed in the sunlight and then she'd left. Returned to her duties and responsibilities.
Three days later she'd vanished without a trace.
Amaya, with her bright smiles and carefree laughter and endless life had disappeared and left him alone and young and without the woman who had taken his naïve heart. Who had left him hollow until Hisana.
His heart had only loved two. One promised and stolen, the other treasured and lost. Their memories, their last words still haunted him.
“Eh Amaya-san?” she glanced over to where Kisuke and Yoruichi were sitting, her mind snapping back to their conversation from her own thoughts. “Um, what?” she'd been zoning out, her mind not on the rescue mission they were going to be leaving for but on Dawn and the implications her sister brought to things.
“My, my, you're distracted.” the jovial tone Kisuke used something she recognized now. He used it like a shield the same way she used her own 'quirky' personality to hide behind. “You're not worried about rescuing Kuchiki-san are you?”
Her eyes immediately went wide at the name as her brain registered it. “Kuchiki?” the implications were, well, her brain was stalling.
“Kuchiki Rukia.” Yoruichi's voice held all the implications in it. “You didn't know.”
Well that was an understatement of epic proportions. “No, I didn't know!” oh just great, she sounded panicked even to herself. Rescuing a random shinigami was one thing, getting involved with a member of the Kuchiki house was massively another.
“Kuchiki Rukia, the adopted sister of Kuchiki Byakuya.” Yoruichi's words hit her like the Captain Commander's reatisu once had and if she hadn't already been sitting she probably would have been on her butt anyway. Her brain started to work a mile a minute. Byakuya's sister? Adopted sister. He hadn't had an adopted sister when she'd left Soul Society. But then a lot could change in two hundred years.
A whole hell of a lot.
Kuchiki Byakuya, she hadn't even thought of him in more than the abstract really since she'd crawled out of her own grave. He'd been part of the package that being the head of the Mimasaka house came with. An arranged marriage. A person she'd known and not disliked but not someone she was close to. They were just too far apart. She'd been a Captain and the head of her house and he'd still been learning the ropes of what one day leading his own house would mean.
“....force you to go.” her brain focused and the words registered. A choice. Stay in the real world or go to Soul Society. She had a hundred reasons to not go even without knowing exactly who they would be saving but she has a hundred reason to go too.
And she had a debt to settle. Ichigo had saved Dawn, saved the most important person in the world to her. She'd help him save Kuchiki Rukia even if she knew for a fact that it was going to bite her in the ass now. “I'm going.” she didn't bother with anything else. Didn't bother because it didn't matter. Kuchiki Byakuya had been part of something she'd already let go of in her mind. She hadn't buried all of who she'd once been but she had buried that. She was still Mimasaka Amaya, daughter of Mimasaka Michiko but she wasn't the head of the clan any more. Being her mother's daughter, both of her mothers's daughter, wasn't about titles it was about heart and love and soul and she still held on to that. She'd been blessed with not one but two wonderful women as mothers in her life and neither one would have wanted her to let someone else die.
Even if the identity of that someone would cause her no end of potential personal trouble. A life was a life. The past and drama were exactly what they sounded like.
She stood up, the feel of her uniform an odd comfort even with her haori tucked away and not worn, and headed for the front door. She needed air. She needed space. She needed to get her mind straight before Ichigo and the others showed up and they had to leave. She didn't say anything as she slipped outside and found a spot to lean against on the wall.
Right, so going back to Soul Society. Going back with her reatisu at half strength and without being able to reach her bankai. Going back with her very human sister and body still in the real world. Going back after being gone for over two centuries. Going back....just going back.
She shook her head. Well at least it wasn't an apocalypse. Though an apocalypse she could handle. She could handle this too. If she could stop the end of the world and change the destinies of all the potentials then she could face her past. All of her past. She could.
Didn't mean she was jumping for joy over it though.
“Amaya-san.” she looked up to see Sado standing there and had to give herself a mental head shake. The teenager was huge but freakishly quiet. Not a bad thing per se but really unusual for someone his age. And a serious testament to her need to get focused because he'd managed to surpise her. She took a deep breath and let it all fall away. None of it mattered as much as the moment she was in.
She gave him a nod and he sat down on the crate a few feet from her, seemingly content not to chat. Which she was fine with really. Sometimes silence was preferable to sound, especially when you were about to knowingly go into a fight. She let out a deep breath and shifted some to keep Areno Ame from digging into her back, perfectly content to wait and get herself into the right mental state.
She was pretty much gonna be walking into a complete craptastic situation one way or another so she might as well not worry about it until she had to. Worry never did any good any way. It didn't change what would come just like brooding wouldn't either. Life didn't stop no matter what you did or even if you were there. She was living proof of that.
She heard Kisuke and Yoruichi slip outside to join them and looked over at Kisuke. His eyes were shadowed by his hat from the light from the lamp posts but it didn't matter, slayers had better vision than even shinigami. His eyes were serious, the words not needing to be spoken. He knew who she'd been and she could tell he knew that she'd do everything in her power to keep the others alive. But there was caution there too, like he knew just what they were about to walk into and she was sure he did. Kisuke might pretend to be a lighthearted joker but he had the mind of a genius. She wasn't a genius the way he was but she knew how to handle life and death situations and she wasn't nearly as stupid as she let people think she was.
She gave him a nod and turned her gaze back to the open space in front of the shop just in time to see Ichigo come into view. “Hey Kurosaki-san. Right on time, well done, well done.” Kisuke had put his mask back on it seemed but she wasn't looking at him. She was looking at Ichigo. “Chad?” she wasn't surprised that Ichigo noticed Sado first, the teenager was a freakin mountain and compared to him she was tiny. “Why are you here?”
“I was once rescued by Kuchiki Rukia. I'm going too.” not just a mountain but very straight to the point. She kinda liked that about him. No crap, just to the point. It made her chuckle.
Which was when Ichigo seemed to notice her. His hand immediately went up to point at her. “What the hell? You're a shinigami?”
She let the former Captain in herself come out, like slipping on a comfortable pair of socks. “If you want to live through this kid you might want to start using that brain of yours.” he just gaped at her which just made her sigh and shake her head. “You didn't wonder why a hollow attacked my sister and I did you? Didn't think we might have reatisu that it could feed off of?” she pushed herself off the wall and crossed her arms over her chest. “Dumbass.”
He was still pointing at her and gaping, her words not looking like they were sinking in. “Wha-wha-what?”
“What you haven't heard?” she glanced behind Ichigo to see a tall thin kid with dark hair and and square glasses wearing an outfit she knew the designs of. A sort of modern take on the traditional Quincy style. So this was Ryūken's son. She smirked. So it looked like the son had the same kind of friendship with Ichigo that their father's had.
Which reminded her eerily of how Spike and Xander had interacted.
“Ishida?” Ichigo looked like he was going into shock overload or maybe just over dramatic teenager mode. Which brought back some memories for her of days very long gone by. “We can't stay beaten by those shinigami. I'm going.” she smirked at that, Quincy pride indeed. Like fathers, like sons.
“Now everyone's here I see.” she looked over to where Inoue was approaching from the side and smiled. She liked Inoue a lot. The girl had spunk and reminded her a lot of Willow when they'd been teenagers before everything had gone wrong. “Hi Amaya-san!” Inoue waved and she felt her smile grow. At least Inoue had taken her advice and picked comfortable clothes. “Hey Inoue.” she started to walk over to the red head.
“Inoue? Amaya-san?” Ichigo sounded like Isshin used to when Kasumi would punt him around, half stupid and more than a little off balance. “Hey! Hold on! What's going on? What is this?” yep maybe more than half stupid. Kinda like a puppy. What was the expression? Puppy dumb? That sounded about right.
“Just your ordinary bad guys.” that made her snort as she took up a spot next to Inoue. Yeah they were gonna be the big bad in the eyes of the Gotie 13 but then she'd figured out that being the big bad was a relative thing.
“Yourichi-san.” Inoue had clearly taken to Yoruichi, apparently the ability to change into a cat at will didn't just serve to hide when needed but also made people think you were cute and cuddly. And Yoruichi was about as cute and cuddly as she was. “Brat, I won't let you say you haven't noticed an increase in power from your friends. While you were training to get back your lost shinigami powers they were training as well. So shut up and say thank you and bow your head.” well Yoruichi had clearly mastered putting people in their place in the last two hundred years.
Only it seemed to go completely over Ichigo's head. “The cat just spoke!” and there was the mental meltdown. Inoue reached down and picked up Yoruichi, her actions clearly contradicting her words as she cuddled the former head of a noble family and Captain. “It's not a cat, it's Yoruichi.”
“It is a bit scary.” oh so a talking cat had thrown Ishida too. That made her chuckle. There were stranger things than a talking cat. Two words...singing demon.
“There, there, that'll do it.” Kisuke clapped his hands to get their attention. “Stop talking outside and please come in.” she just kept chuckling as Ichigo kept having a melt down and headed back inside. Teenagers.
It took a few minutes to get everyone inside but by that time she was already on her way down the ladder into the underground training room. She went first, Kisuke making the grand gentleman gesture for her to go ahead of him. Where as the teenagers all climbed down the slow way, she just held onto the outsides of the ladder and let herself slip down knowing that she could handle it. Her reatisu was still too damaged for her old level of shumpo but another day or so and it would right back to where it'd been before. Which meant that Yoruichi would still be able to beat her but she didn't know of anyone who could beat her former student.
She stood waiting for the others to climb down, leaning against one of the boulders and letting her body relax because she knew she wasn't gonna get to do it again until after they got back to the real world. Part of her brain was very realistic about what they were about to do. That there was a good chance that they were about to walk into a suicide mission and oddly enough she wasn't worried about that at all. Most people were afraid of death. She hadn't been in a very very long time though and she knew Isshin would take care of Dawn like one of his own daughters. She was even pretty sure Kisuke would keep an eye on Dawn too. Kisuke might have changed a lot from the person she'd once known but she didn't doubt his sense of loyalty for a second.
It took twenty minutes for everyone to just get down the ladder and gathered together again and when Inoue went all bubbly over the training room and Tessai had a moment of pure glee about it she laughed. Real laughter was a rare thing under the circumstance and she was as willing to indulge in it as much as she could.
“Hey, hey.” Kisuke clapped his hands again like he was wrangling teenagers and he sort of was. Of the six of them going only she and Yoruichi were adults. Which was gonna be such a barrel of fun.
Note the sarcasm.
Gods she was turning into the Giles figure. It almost made her want to go kamikaze on their mission. Almost.
“Your attention again please. Then here we go.” Kisuke raised his hand and snapped his fingers and suddenly the senkaimon appeared. Well talk about being overly dramatic and flashy, she hadn't realized Kisuke was a showman. “This is the gate that leads to Soul Society.” she began to tune him out as he explained the details of how he'd tweaked the gate to allow the humans of their group through. Though she did laugh right along with Kisuke when he knocked Ichigo's soul out of his body. Watching the teenagers over react was just funny.
She waited for Kisuke to give the teenagers the same warning he'd given her before about the four minute time limit to get through the....well it was more like a void than anything to her, between the two 'worlds'. If you got stuck there you were toast, forever trapped. If they had hell butterflies then it wouldn't have been an issue, the little black beauties were designed the same way noble families' individual keys were, and allowed you unlimited time to get through.
But they weren't taking the traditional way into Soul Society. They weren't walking through the front door, they were tunneling in like a bunch of thieves in a cheesie old movie. The teenagers looked a bit worried and they were right to be. Not just about going through the gate with a time limit but because they were going to be strolling into a fight. Not one of them was equal to a Captain and she doubted that any of them had the skill to take on a seated officer and come out completely unscathed.
But you learned by doing. By facing others stronger than you and learning and surviving. Battle wasn't something you could teach, it was something you had to do to learn about. No warrior had ever been made by reading a book. Not even herself. She'd been given the ability to fight but the knowledge of how to survive she'd had to earn in combat. The four teenagers would have to do the same. It was a harsh lesson but she'd never found any lessons worth learning that weren't hard.
“What should we do?” Inoue sounded almost afraid.
“Step forward.” she pushed herself off the rock and started to move like Yoruichi to the gate. “If you believe you can do this with everything you are then you will. But if you don't stay here. You've only got two options; doubt and stay or believe and win.” she stood next to Yoruichi, an odd sight she was betting before their charges.
“I will be your guide.” yes, Yoruichi would be the guide. She knew Soul Society but not the current one and she knew where her liabilities lay. You don't survive if you don't. And she wasn't willing to let the kids die. Learn the hard way, yes. Die, big no.
Ichigo was the first to step forward. “What useless crap are you babbling about? Isn't that why we're here?”
“You realize that if you lose you'll die.”
“Then all I have to do is win right?” well Ichigo seemed to understand the basics at least. Loss equaled death. Anything bigger than that though she had the feeling she was going to have to beat into his head.
“Are you ready?” she glanced over at Kisuke and gave a faint nod as she felt the others step up behind herself and Yoruichi.
“Well here goes nothing.” she tensed her muscles in anticipation. Win or lose she'd already chosen her course.
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