Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
Many people have never been to Hueco Mundo, but it doesn’t take very long to describe. It’s a desert. It’s always night. And there is sand. A lot of sand. A few, weird crystalline trees pop up here and there, and they’re surrounded by sand. The night is clear. There isn’t much water and it’s hotter than a sauna and drier than Ikkaku’s hair after a shower. Most importantly, it is always the same everywhere you go.
That’s why I don’t understand how both Ishida-kun and I missed the mist. Well, he was wearing glasses so maybe he saw differently from me. I dunno. Still. When we first left the tower and the others, the landscape was flat and it seemed as though we could see an infinite number of sand ahead. Bit by bit, though, the horizon crawled further away from us, and we never gave this any heed—he was too intent on moving ahead and I was too intent on going back to help Kurosaki-kun. Clouds of obfuscating steam crawled beside us, behind us, ahead of us, and eventually all around us us, but our minds were too focused to care about that external craziness.
“Ishida-kun, we should go back,” I argued again, still not aware of a change in the air around us. “Karakura is in severe danger. Aizen is attacking our town!
And Ishida finally stopped. And I was happy. Overjoyed like that time I proved to Tatsuki that Santa Claus was real.
Patiently, I watched his back. Wait, when did his back become so murky? It was then I noticed how much my eyes were straining just to see him. Great, I thought, it seemed I needed a pair of glasses, too.
“I can’t see,” he announced to me, sounding surprised.
Huh? He was blind?
He turned around and faced me. His glasses were fogged and, as a result, useless. Oh. He took them off and wiped the lens on his coat, but his glasses became fogged up again by the time he put them back on. I wasn’t serious about him seeing differently from me but it was actually true.
The desert, so dry before, was suddenly so wet I felt like I had just stepped out of a cold shower (and not the good kind of cold shower). I said I had trouble seeing Ishida-kun? Well, I did. But at least I could see him. Anything else was beyond me; a wet, cool mist that made it impossible to see more than a few metres ahead had enveloped the two of us. Where did the dark sky go? The sand dunes? Why was the world suddenly so grey?
It was all mist.
“What is this?” I asked Ishida-kun, frightened. He was so smart. He should know the answer.
I leaned closer to him, trying to get away from the misty surroundings. His white clothing blended into the background too much, I noted with a little distaste.
“I don’t know, but we need to get out of this mist. Fast.”
His answer was good enough. I stuck close to him.
Travelling with Ishida for so many hours, I didn’t really notice how strong he was. I was so mad at myself for failing Kurosaki-kun that I hadn’t realized how secure I felt in Ishida’s presence. Funny. I was incredibly scared as a captive, so why didn’t I notice how safe I felt when I was with Ishida-kun? Apparently, it’s not easy to appreciate safety until it’s stripped away from you. Kind of like microwaves...Yes, I think I was getting hungry by then.
I was glad to have Ishida around in this situation. He was a beacon of awesome, a comrade in the mists. He liked to pretend he didn’t care about the world but, like Kurosaki-kun, it was only an act. Most would fall for his deception, but no me. It was natural to feel safe around him, I concluded.
But the mists took away from that sense of safety. Something about them jarred me. Jarred both of us. It was not only my sight that was restricted. All my senses were hampered. The vapour of the cloudy murk obstructed my nose and I could barely smell. My ears were nearly submerged in water, the mist was so dense, and hearing Ishida-kun became difficult—to the point that we both practically needed to shout at each other.
“There’s no reiatsu that I can draw from,” observed Ishida, alarmed. I was alarmed by this, too. “I can’t sense any spiritual pressure!”
Because the same thing happened to me. My ability to detect spiritual pressure disappeared. Completely. I could sense no reiatsu. Not from Ishida or...or, well, anywhere! I was hesitant to try using my powers, fearing my abilities may have vanished. Tensely, I reached for my power and felt a glimmer of strength, if weaker than normal. What sort of mist was this that it could diminish life itself so?
As it was, Ishida was defenceless and I was mostly useless because my powers were so weak. Looking out into the mists, the situation appeared hopeless. Anything could be out there and I doubted we could handle any threats.
“We need to stay very close,” I suddenly said to Ishida-kun, reaching for his hand.
He grabbed it. “Yes.” And then his eyes squinted on me. He had given up on wearing his glasses. “Don’t let go.” Being so close to him, I could see how handsome he was. I decided he should get contacts right then. “I mean it, Inoue, don’t let go!"
I wouldn’t dream of it.
The mist was unnatural. It was too thick, too heavy, and all too eerie. Mist normally appears in cold air above bodies of water (yes, I do study every night); it shouldn’t have been in a desert. Then again, I wasn’t certain we were still in Hueco Mundo.
Inside the mists’ hazy confines, I could not pinpoint how I felt. One second, I thought the mist was making me feel afraid. Then adventurous. Then sad. Then jubilant. There was no logic behind the shifts in my emotions brought about by the mists, but it certainly made me uncomfortable; this was like being Ulquiorra’s prisoner, but worse. Occasionally, I found comfort in the swirling mists for a second, and I felt most disturbed whenever this happened. Tricked, manipulated, taken advantage of. It shouldn’t have been able to twist my heart without my consent.
Fortunately, Ishida-kun was there. His warm hand kept me sane, kept me going. In the barren nothingness of the mist, he reminded me that life existed. Having that other person around can help you a lot more than you might think.
Still, we desperately needed to get out of this mist. Our supplies were limited and we were needed elsewhere.
“Are we still in Hueco Mundo?” Ishida had asked me and not for the first time since the mist swept us into its clutches
He was wondering the same thing as I. While the desert was relentless with its heat and oppressive terror, the mists were cool, almost cold, and the air was murky. The sand, seemingly endless in Hueco Mundo, was no longer under our feet; we walked on solid and slippery ground now. I slipped a lot, in the beginning, but Ishida kept me on my feet. The one time he almost fell, I was there to help him, too (that was nice helpful of revenge, heh). Anyway, I had no idea where we were but it did not seem to be Hueco Mundo.
So where were we? I almost wished we still were in Hueco Mundo. At least there, we knew how to get home, and Kurosaki-kun was around the corner.
“Kurosaki-kun would know what to do,” I proclaimed suddenly, feeling giddy. Yes, he would get that funny frown and think of the right solution!
He always did, even if he had no idea what he was doing. I knew that didn’t make much sense, yet it was true. Kurosaki-kun was a hero, even though he used to try hiding that fact. I wished dearly that he was with us then.
Ishida eyed me warily, tightening his grip on my hand. “Would he?” He sounded sceptical and, all of a sudden, he couldn’t look at me. “I think you could think of something to get us out of here, Inoue-san.”
The mists around us deepened and I didn’t know what to say. Really, what could I do? Besides, I just did think of something, that Kurosaki-kun could think of something. How much more could this guy ask for from me?
"He’ll save us,” I declared, peering into the mists. They seemed to grow thicker under my gaze.
Like he saved me from Ulquiorra. Only, it was the man holding my hand now that had rescued me from that...that monster. I wasn’t sure what Ulquiorra was, but I didn’t like him.
“Why do we need him to? You could do something with your abilities, Inoue-san.”
The mists floated innocently around us.
“He’ll save us,” I repeated more firmly and received no argument.
The mists watched us move on.
I felt more than a little scared. If Kurosaki-kun didn’t save me, what could I do? I had been relying on him so much that I was helpless without him.
I glanced at Ishida-kun.
He would try to save me, I knew. However, his powers were gone for the moment and they probably wouldn’t be back for at least a week. I would have to be the one to see us out of this. I would have to change. And I didn’t believe I could do that. Change scared me.
My eyes drooped and I shivered. We’d been walking for hours in this mist. How could it only be getting thicker? Were we only walking in circles? It was impossible to tell. My eyelids became heavier.
I sat down and so did Ishida, putting his back against mine. We just needed to rest.
Kurosaki-kun didn’t love me. Karakura and all my friends there were in imminent danger. I wasn’t strong enough. We were lost. I was hungry. Ishida’s hand was slipping out of mine. I couldn’t sleep when I wanted nothing more than to drift away with these hazy drifts of air.
But I was sure I could keep my eyes open for one more second...
“Inoue… Inoue… Inoue…”
I heard a voice that night and it woke me. The voice sounded muffled but I would recognize that voice anywhere, even in the middle of a mysterious mist.
In the middle of the night, my knight was there to save me at last.
By the way, I call it night but there was no way to determine whether it was night or day in the mist.
“Inoue...Inoue...Inoue...” Kurosaki-kun called once more.
I searched desperately through the mist. I could hear him but could not see him. “Kurosaki-kun!” I yelled, “Where are you?”
“Here, Inoue-san,” I heard a shout coming from a dozen directions. It was dizzying. “Over here, Inoue. Hurry.”
Drowsy, I stood up and noticed that Ishida had vanished. I immediately worried for him.
Where had he gone? I had fallen asleep, hadn’t I? People criticized me for daydreaming too much, but I never regretted a nap more than this one. He had expected me to do something to help him and I only let him down the first chance I could.
“Wait, Kurosaki-kun, hold on,” I hesitantly moved forward. “Help!”
Yes, I moved ahead but it did not seem to do me any good. All I could see was the mist. Kurosaki-kun’s voice came from every direction and I had no idea which way to go. How could I get through the mist? I dearly wanted Ishida by my side, if only for reassurance that I wasn’t a failure. As it was, I was panicking. I was alone—I hated being alone. Again, I was reminded how much of a coward I was.
But I couldn’t afford to be a coward! Ishida was in danger!
Kurosaki-kun would rescue Ishida, I was certain, and I needed to do what I could. Thus, I got desperate. I started shouting. I slashed at the mist with Tsubaki; that didn’t work very effectively but I did it anyway. I could perish in these mists and I wouldn’t mind so much, but I wouldn’t let Ishida-kun fade away!
“Kurosaki-kun, Kurosaki-kun, Kurosaki-kun! Are you there?! Help!”
And my efforts paid off! The mist spat out the outline of a man.
A man whose voice became more distinct and louder as he ran closer toward me.
“You’re here...Kuro...” I mumbled off as the man’s face came into view.
“I am not Kurosaki,” Ishida said, “but I am here.” He held his hand out to me. What could he have been thinking?
I couldn’t look him in the eye, then. Was that because I mistook who he was? Or was it because I was, to be honest, more relieved to see him than Kurosaki-kun? I still can’t decide which of the two it really was. Both, maybe. I didn’t like either.
I couldn’t meet his gaze...but I still took his hand.
I had not been safe and then I was again.
How were we separated earlier?
Ishida-kun had his own theory. He blamed it on the mist and proceeded to glare at the mist; he didn’t blame me. Myself, I didn’t know but chose not to say that it was probably my fault.
Honestly, I was more concerned about my feelings. Why was I so pleased to see Ishida-kun then? Why did I grip his hand harder than ever? I loved Kurosaki-kun. I knew that much. I’d love him in five different lives; I swore to myself. I felt like I had just betrayed Kurosaki-kun, as well as myself. But why did I feel that way?
“I’m a coward,” I said bluntly.
“A coward?! Nonsense!” Hot air from Ishida’s breath smacked into me as he vehemently rejected my self-dejection. “What are you talking about, Inoue?”
I figured I might as well tell this much to him. I could trust him—don’t ask how I knew, but I knew. “I’m not brave like you, Ishida-kun.”
“W-what? Where did this come from? You’re much braver than I am!”
“I’m a coward. I can’t even help those I care for.”
“Inoue-san, you let yourself get captured for our sakes. How is that not brave? Also,” he added, “don’t forget how you saved us earlier when we were separated! That was only a few minutes ago!”
I met his eyes. Really, he looked much better without the glasses.
“I was scared that entire time. I had no idea what I was doing.”
“But you helped us anyway.”
“What difference does that make?”
“Everything,” he replied with a smile.
Why? Why were his words convincing me that I might be brave? That I had done nothing wrong with my nap? Why was I suddenly feeling so confident? So happy? I let myself be captured for no reason: I had not killed Aizen. I didn’t deserve this. How was Ishida changing me? How, and why?
Why did I smile back at him?
Walking through the mists, we became entranced by the swirling haze and lost track of time (Ishida’s watch had stopped working long before). All we could do was talk and stay close to each other.
We were very close the whole time.
“Do you think we’re in some kind of afterlife?” Ishida asked me. “Uh, I mean, outside from Soul Society and Hueco Mundo.”
Our hands were entwined. Even his fingers were warm. Even his fingernails felt nice.
I could sense his shoulders moving as he cocked his head to the side. “Why not?”
“Because we’d either end up in Hueco Mundo or Soul Society if we died, of course. It’s pretty simple.”I nodded to myself, confident in my answer.
I think we were bored and that’s why Ishida continued talking:
“Really, Inoue, I think there is somewhere else. I thought about it a lot. You know how I can eliminate a person’s souls with my Quincy Powers?”
And I was getting bored, too. “Yep.”
“Well, where do those souls go?”
“Oblivion. And I have never seen a place more apt for the word oblivion than this world of nothings and mist. We’re nowhere."
“Nope, it isn’t. We’re here so it must be somewhere and not nowhere at all.”
Ah, but maybe I wasn’t only bored. Something else was on my mind. We were dancing away from the issue, I could tell. Our hands were sweating.
“But, but…you know my Quincy powers are useless here. There’s no reiatsu around.”
“You’ll get your powers back and we’ll be all right. I think.”
I really did think that, actually. For whatever reason, I was feeling less afraid of this mist as time went on.
This was probably the turning point.
“And you don’t think you’re brave,” he commented, smirking.
Okay, I snapped. Pent-up emotions found their way out. Looking back, it was bound to happen. Or I like to think it was destined.
“Really, Ishida-kun, I’m not. I’ve only felt safe here because of you.”
Yes, I didn’t think I found that little boost of courage and self-confidence on my own. I only had it because of Ishida. I believed what I had gained would vanish along with him if he ever left me.
For his part, he seemed confused.
“It’s you,” I got closer to his obscured form. Not that I could get much closer to him. “You’re the brave one. I was only able to act strong because of you.”
There, I said it again, albeit indirectly: I was weak. Had I ever been strong?
“What? No, it’s been the other way around,” he contradicted me without hesitation. “Not that I’ve been scared,” he muttered in his manly defence.
For my part, I was definitely confused.
“Huh?” I stumbled.
“Uh, um,” and so did he.
We were very close.
“Then, which of us is...” I trailed off because he was looking at me.
Yes, it didn’t matter which of us was the stronger one.
My heart pulsed. Our hands were still one and I can’t remember when we started holding them, but I knew I wasn’t going to let go any time soon.
Could I change this much? Could I let go of Kurosaki-kun and hold on to Ishida?
Our faces were close. Very close. It reminded me a night not so long before when my nose almost touched Kurosaki-kun’s. This time, though, Ishida’s narrow nose near my own. Also, it was not only I moving for closer proximity; as one, we moved to break the barrier between us. Our lips almost touched.
That close to Ishida, I could finally see him clearly. His figure, so blurred in the mist, was easy to see in crisp detail from this short distance. His countenance, especially, was gaining more and more vivid detail. Our warm breath, mine against his and his against mine, burned away any remaining mist between us. He was getting clearer as my thoughts went away. Very clear.
My feelings for him were becoming clear. I knew what our mouths were about to do and I did nothing to stop it and everything to make certain we kissed.
I could change and let go.
Did I love him? I didn’t know then, but believed I would after the inevitable happened. My true emotions would reveal themselves, just as my vision returned and I could see the entire world around Ishida. All was becoming clear. His eyes, his body, his surroundings…
“Ishida!” I had exclaimed, my eyes widening, “The mist is going away!”
Just as we had ample reason not to notice the mists sweeping around us, we had a good excuse to take a moment to realize it was fading away.
He didn’t reply to me. He only looked at me, expectant. I then remembered our situation, and soon enough any thoughts about mist left my mind.
Disperse from the Mists