Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. Here's my entry for the contest over at ishi_ichi . This thing wore me out and I have to thank kiyala
so much for the last minute encouragement.
This is shounen ai, sort of a little adventure story, mostly Ishida. No sex, rated R for language and violence.
Disclaimer: Kubo Tite created Bleach. He, Perriot Studios, Shueisha, and Viz own the copyrights, but we fangirls own Ichigo and Ishida’s very souls.
Description: R. Written for the IshiIchi fiction contest 2007 at Live Journal. The prompt was “cold weather.” A little Urahara, Hollow Ichigo, not enough sex (none really), angst but with shounen ai of the sweetest kind so please don’t think I’ve written yet another death-rape-arrgh!fic.
Warnings: language, violence, no sex (sorry), some Hueco Mundo Arc spoilers.
What's gone and what's past help
Should be past grief.
~ William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale
“Your methods are… questionable.” Ishida jutted out his chin and tried to look confrontational. He slipped his fingertips into his back-pockets to give his hostile stance some leverage. “You put the hougyoku in Kuchiki-san.”
“Aizen told everyone. He said you tried to hide the hougyoku by trying to turn her human.”
“Yes, yes, that’s right.” Under the shadow of his hat brim, Urahara’s eyelashes were batting in all-innocence. “Sousuke was never was one for grandstanding. Not like him, really, to blab that all out.”
“My point is--” Ishida let out an impatient huff. “You’re not above … violating peoples’ bodies without their knowing.” He narrowed his eyes. “Tell me, what did you do to Kurosaki?”
“What did I do to him? I had no hand in training him for the Winter War… hmm, violating peoples’ bodies--that’s a rather extreme way of putting it.”
Urahara still spoke of “the Winter War” to refer to some future confrontation between Aizen and Soul Society even though January had come and gone, snow had melted around the yellow crocuses, and now icicles hung from flowering plum trees.
“Ishida-kun, do you know this shrub?” Urahara bent over to finger a bright red flower on a spiny stem. “Iwai nishiki. Known as Japanese Quince in the far world. The fruit tastes terrible, but Tessai is fond of it.”
Ishida startled at the name. Quince just meant five. There were smatterings of those five-petaled red blooms in gardens everywhere--soccer field hedges, Ryuuken’s front yard. Why did every word from Urahara’s mouth seem weighed with significance? What did the mysterious shopkeeper know?
Whatever he knew, he never answered direct questions. “What did you do to Kurosaki?” Ishida repeated.
“A bright young man like Kurosaki needs to figure out that he is the master of his own destiny. Otherwise, someone else will take charge.” Urahara wagged his finger as if scolding Ishida. “Don’t you think Kurosaki-san is a bright young man?”
The question was disarming. Ishida wanted to say no but he didn’t want to insult the person he wanted to defend.
“I know you miss him,” Urahara continued and Ishida blushed. “If anyone should have faith in our Substitute Shinigami, it should be you. You followed him to Hueco Mundo and--”
“Don’t change the subject.” Ishida pulled his hands out of his pockets and curled them into limp fists. “We discovered in Hueco Mundo that Kurosaki has a Hollow inside him. Aizen didn’t put it there, Kurotsuchi didn’t….” Ishida couldn’t help an involuntary shudder. “Kurotsuchi couldn’t have put it in there. The only one with access and means and sheer audacity--”
“Ishida-kun! Are you saying that I deliberately arranged the rescue of Inoue-san so that Kurosaki could get stronger? So he could fall under the tutelage of Aizen Sousuke? Why would anyone want such a power on Aizen’s side?”
Ishida shook his head. “It’s not that.”
The rescue mission had seemed difficult but do-able at first. The quick fall of Sado and then Kuchiki-san darkened Ishida’s spirits but couldn’t dent his determination. Then the Eighth Espada unveiled those perverse powers and a sense of defeat had infested Ishida. Swarming his thoughts like Kurotsuchi’s invisible bacteria. A bitter metallic taste running from his tongue to the pit of his insides.
Urahara knows what Kurosaki is. He knows something, maybe everything, but he can’t bring Kurosaki back….
Szayel-Aporro Grantz aside, the most disturbing thing in Hueco Mundo had been the noise of Kurosaki’s morphing reiatsu roaring through the atmosphere.
“I sent your captain rescuers through the Garganta,” Urahara offered in his own defense. “We got the girl back, didn’t we?”
But not Kurosaki.
“Ishida-kun, blaming me does no good.” Urahara put his hand on Ishida’s shoulder, and the condescending touch irked. “We’re all looking for enemies. Within ourselves, without ourselves. But unless you’re willing to fight me here and now, this accusing--whatever you’re accusing me of…is just so much wasted energy….”
Urahara’s palm pushed Ishida gently forward, and the two walked through the garden. Urahara’s free hand was twirling a blossom--not one of those quince things. Ishida didn’t know the name of it, and he hadn’t seen Urahara pick it. The tiny snow-colored flower spun like a pinwheel between the mysterious shopkeeper’s fingers.
“Um… did you tell your father you were coming here?”
It intrigued Ishida that even Urahara was made nervous by Ryuuken.
“He doesn’t care. Beyond calling the whole Hueco Mundo mission a fiasco, he hasn’t said a word about my associating or not associating with Shini--”
“That’s good, that’s good. Listen to your father, now. He’s the only one who can prepare you for what you have to face in the Winter War.”
Ishida hadn’t been prepared for Hueco Mundo. He knew this now. He’d lost himself in that Hollow world. Even Inoue-san’s healing hadn’t restored him.
Well, she’d gotten rid of the pain and Mayuri’s bugs; she’d put back together the broken pieces inside him; but coming to consciousness under a dome of soft gold light, he’d seen her spread palms, then the bodice of that dress--that awful dress that made her look so pretty but was the enemy’s clothing--then a face full of concern for….
It had been at that moment that Ishida realized Kurosaki was gone. Not among the survivors in the Living World. Still in Hueco Mundo. Not Kurosaki anymore. A Hollow and a raging monster allied with Aizen.
“Most enemies are personal, faceless--but you’ll serve your friend Kurosaki-san best if you worry less about unanswerable questions and more about how you’re going to defeat your first opponent in the Winter War….”
Ishida shrugged off Urahara’s touch. “And what if that opponent is Kurosaki?”
Urahara’s mouth was an unexpressive line. His eyes were in complete shadow so Ishida couldn’t read them.
“I’m not your sensei.” Urahara’s voice was solemn. “What would your father tell you to do?”
Shoot to destroy. In Ryuuken’s strategy, one didn’t tell a defeated opponent to “weep and apologize.” An enemy spared could rise up to become the vanquisher.
“I’m not your sensei, but I can encourage you to have faith that Kurosaki simply will not let himself become your opponent…. However….”
The garden felt suddenly cold. Ishida and Urahara had walked out of the sunshine to stand under the shadow of a giant maple.
“If Kurosaki’s Hollow force were to threaten your life or the lives of those you’ve sworn to protect….”
Ishida’s gaze rose through the frost-covered branches of the leafless tree.
“… You should kill it.”
The coldest weather always came after a few warm days. Ishida figured that this was because the body was accustoming itself to the relief of spring.
He felt around the bed for the pajama top he’d discarded before falling asleep. It had been a muggy evening. He’d been worn out from training with Ryuuken under the hospital.
The top was still damp because he’d put it on after taking a shower.
“Fuck,” Ishida said in a listless voice. He balled the shirt up and pitched it lightly across the room. It was time to forego frugality and turn on the space heater.
But he was too cold for that. He was too cold to get out of bed to get a sweater so he pulled the covers closer around his shoulders.
Ice, nothing but ice inside his skull and under his teeth….
And in the pit of his heart.
Ishida told himself that if there was any emotion in him at all, it had been put under a temporary deep freeze until the fighting was over. Ryuuken was right--there was no time for fear, hate, love, even quiet reflection during war.
“Ishida,” said the memory of Kurosaki who wanted nothing else but to charge ahead toward Las Noches. “You’re full of shit. We don’t have time to stop and analyze everything.”
No time for grief.
Why am I remembering his goofy face? Go back to sleep.
Ishida wouldn’t have had half the stamina he’d managed in Hueco Mundo if he’d been worrying about Inoue-san every step of the way. If she was being tortured, if she was lonely….
Ishida shuddered and willed himself still. It was …un-Quincy-like to tremble, even alone in the cold.
It was no time to be worried about whether Kurosaki was brainwashed by Aizen, whether Kurosaki was still operating as an ally to Soul Society and a protector of Karakura Town….
Go to sleep.
But it was too cold.
Wrapped in a blanket but trying to move as regally as if he were wearing a cape, Ishida was halfway to the space heater when he felt the reiatsu.
A low, restrained threat.
Too controlled to be Kurosaki, not flagrant enough to be a Menos.
No time to wait for Ryuuken. Ishida steeled himself for battle.
There had been isolated skirmishes in the past week--wild-eyed Hollow had lumbered out of Hueco Mundo as if sleepwalking and had lunged at innocent souls only to be quickly dispatched by Ryuuken or Urahara. No one else had reacted in time (or cared to react). There had been no full-scale attack on the town, but the opponent’s stirrings had put everyone on guard.
“I wonder why,” Urahara had whispered as if he already knew the answer, “why the Menos are trying to escape their home world.”
Ishida’s bedroom window curtains fluttered.
The curtains billowed to the ceiling and a strange white light knocked Ishida to the floor.
The blanket slid off his shoulders. “What the hell are you?” The room was hot. Ishida felt the cool silver of his Quincy pendant against his damp wrist. He didn’t draw.
“Hello there, boy,” said a shrill voice that wasn’t Kurosaki’s.
Ishida still didn’t draw. Whatever had spoken was a hazy transparent form in the window. He could make out the silhouette of Kurosaki’s ridiculous hair; he could aim for the center of the forehead of that ghostly thing. He didn’t.
“I’m here for the contest. You love contests, don’t you?”
The ghost took form.
It was and it wasn’t Kurosaki. The face was identical, only pasty white like a dead man’s. White hair, yellow eyes. It smelled like Kurosaki but the reiatsu had a nauseating pitch; it rang bad, bad, bad, I can destroy you whereas Kurosaki in Shinigami form gave off a strong protective sense.
“What are you staring at? Do you think I’m … pretty?”
It was Kurosaki. Deep inside Kurosaki there was a being who said things like that.
Ishida couldn’t just sit there, legs splayed in flannel pajama bottoms, while that thing perched on his windowsill like a fucking vulture. He tried to stand up, but the reiatsu knocked him back. The thing was unbelievably strong.
“Contest?” Ishida asked it. There could be no contest; it could kill Ishida with a swipe of its fingernail.
“You’re the one who snapped that Hollow bait!” The thing spread its sleeves and hopped onto the floor. “Heeeeere I am!”
This time Ishida was able to stand. He’d adjusted to the pressure that quickly. His resolve recovered, but he still didn’t summon his bow.
“What the hell are you talking about? Where’s Kurosaki?”
“You mean the rival of your life? The object of your…” It hissed the word. “Obsession.”
Another flourish of its sleeves. Like the thing was going to fly away but apparently it just wanted to stretch its arms or strike a crazy pose.
Ishida had already experienced the shock of seeing Inoue-san dressed in Arrancar clothing--an innocent in the devil’s uniform--so this thing’s costume wasn’t going to disgust him.
Now Ishida noticed that it wasn’t wearing an Arrancar uniform--it was wearing Kurosaki’s Shinigami clothes, down to the sword strap across its shoulder. God, it’s even carrying Zangetsu on its back. The obi and undershirt were black instead of white.
“What’s with that face?” The white sleeves were around Ishida’s shoulders. “I thought you liked me.” The black lips were close to his face.
Ryuuken will show up. This thing’s existence is numbered. By seconds. Five more seconds….
“Kurosaki didn’t want to come back. He didn’t want to hurt anyone he loved.”
“You don’t want to hurt anyone you love either, do you, Quincy?”
The yellow eyes were and weren’t Kurosaki’s. It was like being held by a possessed person. There were too many feelings crowding Ishida so he flattened them with intellectual curiosity and heard himself ask the questions, “Where did you come from? How were you born?” Hushed, panicked questions stalling for time. “How did you get into Kurosaki’s body? Did Urahara put you there?”
It laughed in Ishida’s face. It let go Ishida’s arms and sat on the floor, holding its stomach.
It was just flaunting its invulnerability. Ishida got pissed, but he still didn’t summon his bow.
“You don’t get it, do you, Quincy? You and your Hollow bait. You called me forth yourself. You.”
Hollow bait? Last spring Ishida had been naïve enough to buy the little pellet from Urahara. The mysterious shopkeeper said that it would attract the Hollow necessary to hone Ishida’s Quincy skills. "But use it with caution--and definitely only when you feel you are prepared to deal with one Hollow threat after another." Another ploy to bring out Kurosaki’s power? Ishida had figured as much after the Menos showed up and Kurosaki was the only one who could handle it, but … not this … not this Hollow.
“Your vanity, your lust, your… very Quincy-ness brought me to you.” The Hollow Kurosaki snorted a last little laugh and then seemed recovered. “Wee. Didn’t know what you were capable of, did you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your little stunt with the Hollow bait. I was born because of it.”
This creature wasn’t Kurosaki. The voice didn’t sound like his for one thing, and for another, this Hollow seemed to possess some sort of intelligence.
Or at least some clue about the make-up of humans and spirits.
“A Hollow just isn’t a soul without a heart, you know,” the Hollow was saying. “All spirits have holes in them. Humans, Shinigami--whoever. Even you, the proud righteous Quincy here with your stupid I shall destroy Evil attitude. Even you are full of holes.”
“When I snapped the Hollow bait….” Ishida began in a quiet voice. He hesitated to pursue the intellectual riddle. It might keep him from killing the Hollow. He felt it in his cold, cold bones that he was meant to kill this Hollow. Ryuuken? Where was Ryuuken? He should’ve sensed the thing’s reiatsu by now.
“When you snapped the Hollow bait, you woke up a part of Kurosaki Ichigo that was there all along,” the Hollow said. It put its palms on the floor and threw back its head. “Ahhhh, I guess that’s when I became conscious although you could say that I was there before. Whatever. It felt like being born.”
This was crazy. Ishida knew he wasn’t important enough in the scheme of the universe to be responsible for the creation of a Hollow this powerful … although the pull, the drive to challenge Kurosaki…? Could it be something as simple as Quincy to Shinigami? A vibration of opposing energy calling to another vibration? There had to be something to what the Hollow was saying--what the hell was this thing doing in his bedroom now anyway?
“You’re not in any way human or Shinigami,” Ishida said. “You’re all Hollow. A Hollow from Hueco Mundo.”
The place where Kurosaki was last seen. It was irrefutable that this thing was part Kurosaki--it held his spirit body at least. Ishida tried to remember the battle Kuchiki-san had described with a Shinigami-imposter.
Don’t even try to figure the thing out. It comes from Aizen. Aizen is a master of manipulations and illusions and….
“Go ahead.” It was so strange to see Kurosaki’s face smiling like that because the dumb Shinigami never smiled. “You know you want to put an arrow in me. Go for it.”
Ishida needed Seele Schneider. There wasn’t enough reishi in the room to make an arrow big enough to kill it.
The Hollow took notice of Ishida’s eyes darting around the room. “Looking for something? Oh I know.”
In a flash, it grabbed for the sheathed sword on its back, and Ishida took a step backward. It was useless to summon Ginrei Kojaku. He was going to have to outsmart this Hollow, not shoot it with a volley of futile sparks.
“Is this what you’re looking for, Quincy?” The blade unsheathed as the Hollow held it outstretched. It wasn’t Zangetsu. The wrappings had been fat and shaped like Kurosaki’s zanpakutou but it wasn’t Zangetsu under them.
It was Seele Schneider.
“Where did you get that?” Ishida gasped.
“Dumbass.” The Hollow rolled its yellow eyes. “You came to Hueco Mundo with five of them--how many did you leave with?”
That fifth blade had been used in Ishida’s last aborted attempt to destroy Szayel-Aporro. It had disintegrated into the Espada’s fleeing form, hadn’t it? Even Ishida’s mind had gotten confused during both mad scientists’ explanations of bio-organic goings-on in that battle, but he’d assumed his Quincy weapon to be irrecoverable.
“Aizen gave it to me,” the Hollow said. He twirled the weapon like a parade baton. After a few seconds of making a white circle over his head, he froze his movement and presented the hilt with the blue Quincy cross to Ishida. “Aizen got it courtesy of the corpse of some fruity pink Espada.”
There was a momentary rush from the justice of Szayel-Aporro being dead, a flashback to the sight of that monstrous Espada oozing out of Vice Captain Nemu’s mouth and Ishida had to blink himself back to the present. “You… I … why are you giving this to me? Do you want me to fight you?”
“I thought you were the smart one. What did I say when I first showed up? I’m here for the contest?”
The Hollow was still sitting on the floor. He leaned backwards to stretch himself to a near-lying position. He supported himself on one elbow and held Seele Schneider perpendicular to Ishida’s body. He lowered the point of the hilt to Ishida’s crotch.
“You got cojones, boy? I thought you were a Quincy. What are you waiting for? Take it.”
Ishida did. The blade buzzed with reishi the moment he touched it. It flared a brighter blue-white.
The Hollow lay back completely and put pillowed his head under his hands. “On second thought, never mind the contest. There’s no contest here. Just kill me.”
“I thought you’d be a little more conflicted and I could have a little fun, but naaah, you want to kill me. You’re a no-nonsense little Quincy. Your mind’s made up.”
It was true. Ishida planned to follow Ryuuken’s advice in this match. The only way to kill a Shinigami is to cut off his head. But he couldn’t attack someone who didn’t attack first.
“Aren’t you going to stand up and fight?”
“What’s the meaning of this? I’m not in the mood for games. Stand up!”
The Hollow blinked at the ceiling. “Kurosaki’s dead.”
“He’s dead--that’s why I’m here. I couldn’t have control of his body otherwise. You won’t be hurting your precious Kurosaki if you cut off my head, so c’mon, go for it.”
Why isn’t Urahara here yet? Can’t he feel how powerful this Hollow is? And that he’s here--right here in my room….
“No fooling here. I’m giving you an open invitation. You brought me into this meaningless world so you can take me out. It’s only fair.”
“You’re….” It wasn’t joking. “You’re….”
“A very bored Hollow who’s ready to kick over the throne. What do you want? A story? I killed everyone. Well, not everyone. All the top Espada. There’s not much left of the mighty forces of Aizen-sama.” It used the honorific with sarcasm. “Look, I don’t want some Shinigami to cleanse me and send me anywhere. You do your Quincy thing and destroy me forever and always.”
“But that’s--” Assisting a suicide. “Why do you want to be destroyed?”
“I told you. I’m bored. There’s no one left to kill.”
“You sound….” Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? I am a destroyer of Hollow. “You sound lonely,” Ishida heard himself say.
The Hollow raised itself up on its elbows. “Look at you. I thought you were a Quincy. What’s with the compassion?” It closed one eye and opened its mouth in mock horror. “Pussy.”
Ishida bristled at the epithet and lifted his arm and Seele Schneider. The tip of the blade touched the Hollow’s chin. “Shut up.” I’m losing control. I’m acting like some schoolkid on the playground. I’m letting his taunting get to me. None of this is serious. It’s still playing mind-games with me.
“You’re the lonely one, Quincy. What do you want? A late night cuddle and some conversation? I’m not your precious Kurosaki--you’re not getting that sort of thing from me. Not that you ever would’ve gotten that from him either.”
Ryuuken would have no compunction killing it while it lay there. Where was Ryuuken?
“Do you need a little motivation? Do you want me to tell you how Kurosaki died? I killed him myself, you know.”
Ishida dropped his arm and Seele Schneider’s blade retracted into its hilt. “I’m not playing this game.”
“He didn’t want to risk losing himself in the Living World. He fought me even though he was broken, tired, hanging by a thread. I took his zanpakutou and cut his own throat with it.”
“He never stopped whining about how he couldn’t save his mother. He made sure you, that giant kid, the big-breasted girl, the little Shinigami girl were all safe and he just ran pell-mell in the opposite direction, me chasing him all the way. I didn’t even have to strike him down. He tripped over a rock--”
“Choking on his own blood, full of holes. All you souls are so full of holes, you know. Your whining about your own failures just makes them stretch bigger and bigger. He kept saying to me: I won’t let you hurt them, I won’t let you hurt--”
Seele Schneider was inside the Hollow’s chest before Ishida even realized he’d thrown it there.
Beyond regret, past grief, there has to be a place where one accepts things the way they are without solemnity. Dying is as natural as closing your eyes and going to sleep. It happens all time. Urahara, Ishida took note, must have seen so many Deaths, crossed so many boundaries in his laboratory, lost his innocence over and over with inventions like the hougyoku, but Urahara-san was not a solemn person. Did anyone else smile so much? No other grown man Ishida knew seemed as comfortable in the world.
Ishida took a deep breath, closed his eyes and saw icicles on trees, a reassuring smile, a fresh-picked flower twirling round and round in the mysterious shopkeeper’s fingers.
Urahara had understood that the Quincy power to destroy was as natural a force as whatever drove flowers to grow in a garden.
Urahara had known that Ishida could kill the Hollow. Ishida had known he could too--after all, there was little Ishida couldn’t do once he set his mind to--but Urahara had taken Ishida’s destiny for granted. “Yes, yes, Ishida-kun, I know you like to understand everything thoroughly--you should be a scientist perhaps, but you’re not. You’re a Quincy. Don’t deliberate so much. Listen to your heart.”
The Hollow hadn’t died easily. If Ishida had cut off its head, maybe it would’ve died right away and been destroyed forever. Instead, the wound in its chest bled and bled, and the Hollow kept talking. Ishida had pulled Seele Schneider out, the blade resonating like a lightning bolt with its acquired power before disappearing. Then the Hollow’s icy white hand had grabbed Ishida’s bare arm.
To cut its head off or to stand there and watch it suffer? Ishida had felt incapable of another instinctive decision. The rod that held Seele Schneider dropped out of his hand.
What had it been saying? Something about not suffering at all, not any more than it had its whole existence even though it was dying now, speared through the chest in a place where a heart should be….
“Holes, holes,” it had murmured, laughing. Blood had coughed up with every repetition of the word. “Holes, holes, the holes will get you too, boy.”
Ishida had knelt beside it, tortured by that face that was so much like Kurosaki’s. He had wanted to kill it properly, the way Ryuuken had instructed, but had found himself needing to listen to its words. Its grip on Ishida’s elbow had not been desperate--it had been familiar, intimate.
Its last words told the story of its life in clipped, enigmatic phrases. Too many holes between the words to make much sense of the story.
Something about Hollow existence. How Hollow are born. Being eaten from the inside out. A series of losses. A soul’s grief turning into bitterness. A sequence of holes? Urahara had described the process once to Ishida and Sado-kun before the journey to Hueco Mundo. "Anyone can become a Hollow," Urahara had warned.
Did that mean that there was a Hollow inside everyone?
“I don’t want to die, you Quincy motherfucker,” it had whispered. “Cut my neck, my neck. I don’t want to die--I want to be destroyed.”
But Ishida couldn’t do that. He was a Quincy. He was a destroyer, but he just couldn’t destroy it.
Ishida opened his eyes and saw the Hollow’s clothes still there, the Hollow having evaporated into nothingness minutes ago. The white clothes were turning black.
At least the Kurosaki-looking face was gone.
Kurosaki’s body was still in the Living World--Kurosaki had left it here before even travelling to Hueco Mundo. Kon inhabited it now, and clearly that idiot was not Kurosaki. No more than this Hollow had been. Ishida told himself that he hadn’t killed his … his … friend. Kurosaki was already dead when Seele Schneider struck the Hollow.
The Hollow’s fingers had turned to white smoke against Ishida’s skin. His elbow had been released but then the Hollow’s other hand--long white fingers with black nails--had reached for Ishida’s thigh. Ishida had gasped at the encroaching intimacy, but the Hollow’s hand had turned to smoke and the grasping gesture into an empty sleeve.
It wasn’t over yet. The clothes had to turn color and fade away, it seemed.
Ishida touched the empty sleeve where it had fallen--its ordinariness was striking. The cool texture of regular fabric.
His heart hurt. His throat felt tight.
Maybe the state of being Hollow was one stage past grief, when the soul couldn’t take it anymore and devoured its own pain.
“Kurosaki, I didn’t--” He wanted to argue with the black Shinigami robe under his fingers. He rubbed wrinkles into the fabric. Back and forth, back and forth, his fingers clawed. “Kurosaki, I didn’t kill you. I didn’t. You were already gone.”
Ishida wasn’t surprised when the sleeve grew full and reached for him again. The touch on his thigh was warm.
The hairs on the pinkish human wrist were orange.
A little coughing sound escaped Ishida, something between a laugh and a sigh of relief. “It worked.” His lungs felt jump-started. How long had he been holding his breath?
Kurosaki looked young, millennia younger than the white-faced Hollow had.
“Is it still inside you?”
“The Hollow, Kurosaki--is the Hollow still inside you somewhere?”
Kurosaki looked distant, as if he were listening for something. He was scanning his own soul.
“I think so,” he said at last. It was a small voice but an alert one. He didn’t sound tired or strained. “I’m not sure that you did the right thing, though. What if it takes me over again?”
Ishida bowed his head and felt himself able to breathe. He hadn’t been breathing very well for a long while. “It won’t come back. It won’t. You--” His fingers were still rubbing circles into black cloth but now that sleeve covered Kurosaki’s arm. “You won’t let it.”
Ishida couldn’t lift his head and meet Kurosaki’s eyes. The overpowering reiatsu that had filled the room when the Hollow was dying seemed to have blown out like a flame. The window was still open. The cold was coming in. Ishida felt his chest and arms goosepimple and what had been hot sweat covering his body chilled and hurt.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know. I thought that if I cut the head off and destroyed it I’d be destroying your spirit body and … and…” He wanted to stop rubbing Kurosaki’s arm but he couldn’t.
“He told you the Shinigami part of me was dead. I heard him say that.”
Kurosaki had heard everything? The part about love, obsession … Ishida seemed to remember the topic of cuddling had come up at one point.
Kurosaki’s palm was still resting flat on Ishida’s upper thigh.
I need to put on a sweater. Ishida felt exposed. I need to put up my guard. “He said you were dead but I couldn’t be sure.”
The grief had never filled Ishida utterly. It was as if he had stepped through it into another place. Faith. Hope. The person he missed so much couldn’t be entirely gone.
Kurosaki’s hand was over Ishida’s hand. Like he wanted to pull Ishida’s kneading fingers off? He’s touching me with both his hands now.
“Get a grip,” Kurosaki said. “It’s okay now.”
“I’m fine,” Ishida said gruffly. But he couldn’t tear away. He was shivering. He couldn’t still the shivering this time.
“Holy fuck, Ishida, stop that.”
Before he knew it, he was wrapped in Kurosaki’s arms. The sleeves of the black kasode were draped around him; there was the press of a hot chest, Kurosaki’s breathing was strong and even; Kurosaki’s heart--was that his heart?
Here. I’m supposed to be here.
Urahara wasn’t the only one who knew it. Ryuuken knew it. That’s why he didn’t come. Kurosaki’s father--someone else strong enough to have sensed and rushed to meet the Hollow right way--hadn’t come either.
Whatever the Hollow had said about Ishida being responsible for its coming out didn’t make sense; nothing made any sense except for the rightness of the moment. Ishida breathed in and out. He hadn’t killed Kurosaki. “I didn’t kill you, Kurosaki.”
“No.” It was strange to hear Kurosaki’s voice attempting gentleness. “Stop freaking out. You saved me.”
But it was the other way around. Until this moment Ishida hadn’t known who he was. Quincy. Destroyer. A big Faker trying to intimidate the answers out of Urahara-san. Someone who didn’t know exactly what he wanted to protect.
Ishida dropped his face against Kurosaki’s shoulder. There was no fighting it. The instant he realized that he stopped shivering.
And even though he’d stopped shivering, Kurosaki didn’t let him go.