The Honey Dish Rhapsody
- By Kubo Tite and Matsubara Makoto
Chapter One - Shiratama Zenzai
Fourth Division, General Medical Station
A shinigami cradling a cloth bag walked along a corridor illuminated by the setting sun. He was the Seventh Seat of the Fourth Division, Yamada Hanatarou.
“It’s not this one either...”
Underneath each room number hung a wooden tag inscribed with a patient’s name, yet none held the one that he was looking for.
The large medical station covered a great expanse of area, and all the evenly spaced wards up here on the third floor were reserved as private rooms. Lost among long hallways that looked exactly alike, Hanatarou felt like he was on the verge of tears.
“Hn…Rukia-san…” he murmured, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
A shadow silently approached him from behind.
“Ahhh…! Sorry sorry sorry!!” he cried and crouched down, clutching at his head. Years of being reprimanded by his superiors had trained in him a basic instinct to apologize profusely before anything else.
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Ah…?” Hanatarou lifted his head and saw a figured bathed in golden light, his silver hair almost dazzling to the eye. It was the Captain of the Tenth Division, Hitsugaya Toshiro. He quickly lowered his head again, flustered at the sight. “Captain Hitsugaya…! G-g-good day to you!”
“You’re… called Yamada, right?”
“Yes! F-f-fourth Division’s Yamada Hanatarou!” He quickly pulled himself into a correct sitting position with both hands placed respectfully before him.
“There’s no need to be so scared. I’m not going to do anything to you.”
“Right! I’m...I’m sorry!”
“I already said to stop apologizing.”
“Sorr... Ah, I said sorry again, so sorry! ...Ah, and again? I said it again, sorry... Ah, and I said it again...!”
Faced with a Hanatarou that seemed to be swept up in a whirlwind of apologetics, as if he was trying to go through an entire lifetime’s worth of “sorries,” Hitsugaya closed his eyes in vague amusement. “It’s the room four doors down from here.”
He looked up and saw Hitsugaya nod and point down the corridor. “You’re looking for Kuchiki Rukia’s room, right?”
“Ah, yes! I am! ...But, how did Captain Hitsugaya know where Rukia-san’s room is?”
Hitsugaya sighed upon seeing that incredulous expression. “If you calmed down and searched for her reiatsu, then you could’ve found her as well.”
“Ah, right! Just like that...if only I had done that sooner!” he said in awe.
Hitsugaya sighed again. “Aren’t you a seated officer? You need to get yourself together.”
“Yes, I’m so sorry! Thank you so much!”
“Thank you so very much!” Staring at the silently departing shadow, Hanatarou bowed deeply once more.
Four days following the chaos involved in Aizen’s betrayal, Soul Society had recovered somewhat and was starting to settle back into its old routines again.
“Then Captain Hitsugaya said, ‘The room four doors down from here!’ And it was just like he said! The captains really are amazing!”
General Medical Station, Third Floor
Hanatarou’s cheerful voice drifted out of the wide-open window. Rukia sat listening to him in a bed placed next to that window.
“But why would Captain Hitsugaya be in a place like this? His wounds should be completely healed. Or maybe he has some other complaint?”
“Captain Hitsugaya… is probably here to see Lieutenant Hinamori,” she said, her gaze falling to the floor. She could remember Hitsugaya’s face full of grief when they had passed each other yesterday.
The Lieutenant of the Fifth Division Hinamori Momo had suffered a serious stab wound to her chest. The one who had stabbed her was also the one she had trusted above all, Aizen Sousuke.
“Lieutenant Hinamori’s treatment is complete. The damage to her body will heal sooner or later,” said Unohana Retsu, Captain of the Fourth Division, to Hitsugaya as they stood together in the high-level treatment center.
“The damage to her body...” He started unconsciously biting the nail on his left thumb.
“Shiro-chan! Don’t bite your nails like that! Mind your manners!”
That sound was drifting past his ears again.
“...Damn it!” He dropped his hand and clenched it into a fist, shaking slightly.
“I can only treat the wounds that we can see... Beyond that, we must rely on the patient’s own ‘will to live,’” said Unohana, clearly regretful as to the limits of her ability.
He looked away and walked out into the dark hallway. When he passed Rukia later on the stairs, he could only give her a silent acknowledgement.
“Captain Hitsugaya must feel pretty awful, right?”
“Yes,” she quietly replied, before noticing the bag in his arms. “This is…?”
“What? Oh! This…” He deposited it in her hands.
“My backpack?” It was the sea-blue backpack that she had been carrying when apprehended in the living world.
“Back at the Sixth Division Detention Center, Rukia-san told me that ‘there are so many good things to eat in the living world,’ and that ‘there are quite a few in my backpack.’ So I went to the Research and Development Institute to see if I could get Rukia-san’s things back.”
“Oh, how brave you are!”
The Research and Development Institute was an organization of rather odd characters, each of whom had at least one or two strange quirks. The less brave among the shinigami made it a point to stay far away from there.
“Your clothes, shoes, and the like were all gone, but this bag was still there. Eh, well...”
“What is it?”
“One of the scientists there was supposed to get rid of it, but he took it with him instead. Then, it seems like he started eating the things inside it...” Hanatarou’s voice trailed off.
The only thing left in the bag was some flour made from glutinous rice, wrapped in white paper.
“There’s no need to apologize. I never thought that I would ever see these things again, so don’t worry about it... Thank you, Hanatarou.”
He blushed and laughed. “No need to thank me!”
“This is some top-grade flour from a confectioner in the living world! With this, we can make a lot of delicious shiratama!”
“Ah, then I’ll go and prepare some sweet bean paste!”
“Yes, let’s make some shiratama zenzai!”
She noticed a letter sticking out from in front of his chest. “Hanatarou, that letter is...”
“Ah, sorry! I forgot that Captain Unohana told me to give this to Rukia-san!” He hurriedly pulled it out, apologized again, and handed it to her.
“Don’t worry,” she said, opening up the letter. She glanced at it and turned to Hanatarou, whose face was nevertheless still full of worry. “Tomorrow morning, Nii-sama will be moved to one of the rooms up here.”
Rukia’s adopted brother, Captain of the Sixth Division Kuchiki Byakuya, had been gravely wounded in the previous battle and was placed in intensive care ever since.
“Then he must be out of danger! How wonderful, Rukia-san!”
“Ah. Thank you!” Rukia gently nodded, and gazed out of the window. The sun was setting to the west, its orange rays gradually dimming. Seireitei, with its many white buildings and towers, was suffused every evening with a warm glow. Faced with a sight such as this, one could not help but stop and stare in wonder.
“Then, I’ll take my leave!” Hanatarou said after they both had gazed for a while in silence.
“Oh, Hanatarou.” He paused at the door and looked back. Rukia was frowning at her letter. “Do you think Nii-sama will eat my shiratama zenzai?”
“Of course he will!” he nodded energetically. “If we’re going to serve it to Captain Kuchiki, then I’ll have to prepare the very best sweet bean paste!”
She sighed. “I’m depending on you then.”
“Just leave it to me!” He bowed solemnly and left.
Rukia folded up the letter, wondering what she might say when she gave Byakuya the shiratama zenzai.
Hanatarou was running.
He ran behind the Fourth Division’s barracks, holding a bag just like the one from yesterday. Back here, there was a road that led straight to the General Medical Station’s back door.
“Seventh Seat Yamada!” Hearing someone call him, he stopped in his tracks. “Up here, up here,” said the voice.
He looked up. “Ogido-sama!”
The Eighth Seat of the Fourth Division, Ogido Harunobu stuck his head out of a second-story window. “You shouldn’t call me that. I’m your junior you know.”
“But... Ogido-sama got to be Eighth Seat not long after joining the Division, and I’m sure will pass me very soon.”
“Ahahaha, no way!” He smiled and quietly added, “If I get promoted, then there’d be so many more annoying responsibilities to deal with.”
“Ah? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you...”
“Don’t worry. I was just talking to myself.” He smiled, and Hanatarou was confused but smiled back. “Oh, by the way, Seventh Seat Yamada...”
“Third Seat Iemura was looking for you just now. If you want to escape, you’d best do it now. If he catches you, who knows what sort of weird perverted punishments he might think of...”
“Ogido! How dare you take every opportunity to ruin my reputation...!” He looked back and saw the Third Seat of the Fourth Division, Iemura Yasochika standing there and literally shaking with anger.
“Shut up! Get back to work!”
“I obey, I obey.”
“Say it again!”
“Yamada! Don’t you dare move!” Iemura shouted out of the window before running for the stairs.
(Maybe there’s still time for him to escape?) Ogido looked out the window again. Hanatarou was waiting down there just as told. “...What are you doing? If you don’t run away right now, Third Seat Pervert is going to catch you.”
Hanatarou laughed despite his troubles. “Ah...no matter what, I’m still a squad leader. And if I don’t work hard then... oh, right! Ogido-sama, could you take this to Kuchiki Rukia-san for me?” He counted to three and tossed the bag up.
Even though it was some distance away from the window, Ogido still managed to catch it easily with one hand. “Is she at the station?”
“Yes. Rukia-san wants to make shiratama zenzai...” he said, before his voice was suddenly buried by Iemura’s loud “Yamada——————!”
“I’m relying on you then!” Hanatarou lowered his head as Iemura came a’raging.
“What a useless fellow...” Ogido mumbled to himself as he lifted up the bag and left.
General Medical Station, Second Floor, Kitchen
“It needs to be as soft as earlobes... it needs to be as soft as earlobes...” she constantly murmured to herself, like a mantra. Her right hand kneaded the dough, while her left hand occasionally moved up to touch her earlobe.
Ogido couldn’t help but stare in wonder. He had searched for her reiatsu and found her here, so engrossed in her task that she still hadn’t detected his presence despite the fact that he was standing three feet behind her.
The Kuchiki clan was one of the four great noble families, their position as far above his own as the clouds from the dirt. And yet, here was their young lady in a tri-corner cooking hat and kneading dough.
“How incredibly touching…”
Rukia suddenly jumped at the sound of his voice. “Who, who is it?” With one hand still stuck inside the flour, she turned and looked back.
He bowed to her and said, “I am the Eighth Seat of the Fourth Division, called Ogido Harunobu. Seventh Seat Yamada asked me to give this to you.”
“Oh, Hanatarou’s... Could you put it down there? My hands aren’t free at the moment.”
He was slightly surprised at her respectful manner of speaking and replied, “I understand.” He then placed the bag in an empty space on the counter.
“What happened to Hanatarou?”
“The Seventh Seat was caught by Third Seat Iemura... It looks like he won’t be free for the rest of the day.”
“...Then, could you relay my thanks to him? Just say that I’m very grateful for his help.”
Seeing him bow to her again before leaving, she felt a faint pain in her chest. For someone from Rukongai to be treated like a noble... it still made her extremely uncomfortable. But after she had been assigned to the Thirteenth Division, this sort of thing seldom if ever occurred. And after she went to the living world, she wasn’t even troubled by the memories of it.
“I am so incredibly lucky...” Rukia gave her thanks to the heavens above, and started rolling the dough into circles.
Tenth Division Barracks, Administrative Offices
Hitsugaya silently perused the paperwork on his desk, his brow deeply furrowed.
And the reason for that was –
“But Rangiku-san, the noon rest hour has already passed...”
“Ahaha, that doesn’t matter! Orihime is so sincere!”
Beside the administrative offices was a reception room for entertaining guests. Since today’s weather was so stunningly beautiful, all the windows in the barracks were wide open to let the air in. Of course, this meant that he could also hear everything that was said next door.
“We have such an excellent captain that the rest of us can take it easy, no problem.” Lieutenant of the Tenth Division Matsumoto Rangiku only lifted her voice when extolling her captain’s virtues.
(That…!!) Despite the fact that she clearly knew that he could hear her, she was still slacking off. Hitsugaya bit back his anger.
Rangiku was showing Orihime how to tie the knot for the shinigami uniform in the guest room.
“So like this, then?”
“No, not like that. You need to stick this part in here… ah, good! We’re all done!”
Orihime looked at the large knot and smiled. There were quite a few female shinigami who admired Rangiku and thus copied her distinctive way of tying knots. Orihime wasn’t a shinigami, but she admired the beautiful and lively Rangiku all the same. “Thank you so much!”
“Don’t mention it. ...Ah, Orihime, come here for a second.” She held out her hand and motioned for Orihime to come forward. “Just one more thing...”
“Did I do something wrong?”
Rangiku looked somewhat thoughtful as she grabbed ahold of her collar.
“What are you doing... Aaaaaaaah!!” Orihime cried as her collar was suddenly pulled wide open.
“I think you’d look much better like this, Orihime!”
Looking down at Rangiku’s own wide-open collar, she blushed even more. “I-I’m not comfortable with this...” she said as she rearranged her clothes.
“Really? You should appreciate and emphasize more what you have… I mean, not everyone is so lucky. Just look at Nanao, poor child.”
“Who is a poor child!!” Standing outside the window was the very person whom she had just claimed was as flat as a runway, Lieutenant of the Eighth Division Ise Nanao.
“Ah, Nanao! Since you’re as flat as a runway, I didn’t even see you there.”
“That – that doesn’t matter!” Nanao suddenly moved her book from beneath her arm to in front of her chest, as if she was trying to hide something.
“...But it matters to you a great deal, doesn’t it?”
“What are you trying to say, Lieutenant Matsumoto?”
Rangiku merely shrugged at her sharp tone. “Did you need something? If you’re looking for Captain Kyoraku, he’s not here.”
“Oh...so he’s not here... Hmph, always not caring a whit about work, always doing whatever he wants...!”
Rangiku watched her leave. “Nanao has such a difficult job… I’m so lucky to be with someone who’s so wonderful to work with!” she said in a voice loud enough to carry over to where her captain was working. “Ah!! Captain Kyoraku?!”
Suddenly sitting at Orihime’s side was the very person that Nanao had just been looking for – Captain of the Eighth Division, Kyoraku Shunsui.
“Ah, sorry for the bother.”
“What? ‘Sorry for the bother?’ I just said that you weren’t here… if Nanao yells at me for this then it’ll be Captain’s fault!” said Rangiku, folding her arms.
Orihime widened her eyes. “So this is the person that the shinigami lady was looking for just now?”
“This is your first time meeting Captain Kyoraku?”
She nodded. Although she had come across him a few times around Seireitei, this was the first time that she attached a name and division to his face.
“Then I shall have to properly introduce myself.” He coughed once and smiled as if suddenly surrounded by hundreds of rose petals floating on the wind. “It is my first time meeting this young lady. I am Kyoraku Shunsui. You are a ryoka...”
“Yes! I am Inoue Orihime! Please take care me!” Orihime smiled.
His patented airs for the ladies seemed to have no effect on her. “Orihime-chan is… too cute!” But still, he felt very happy. He was always happy whenever he was in the presence of cute girls.
“So, what is the Captain here for?” asked Rangiku.
“Well, I just paid a visit to Kuriya and wanted to share some of these with Rangiku-san.” He opened a paper bag and removed a box labeled “tokkuri saichu” in calligraphy.
“Oh, girls from the living world can even read characters as difficult as these. Impressive!”
“Haha, that’s nothing!” Orihime had very good grades, enough to be ranked third in her entire grade. And even though her usual conversation sometimes made it hard for people to imagine, she really was very smart.
“These are delicious! I’ll bring some tea and we can all share!” Rangiku stood up and leaned out of the window. “Will you join us, Captain?”
“No!” came the immediate reply.
By the time she arrived back at the reception room with tea, Orihime’s face was completely flushed, her eyes lolling around.
“What’s wrong, Orihime?” Rangiku pressed both hands on her shoulders and examined her face.
“Ah, Rangiku-san! Did you know that a saichu is a whale… so you need to eat it with french bread~!” Orihime looked as if she had no clue what she was saying, or where she was.
“What did you do to this child?” asked Rangiku.
“I didn’t do anything,” said Kyoraku. “We just ate the saichu together.”
He looked to Orihime for confirmation, but she merely swayed and did not respond. In front of her lay three wrappers.
She suddenly stood up, assumed an upright position, and then slowly... fell towards the floor. Luckily, Rangiku was there to catch her.
“Ah, how dangerous...!” Rangiku broke out in a cold sweat.
“Looks like she’s been defeated by the tokkuri saichu.”
Tokkuri saichu was a sort of wafer with a filling. This filling was made from red bean paste, which was prepared from beans boiled with brewer’s grains. Since it was made with only the very best brewer’s grains, even those who usually disliked the flavor of alcohol thought it was delicious. However, its alcohol content was rather high.
“Orihime?! Are you okay?! Ori-hime-!!”
“Orihime-chan - get yourself together - !!”
Just then, the door to the guest room crashed open. Hitsugaya had finally reached his limit. “Have you people had enough...!”
“Captain! You’re just in time! Bring some ice! Ice!!”
“Ah, good idea! Just use Hyorinmaru...”
“As if I would do such a thing!!”
Captain Hitsugaya had a pretty difficult job himself.
General Medical Station, Second Floor, Kitchen
A sweet fragrance filled the room.
“I’m done…!” Rukia took off her hat and let out a long breath. A pot full of shiratama zenzai stood in front of her.
“Oh, isn’t that Rukia?” The Lieutenant of the Sixth Division, Abarai Renji, had been lured here by the smell. Although one might never guess just from looking at his tattoos and demeanor, he absolutely loved sweets.
“Renji! What is it?”
“That’s my line! What is this smell? What did you make?” He walked up to her and asked, “Is this sweet bean porridge?”
“It’s shiratama zenzai. I brought back the flour from the living world. It’s really good! ...I want to let Nii-sama try it as well.”
“Hm... then, let me try it first!”
“What?! What did you say?!”
Renji opened a nearby cupboard and removed a small bowl. “I can’t let the Captain eat just anything. It’s my duty as his lieutenant.” He poured some porridge into the bowl, and wolfed it all down before Rukia could even get in a word. Soft and slippery dough with a sweet bean paste that had been cooked just right…
“What, this is actually really good!” Renji said, quite unexpectedly. They had once been friends when they lived together in Inuzuri, the 78th district of South Rukongai. Back then, her cooking had been bad enough to send one to an early grave, so he never ever let her cook. (Rukia can actually make something this good...) Renji got a little bit emotional.
“What are you trying to do? Eat it all yourself?” Rukia completely misunderstood and started looking for something to ladle out the shiratama.
“What is it?”
“Captain Kuchiki likes eating spicy food,” he said as she turned back with a spoon.
“I wouldn’t gain anything from lying about it.”
Rukia put the spoon down and clasped her hands together, thinking. “But... I never thought that the Kuchiki clan’s food was spicy at all.”
“Really? Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with your tongue?”
“Ow!!” Renji couldn’t help but cry out as he was swiftly kicked in the ass.
Rukia started calmly searching her memory, as if nothing had happened. “Maybe they mixed up sweet and spicy food?”
“You could always just ask the Kuchiki clan’s chefs.”
She nodded to Renji, who was still massaging his butt. “That’s right. Renji! Stay here and guard the food!”
“What?! Hey! Rukia!!”
She walked out without paying him any further mind.
“Well then...” Renji carried a chair over and sat down in front of the pot. It was filled to the brim.
“This is really too much. What is she planning to do to the Captain’s blood sugar?”
Next to it was Rukia’s spoon.
“If I just had one bowl…that wouldn’t be a problem, right?” With bowl in hand, he started to ladle out some shiratama.
The mansion’s kitchen was roughly as large as the medical station’s. Legions of cooks hurried about as hot air billowed out. Rukia asked the cook carving decorative radish flowers near the door to send in for the head chef in charge. The chef that then showed up at the door was a short and stout man, with a multitude of assorted kitchen knives hanging from his waist.
“I have a question for you.”
“Yes, about flavors?”
“I thought that Nii-sama liked eating sweet food, but then I heard that he liked spicy food instead...”
The chef nodded. “So it was about that. That’s correct. Byakuya-sama’s dishes are on the spicy side, while Rukia-sama’s dishes are on the sweet side.”
So she and Renji had both been correct. “Why... is that?”
“Because Byakuya-sama requested it.”
Seeing her so perplexed, the chef gave her a gentle smile. “It is not for those of us below to speculate about Byakuya-sama’s intentions. But back then, Hisana-sama also loved sweet food.”
Hisana was the name of Byakuya’s deceased wife. The fact that Hisana, who so greatly resembled Rukia, was her sister was something that she had learned only in the past few days.
After bowing deeply to her, the chef returned to the depths of the kitchen.
(Nii-sama has cared for me all along in his own imperceptible ways...) Rukia felt as if the gulfs in her heart that had formed over the many years had begun to gradually fill again.
She stood now in front of the main front gate, gazing up at the mighty doors. She had always disliked this place, feeling that it was too lofty, too imposing. Whenever she walked through them, she would feel tiny and insignificant.
(Perhaps I can learn to like these doors, and this house too.)
The dark red tiled roof stood out against the blue of the sky.
Underneath the afternoon sun, it seemed to shine like ripples on water.
Rukia thought, from the bottom of her heart, that it was very beautiful.
Back to the kitchen.
“So, how was it?”
“I’ve decided to make something spicy.”
Renji clapped the suddenly perky Rukia on the back.
“Hah...! What, what are you doing?!”
“Nothing, bye-bye!” Renji laughed and left the kitchen. “...Good for you, Rukia,” he murmured to himself as he walked along the corridors.
Rukia cursed him as she massaged her back, though her expression said otherwise. She knew that he didn’t really mean to “hit” her.
(If I want to make something spicy...then what should I do with this...), she thought as she looked down at the pot full of shiratama. “That’s right! I’ll just take it to Captain Ukitake!”
Since all of Soul Society had been so busy, Rukia still hadn’t had time to sit down and talk with her own superior, Captain of the Thirteenth Division Ukitake Juushiro. She removed the pot from the stove and covered it. But while she stopped to catch her breath, another sweet-loving shinigami came looking for the source of the smell.
“Oh, it’s Rukia!” The new shinigami looked very much like a child, her hair a sakura pink. It was the Lieutenant of the Eleventh Division, Kusajishi Yachiru. She waved and hopped over.
“Lieutenant Kusajishi, good day!”
“Something smells really good.” She sniffed around, determined the source of the smell, and lifted the pot cover to look.
“I made some shiratama zenzai.”
“Aha, it looks really good!” Yachiru’s eyes shone. “Who are you going to give it to?” she asked, pulling on Rukia’s sleeve.
“I was going to carry it over to the Thirteenth Division...”
“Then, I’ll take it over there for you.”
“No, I couldn’t let a lieutenant do this kind of...”
“I said it’s okay.” Yachiru picked up the roughly twenty-kilo pot and placed it on her head.
“Ah, Lieutenant Kusajishi...!”
“Just leave it to me-!” She ignored Rukia’s attempts to stop her and sped out like the wind, while not spilling even a single drop. By the time Rukia ran out after her, she was nowhere to be seen.
Thirteenth Division Barracks
In the innermost section of the barracks, at the end of a very long corridor, in a place undisturbed by noise and commotion, situated next to a lake and surrounded by bamboo, there was a certain building. It was used as the Thirteenth Division’s captain quarters.
“Hey, hey, I’m here!” Yachiru yelled at the curtained door.
Ukitake quickly came out to welcome her. “Isn’t this Kusajishi? And it’s your first time here too.”
“Well, Ruki asked me to bring this here!” she said, pointing at the pot on her head.
“Yup, Kuchiki Rukia.”
“Oh, you were talking about Kuchiki.”
“Yup, she made this!” Ukitake lifted up the lid and she explained, “It’s shiratama zenzai.”
“It looks very good! ...But, how am I going to finish all this...”
“Then I can help you eat.”
“That’s right! I’ll share some with Captain Hitsugaya!”
“Ah-----!” Yachiru looked very disappointed.
Ukitake didn’t notice and went back inside to don his captain’s haori. “You can come with me, Kusajishi.” Ukitake smiled cheerfully and dragged Yachiru, who was extremely unhappy and didn’t want to move, by the hand and away from his quarters.
Tenth Division Barracks, Administrative Offices
“That’s all of it.” Hitsugaya placed the mountain of paperwork on his desk into a briefcase. He rubbed his aching back and walked out of his office.
“Oh, Captain Hitsugaya! You’re just in time!”
He looked where the voice came from and saw Ukitake walking to him along the corridor.
“Captain... Ukitake...” Behind the smiling captain was yet another person. “...and Kusajishi.” Yachiru still looked extremely disgruntled.
“Kuchiki made this. I came here especially to share some with you.”
“Oh. Is that so.”
Ukitake lifted the lid to let him see. Of course, the pot was still on top of Yachiru’s head.
“The ‘bottom of the pot’ doesn’t look terribly happy.”
Now that Hitsugaya pointed it out, Ukitake noticed for the first time that Yachiru was not happy. From the vantage point of someone as tall as Ukitake, the pot completely concealed her face.
“I’m sorry, Kusajishi!!” He picked the pot off of her head. “It’s quite heavy.” He smiled again, as if everything had been resolved. Yet Yachiru still did not seem very happy.
(She’s probably thinking ‘just let me eat already.’) Perhaps because his own vantage point was so close to hers, Hitsugaya immediately understood what she was thinking. But, just when he opened his mouth to relay this to Ukitake -
“Captain, who are you talking to?” The reception room door opened and out came Rangiku, swaying as she walked.
“Oh, Matsumoto! Are you drinking?”
“If it isn’t Captain Ukitake. Come drink with us,” she said, pointing to the reception room.
“Shuuhei brought some very good sake.”
“Well then, I’ll have one cup!”
Rangiku laughed and replied, “But of course!”
“Hey, don’t force Ukitake to drink too much,” Hitsugaya quietly chastised Rangiku. Captain Ukitake might look tall and imposing, but he was really physically quite weak. If he pushed himself too hard, he might end up in bed for days. And that was what Hitsugaya was worried about...
“What’s that pot? Is it yours?”
His words of caution completely flew in one ear and out the other. (Damnit! She isn’t listening at all!) Despite the fact that he was screaming inside, he tried hard to control his anger. He often repeated to himself the refrain, ‘only children get mad over the tiniest things,’ in order to calm himself down... but when he was with Rangiku, sometimes there really was no way to calm down.
“Ah, it looks really good!” she said.
“I heard that Kuchiki Rukia made it,” said Hitsugaya.
“Kuchiki made it?”
Ukitake replied, “Yes.”
“Is it okay for us to have some?”
“No problem. There’s more than enough here. I’ll bring some back to the Thirteenth Division myself.”
“Then, we won’t stand on ceremony! Come on inside.” She opened the door and ushered Ukitake in. “And Captain should come too.”
“Come on!” She pushed him in too. “Kusajishi, why are you getting mad about? I’ll ladle some out for you myself. Come on.”
With just that one sentence, Yachiru started smiling again. “Okay, I want an entire bowl, piled as high as a mountain!”
“Okay, as high as a mountain!”
After they were all inside, Rangiku left to bring some bowls and utensils from the Tenth Division’s kitchen.
Inside the reception room, Kyoraku and Lieutenant of the Ninth Division Hisagi Shuuhei sat facing each other across a table, drinking sake. Orihime, who was still drunk from the tokkuri saichu, was sleeping away on a bench by the wall.
“Pardon the interruption.”
The two of them stared at Ukitake as he walked in.
“Ah, if it isn’t Ukitake! What an occasion this is!”
“Captain Ukitake, I hope you’re feeling well?”
Kyoraku waved, while Hisagi stood up to greet him.
“I’m feeling great, have been since the morning.” Ukitake placed the pot on the table and sat down next to Kyoraku. He motioned for Hisagi to sit down as well.
“Even so, you didn’t have to keep these drunks company.”
“That’s right, these drunks!!”
So said Hitsugaya and Yachiru, completely obscured by Ukitake’s shadow.
(Wow, what a tiny pair...)
(They look even shorter when placed together...)
Looking at the two shortest members of the Gotei 13, the three of them had very similar thoughts.
“You, I know exactly what you’re all thinking.” Hitsugaya shook his fist at them.
Just then, Rangiku came back with a spoon. “Sorry for the delay!”
“We’re saved...!” Hisagi accidentally blurted out. Hitsugaya gave him an extremely evil look. He quickly mumbled, “No, no matter,” and looked away.
“I’m first!” Yachiru stood next to Rangiku and stared longingly at the ladle and bowl in her hands.
“Okay, here you go.” Rangiku handed her a bowl so full that it was in danger of spilling over.
“Didn’t you say as high as a mountain?”
“This is a liquid. I can’t pour any more in.”
“Don’t complain. If you’re still not full afterwards, we have some sweets over there for you.”
Yachiru didn’t even bother to use any utensils as she just poured the whole thing into her mouth. Her cheeks were stuffed full as she chewed on the shiratama.
(What a little animal...) Hitsugaya thought as he received his own serving.
“Hm? Shuuhei? You’re not eating?” Rangiku looked up from her bowl and saw that Hisagi merely held his bowl in his right hand as he drank tea out of his left.
“I’m not used to eating sweets with sake, so I wanted to wait until I sobered up a little bit...”
“...Huh?” He felt strange. He looked fearfully at his right hand and saw that the entire thing, from the bowl to his fingers, had disappeared into Yachiru’s mouth. “Aaaahhh!! I’m being eaten!!”
“You shouldn’t do that, Kusajishi!” Rangiku hurriedly detached her from Hisagi and fetched the empty bowl out of her mouth. (And here I thought that she had eaten that too...)
Hisagi looked extremely pale as he picked up a piece of cloth and started to wipe Yachiru’s spit off his hands.
“...Hey, Hisagi.” Hitsugaya’s sharp eyes were fixed on the cloth that he was using.
It was the Tenth Division Captain’s... haori.
“Ah! I’m sorry...!!”
Hitsugaya continued to eat his shiratama in silence, even though the crease in his brow was deeper than anyone’d ever seen it. He merely transformed all his anger into cold air which then surrounded Hisagi. It was a warm August afternoon, but Hisagi suddenly felt like he was at the South Pole, and naked. Now completely sober, he hurried to drink his sake in tiny sips, even if he couldn’t taste anything but fear.
Rangiku managed to not notice that he was covered with cold sweat at all. Instead, she went and patted Orihime on the shoulder. “Orihime, wake up, we have some shiratama zenzai.”
Orihime woke up and started gibbering about aliens.
“Now now, we don’t have any of that here.” Rangiku patted her on her head, and she finally realized that she had been sleeping.
“Why was I asleep...”
“You ate some saichu. Don’t you remember?”
Orihime nodded. “So it was the tokkuri saichu.”
“Right, that. It had an alcoholic center.”
“You were out of it after you had some, remember?”
“Umm... I only remember becoming good friends with the alien who helped me.”
“Oh, really... That’s okay too. Here, this is yours.” She handed a bowl full of shiratama to Orihime.
“Wow, it looks really good!”
“I heard that Kuchiki made it.”
“Kuchiki-san? ...Ah, it’s so good!” Orihime took a big gulp and smiled from the bottom of her heart.
“Ohh, this child is so cute...” Kyoraku smiled too as he watched Orihime eat shiratama.
A still sleepy Orihime, with her hair all mussed up, eating shiratama in really big gulps... It wasn’t just Kyoraku who was affected. Everyone present seemed to feel as if all their worries had melted away.
“I’m finished!” She handed her bowl and chopsticks back to Rangiku and stood up to stretch.
“I’m going to go say thank you to Kuchiki-san now.”
Rangiku called to her just as she had reached the door. “Are you okay going back by yourself? You’re still unfamiliar with the roads here in Seireitei.”
“Really? You said that it took you two hours to get here today.”
“It shouldn’t... be a problem.”
Hearing such an uncertain answer, Ukitake stood and lifted up the pot. “Then why don’t you come back with me? After I share the rest of this with the Thirteenth Division, I’m going to go return the pot.”
“Really? Then I’ll go with you.”
“Of course! ...Goodbye then, everyone!” Ukitake left the room.
“Rangiku-san, thank you for the tea!”
“No problem, come again soon.”
“Toshiro-kun, sorry for bothering you!”
“That’s ‘Captain Hitsugaya’ to you! See you later!”
“Kyoraku-san, the tokkuri saichu was delicious!”
“Ah, see you soon.”
“...? Eh...?” Orihime cocked her head and stared at Hisagi. Since he came in while she was asleep, she had no idea who he was.
Hisagi just waved and said, “Don’t worry about it!”
The only other person in the room was busy eating sweets by a cupboard in the corner. Kyoraku’s figure managed to completely conceal her from view, so Orihime didn’t realize Yachiru was there.
On the way back to the Thirteenth Division barracks, they ran into Ise Nanao.
“Ise! How are you?”
“Captain Ukitake...! How is your health?”
“I haven’t had any problems recently.”
“Is that so...” Nanao’s expression relaxed slightly and she adjusted her glasses.
“Umm... good evening!”
Nanao turned her gaze to Orihime. “Ah, you are that ryoka... I think I saw you just now at the Tenth Division barracks.”
“Yes! I am Inoue Orihime!”
“I am Ise Nanao of the Eighth Division. Nice to meet you.”
“I am so sorry about earlier!” Orihime bowed deeply. Nanao stared at her and frowned. “I didn’t know that that was Captain Kyoraku... so I didn’t know that he was the person that Nanao-san was looking for. If I did, I would have told you...”
“What did you say?!”
“When I left, Captain was in the room?!”
“No, he came right after you left...”
“Where is he now? Is he still at the Tenth Division barracks?!”
“I think he should be...”
Nanao immediately said goodbye and ran off. Surrounding her figure... seemed to be an aura of fury...
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything...”
“Maybe you did the right thing...”
The two of them prayed for Kyoraku’s safety.
Tenth Division Barracks, Reception Room
“Captain!!” The door came crashing open as Nanao entered the room.
Nanao threw a stack of papers at his face and fixed her gaze on Rangiku. “Rangiku-san...”
“Wha-What! I didn’t lie to you just now! Captain Kyoraku came here right after you left.”
“It’s true! Nanao....Aaah...!” Kyoraku suffered another paperwork attack, this time to the other side of his face. Both sides of his face now were flushed red.
Rangiku stood behind Hitsugaya and placed her hands on his tiny shoulders. “Captain, tell her!”
“This is none of my business! I was working by myself the entire time.”
Rangiku’s expression immediately changed to ‘we’re done for,’ but she just as quickly recovered her smile and massaged Hitsugaya’s shoulders. “Don’t be so angry. I’ll work hard now.”
“...I’m already done.”
Hitsugaya removed her hands and turned to face her. “I did your portion of the work as well. You had quite a few forms that’d already missed the deadline...”
“Captain-----!” Rangiku caught him in a bear hug.
There was a roughly forty centimeter difference between their heights, so naturally Hitsugaya’s head ended up right between her bountiful mounds.
“How lucky...” Hisagi looked on with envious eyes as Hitsugaya’s arms and legs flailed wildly. Upon closer inspection, it looked like he was trying to he was trying to thump her on the back. “Rangiku-san, umm, isn’t that a bit much?”
“Oh? Really?” She let go after Hisagi reminded her. As a result, Hitsugaya ended up on his knees.
“Ah...! Are you trying to kill me!!” He had almost suffocated and was breathing like his life depended on it.
“How ridiculous, why on earth would I try to kill Captain?” she replied as if nothing was the matter.
“I felt as if my life was flashing before my eyes.”
“All right, it’s in the past already.”
“You have no right to decide that!”
...Hitsugaya’s troubles were never-ending.
Kyoraku watched their argument and then turned to Nanao, his eyes full of hope. “Maybe Nanao did all my work for me too...”
“I didn’t!” Nanao quickly shot him down. “Do you even know how many forms can’t be submitted without the Captain’s seal?! Even if a captain can do a lieutenant’s work, the reverse is not possible! Please return to the barracks as soon as you finish your food!!”
“Then, I’ll eat slowly...”
“I am getting really angry!” Nanao closed her eyes and tightened her fingers around the stack of paperwork.
That movement didn’t escape his notice. “I am sorry! Don’t get mad, Nanao-chan.”
“Please do not speak to me in that revolting tone of voice.”
“There are no buts about it!!! Now eat!!”
Hisagi lowered his head as he listened in on their conversation. Rangiku noticed and stared at him.
“Weren’t you just thinking... ‘If only my captain were here?’”
“How could I...” Hisagi went silent.
He had been the lieutenant of the Captain of the Ninth Division, Tousen Kaname, who had left Soul Society together with Aizen.
“That is not your responsibility,” said Hitsugaya. Kyoraku also nodded at his words. “Things might be difficult for you right now, but you do not have to take on everything alone. If you have any issues or problems, then let me know. I will help you.”
Nanao and Rangiku looked on with similar thoughts.
“Thank you... Thanks to all of you... I am so...”
“Hn, that was delicious -----!!” Yachiru’s voice drowned him out.
“Ah....?! You ate it all...”
“Thank you for the food!” Before Rangiku even had a chance to finish her sentence, she sped out like a bolt of lightning.
“She’s defeated us...” Staring at the empty sweets cupboard, Rangiku slapped her forehead and sighed.
“Where on earth does she pack it away to...” said Kyoraku, looking down at all the discarded wrappers.
“Captain, I told you to hurry up with your food!”
“I understand --- Nanao is so impatient...” Kyoraku started eating again as Rangiku picked up the wrappers.
Hitsugaya turned to a mouth-wide-open Hisagi and said, “You... had something to say just now?”
Hisagi Shuuhei ---- was a rather pitiable man.
Chapter Two - Curry Rice
Fourth Division, General Medical Station, Second Floor Corridor
“...Sewing materials?” said Lieutenant of the Fourth Division Kotetsu Isane.
“Do you know where I could find them?” asked Ishida Uryu, who had stopped her in the hallway.
“On the first floor.” Isane pointed down. The station not only treated wounded shinigami, it was also responsible for mending and repairing shinigami uniforms.
“Could I borrow them?”
“Of course... are you the one using them?”
“Yes. I wanted to make some clothes for when we return to the living world.”
“You know how to make clothes?” Isane leaned over and asked.
“Yes, I can...” Uryu was somewhat cowed by Isane’s tall and commanding presence.
“Then, then... I have a request...!” She crouched down and started whispering in his ear.
General Medical Station, Kitchen
After Yachiru left with the pot of shiratama zenzai, Rukia took a deep breath to regain her composure before putting a new pot on the stove. She moved Renji’s chair back to the corner, and sat there with her arms crossed.
“Spicy food...” She ran through a mental checklist of all the things that she had ever eaten. She had never come across any sort of proper food when she lived in Rukongai, and she had only ever eaten sweet things after being adopted by the Kuchiki family. Rukia thus didn’t really know much about spicy food.
“Now that I think about it... there was that food called ‘curry rice’ from when I was in the living world. That was pretty spicy...” The only thing that she could think of was the dinner that Ichigo had brought her, when she was living in a closet at the Kurosaki house.
“I brought dinner!” Ichigo knocked on the door. It creaked open and Rukia poked her head out.
“You’re late!” She closed the book that she was reading and jumped down to the floor.
“What else could I do! I couldn’t ask for a late-night snack right after I finished my dinner. Those who live under others’ roofs shouldn’t complain!” He handed her the tray, sat down at his desk, and pulled out his English textbook to prepare for tomorrow’s lecture.
The tray contained a glass full of water, and an oval plate filled with curry rice.
“...What is this?” Rukia poked gingerly at the curry with her spoon, mumbling to herself.
“There’s mud on it...”
“Why would I go through so much effort to play a sick joke like that? This is curry, curry!” Ichigo turned and said to her.
“You don’t have it in Soul Society?”
“No, this is my first time seeing it.” Rukia carefully scooped a tiny bit of curry with the spoon and smelled it. “Cough cough...! Hey, Ichigo! It stings! Can I really eat it?!” She had been completely unprepared for the fact that the spices might cause her to start coughing or bring tears to her eyes.
“You’re so noisy! Just settle down and eat! I’m trying to study English here!” Ichigo turned away and faced his desk again.
Rukia thought (what a grouch!) and picked up the spoon again. She took a sip of water and renewed her determination to send the curry into her mouth.
...Gulp. Gulp. Gulp gulp gulp.
“It’s good...!” It was unlike anything that she’d tasted before in Soul Society. Spicy with a trace of sweetness, the flavor was complicated and indescribable in only a few words. “Ichigo, it’s really good.”
“Really, that’s great.”
“Ichigo, this is called curry?”
“Ichigo, how is it made?”
“Who knows.” Of course he knew, but it was hard to describe, so he bluffed instead.
“Why are you so noisy!”
Rukia looked at Ichigo as he turned to face her, and took another bite. “Let me copy your notes when you’re done.”
“Are you joking? Do it yourself!”
That night, she waited until he was in the bathroom to fetch his notebook out of his bag and copied it in the closet. The next morning, she waited until he was eating breakfast downstairs to return it to his bag. Ichigo never even realized what happened. From then on, Rukia repeated this strategy quite a few times [borrowing the notebook → copying it in the closet → returning it the next day]. Ichigo never found out, not even once.
(...Ah! Now isn’t the time to contemplate my tactical brilliance.) Rukia stood and walked up to the empty pot.
(But... how am I going to make this?) She studied the seasonings on the shelf, and carefully considered her options.
“There was something spicy and something sticky... Could it be pepper and starch...? But if that was true, then where did the color come from...” Rukia considered this, that, and other things, but in the end she still couldn’t figure out what ingredient was necessary for the color.
(...Well then, I’ll just go ask Ichigo or the others.) She sighed softly and left the kitchen. (Near here... is that them?)
She honed in on the reiatsu and walked in that direction.
General Medical Station, First Floor, Shinigami Uniform Sewing Room
In this room were gathered the most quick and nimble members of the Fourth Division, who were responsible for the sewing of uniforms and captain’s haori.
“Wow...so cute!” Kotetsu Isane placed the one-piece dress that Ishida Uryu had made for her against her body, and smiled from the bottom of her heart. Her one condition for using the sewing room was for Uryu to make a piece of western-style clothing for her.
“Ishida-san, thank you so much!” She bowed down deeply to him.
Ishida hurriedly said, “No need to thank me,” and blushed. “That was nothing...” As if to cover up his embarrassment, he adjusted his glasses a few times.
“No! I’m so happy! Soul Society has shops that sell clothing made in styles from the real world... but I’m too tall, so there’s nothing that fits me.”
Uryu (1.71m) looked up from his seat next to the sewing machine at Isane (1.87m), who was standing. “I... see. Then I’ll make another set for you...”
“No way! Ishida-san, I’m next!” said the Third Seat of the Thirteenth Division, Kotetsu Kiyone, as she pushed her way to Ishida’s side. Kiyone, who was Isane’s little sister, came here to look for her captain. Hearing that her sister got a set of western-style clothes from Ishida, she wanted one too.
“But... but, Kiyone you could always buy a set from the store.”
“Living world clothes are too expensive! Why pay when I can get a set for free?!”
“But... aren’t you here to find Captain Ukitake? You can’t stay here for long.”
“I’ll go look for him after I’m measured.”
Isane sighed at how determined her sister was. “Okay... I’ll buy a set for you! Will that be fine?”
“Really?! Really?! Don’t go back on your word now!”
“Okay! Just as planned... err I mean, I’m so happy!” Kiyone raised her fist and smiled.
(Just now, did she really say “just as planned”...) Uryu managed to catch it, but Isane was too busy calculating her recent expenditures in her head to notice.
“Bye-bye! Sister! Ishida-san!” Kiyone waved and walked out of the sewing room.
Uryu began cutting a light green cloth that might suit Isane under her expectant gaze. “Are shinigami paid very low salaries? Actually now that I mention it, do you have salaries?” he asked her.
Isane laughed. “Of course we have salaries. I am a lieutenant, so I have a much higher salary than Kiyone, who is a third seat. But when compared to the other lieutenants, I have a much lower salary.”
“Does it have to do with which captain you serve?”
“Our base salaries are all the same. Those who serve on the front lines get an extra danger bonus. Since the Fourth Division is mainly responsible for support and logistics in the rear, our bonuses in that area are much lower.”
“So it’s like that...” It was exactly the opposite in the living world, Uryu thought. Those who fought on the front lines were utterly destitute, while those who stayed safe in the rear became wealthy.
(Sensei...) Uryu thought of his grandfather Ishida Souken, the Quincy. In order to protect souls from Hollows, he went on the front lines alone and uncompensated. His father Ishida Ryuuken had refused to become a Quincy since he “couldn’t make money from it,” choosing instead to become a doctor. Although Souken thought that Ryuuken’s words “had some merit,” Uryu would never agree with his father’s way of thinking.
Uryu sank unhappily into silence. Seeing him like this, Isane thought that he felt sorry about her low salary. “But, I am very proud to be a part of the Fourth Division! Even if the pay is low, I still like the Fourth Division very much!”
“Ah... I see.”
“That’s right! I’m totally fine with it, so you don’t need to worry.”
Faced with a conversation that had gone completely off the rails, Uryu decided to focus instead on his work.
After Uryu finished a second set of clothes for Isane, she thanked him profusely and went back to her own workstation.
He stood up and stretched a little, resting for a bit. A female shinigami from the sewing group came up to present him with some tea.
“If it’s not too much trouble, please accept this.” She placed the cup in front of him.
“Thank you.” He drained the entire cup in one gulp. The flavor was similar to that of green tea, but the fragrance was different. It was really an unimaginable sort of fragrance.
(It feels like all the weariness has been washed clean from my body...) In actuality, he wasn’t just “feeling” it. It really happened. This was a special tea produced by the Fourth Division, designed to restore their bodies when they were tired. It contained many different herbs chosen especially for this purpose.
“Well... if you’re not tired, could you make me a set too?” asked the female shinigami. Her way of phrasing this was so delicate, it didn’t at all carry the implication that “I was the one who helped you recover.”
“I’m not tired anymore, but the clothes I made just now were of a living world style...”
“Ah, how crafty you are! I want one too!”
“Then I want one as well!”
Uryu was suddenly mobbed by the female shinigami. “If - if I had to make a set for everyone, isn’t that a little too...”
“What ------ !!” Everyone present sounded extremely unhappy.
“If I just gave you the patterns then it might be possible.”
“Yay ----------!!” They immediately started casting lots for places in line.
In the middle of it all, Uryu let out a deep sigh.
Rukia stood by the door of the sewing room and saw it all.
She had found Uryu by searching for his reiatsu, but he was completely surrounded by female shinigami and busy drawing patterns on paper. There hadn’t been a single chance to talk to him.
(...Maybe I won’t bother him.) Thinking that she’d go find the other three instead, Rukia left. She walked along a corridor and stopped by the front door.
(I hope they’re somewhere nearby...) She closed her eyes and started to search for their reiatsu.
“What are you doing?”
She turned her head towards the sound and saw Kurosaki Ichigo standing there. “Ah, Ichigo! How are your injuries? You can walk now?”
The four ryoka were assigned single rooms in the medical station, no matter if they were injured or not. Ichigo’s injuries had been even worse than Byakuya’s, but thanks to the powers of Orihime’s shun shun rikka, he had recovered at an astonishing speed.
“I’m not even in pain anymore, but they reminded me not to do anything too strenuous,” he said as he placed his hand on his stomach. He was able to walk a few days after being nearly split in two... Orihime’s powers really were quite something.
“Really...! That’s great!” She patted her chest a few times, completely relieved. She had gone to visit Ichigo a few times, but this was the first time that he had been able to walk.
“So, what are you doing?”
“I had something that I wanted to ask Ishida... Oh, Ichigo! Do you know how to make curry rice?”
“Then come with me!”
Rukia walked forward ten spaces and looked back. “Come on, don’t just stand there.” She picked up her pace again.
“What the, what on earth is happening...” Ichigo was confused, but had no choice but to obediently follow her to the kitchen.
Second Floor, Kitchen
“Now, what do I do first?” Rukia placed both hands on her waist as she stood in front of the stove, looking up at him.
“I already asked you, what about the curry!”
“And I told you, tell me how to make it.”
“Oh, so it’s that. But is that really how you ask someone for a favor?!” Ichigo sat down on the chair in the corner and scowled at her.
Rukia felt a sudden rush of anger and raised an eyebrow, but she just as quickly lowered her head and said, “I’m sorry.”
“What... what’s wrong? Why are you so agreeable today?”
“I don’t have time. I need to finish it before dinner...”
He stared at her profile, with her eyes lightly closed, and realized something. “Are you making it for Byakuya?”
“So you do know...”
“Oh, so it’s that.” He thought to himself, (your face could’ve told me everything I needed to know.)
Before, Rukia and Byakuya did not have any sort of sibling affection. Now that the previous battle had helped her discover Byakuya’s true feelings, she was carefully considering how to handle this new relationship with her brother. All these complicated emotions were written on her face, even though she hadn’t realized it yet.
“Curry... First, do you have some curry mix?”
“Mix? What is mix?”
“It’s the main ingredient in curry. I wonder if Soul Society has it...”
“What a second, I’ll go ask.”
Rukia went up to a nearby cook who was busy cleaning a fish and spoke briefly with him. “He said he’d heard of it, but never saw it before. I said that it was something that looked like mud, like a muddy kind of thing?”
“No, never mind.” He clasped his hands together and closed his eyes. (I remember that one way to make it was... to fry some wheat flour and then do this and that to it, but I can’t remember any of the details.) His sister Yuzu used an instant mix to make curry. His mother Masaki had thought that it should be made from scratch with flour. But Ichigo wasn’t even tall enough to reach his mother’s wrists back then, so he couldn’t remember the exact details. No matter what, he first needed to get his hands on some curry mix. And Soul Society’s resident expert at getting her hands on such rare items was...
“Okay!” Ichigo stood up. “I’m going to go ask Yoruichi-san. You can start on the diced meat and vegetables. I’ll be back soon.”
“Oh, thank you!” Rukia replied... and then immediately regretted not asking him what sorts of vegetables tasted well in curry.
She started to recall what it had tasted like in her mouth. She closed her eyes, and made scooping motions towards her mouth with the spoon.
All the cooks nearby stared at her in bewilderment.
Ichigo followed Shihouin Yoruichi’s reiatsu to the Second Division Barracks. In a corridor near the administrative offices, he ran into Captain of the Second Division Soi Fon coming out of the reception room. She moved with a fluid grace, silently sliding the door shut.
“Oh, you’re the Captain of the Second Division, right?”
Soi Fon jumped upon hearing his voice and stared. “You are... Kurosaki Ichigo. What are you doing here?” she asked, frowning at him.
“I’m looking for Yoruichi-san. I felt her reiatsu near here...”
“Yoruichi-sama is resting.” She took a position in front of the door and frowned even more.
“Really, thanks.” He walked up and was soon almost inches away from running into her, but Soi Fon still refused to move. “...Umm, I want to go inside, so could you please let me in?”
“I refuse.” His request was denied.
Ichigo looked down at her and cocked his head to one side. “Uh...?”
“Didn’t I just say that she’s resting! I refuse to let you disturb Yoruichi-sama’s sleep!” Soi Fon started to reach for the zanpakutou on her back.
“Wait a second, what are you trying to do?!”
Soi Fon crouched and began to emit a dangerous aura. Ichigo was unconsciously forced back a step. “Leave. Otherwise... I’ll kill you!” She gripped her zanpakutou.
(She... She’s serious!) Ichigo started to sweat. He could tell just from that aura that she wasn’t joking.
Just as she was about to unsheathe her zanpakutou, the door to the reception room slid open. “Stop, Soi Fon!”
Yoruichi walked out, scratching her head. Although she often went around as a cat, today she was in human form.
“Don’t worry, you can retreat for now.” She yawned and patted Soi Fon’s head.
“...I obey.” Soi Fon bowed and stood behind her.
“Good to see you, Ichigo! Your wounds look a lot better!”
“Yeah, I’m pretty much healed already...”
“So? Did you need something?”
“Yes.” He noticed that Soi Fon was still staring at him with killing intent, and shrank back a little. “I’m looking for some curry mix. I thought that Yoruichi-san might know where to get some.”
“Hm, curry... Well, that’s not something that you can find in Soul Society.” She clasped her wrist and looked curiously at him. “But really... why do you need something like that? Won’t you be able to eat it in a few days when you return to the living world? How impatient you are!”
“It isn’t for me! Rukia asked me to look for some!”
“Yeah, she wants to make some for Byakuya. So... could you think of something?”
Yoruichi nodded. “Oh, so it’s for little Byakuya...” She thought for two or three seconds. “Okay! I’ll bring it to you as soon as I get it.”
“Thanks so much!”
Yoruichi walked up to the window and leaned against the frame. “Bye-bye then, Ichigo! Soi Fon!” There was a sudden wind, and she was nowhere to be seen. This was the shinigami art of high-speed movement, shunpo.
“I’m coming with you!” Soi Fon followed her out the window.
Ichigo was left alone in the corridor, wondering (do captains really have so much free time?) while rubbing his head.
“Captain -- could you place your seal here... huh?” The Lieutenant of the Second Division Omaeda Marechiyo had managed to just miss the two of them. “Hey, you... you?! Aren’t you the ryoka from that one time?!”
The “one time” that Omaeda referred to was when Ichigo had managed to defeat the lieutenants of the First, Second, and Fourth Divisions all at once on Sokyoku Hill.
“Have I seen you somewhere before... Sorry, can’t remember.” ----What a pity that Ichigo had completely forgotten about it himself.
His face contorted slightly. “So you can’t remember... Hmph, that’s fine too! A rich man such as myself doesn’t get caught up in the past!!”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t remember you at all.”
Ichigo’s next sentence almost made him lose control, but he couldn’t go back on his word and make a scene. (Don’t get so mad at what that peasant says... Just remember that I’m incredibly rich, and he’s a poor bastard.) With that self-encouragement, he managed to control his anger. “Orangehead, wasn’t the Captain here just now?”
“Yeah. She left with Yoruichi-san.”
“I can’t stand it anymore! Damnit! Ever since Yoruichi-sama showed up, she hasn’t done even a bit of work!” Omaeda stomped back into the administrative offices.
Ichigo walked out of the Second Division Barracks and started hurrying back to where Rukia was waiting. When the Fourth Division Barracks came into view, he noticed a familiar figure nearby. Even though it was dressed in shinigami robes, with that figure and that haircut, it could only be one person.
“Chad---!!” Ichigo waved and ran to where he was.
Chad waved gently back. “You have no trouble walking anymore?”
“Yeah, no problem!” Ichigo thumped his abdomen a few times. Chad let out a deep breath and nodded. “Where are you going?”
“To West Rukongai... to see Shibata.”
Shibata Yuichi was a boy who was looking for his mother from the living world. He had once lived inside a parakeet and met Chad, even if it was only for a little while.
“Oh. Be careful.”
“Ah.” Chad started running towards the West Gate, Hakutomon. His steps were long and he was soon very far away.
“Hey --- Chad! Say hi to him for me ---!” Ichigo yelled to Chad’s faraway figure. Chad stopped and gave him a thumbs up. “Eh? Is that a habit of his?” Ichigo mumbled to himself as he watched his good friend start running again.
General Medical Station, Second Floor, Kitchen
When Ichigo returned to the kitchen, Rukia was busy peeling potatoes with a very serious expression. The cutting board was covered with a small mountain of diced onions and pork.
“Huh? That’s quite a lot! How many people are you planning to make this for?”
Rukia looked up. Her eyes were still red from cutting up the onions. “Oh, Ichigo! How was it? Did you get the curry mix?”
“Yoruichi-san said that she’d bring some.”
“Then it shouldn’t be a problem.” She went back to work and used what looked like some very dangerous techniques to peel the potatoes and dice them.
Ichigo sat down on the chair in the corner and said to her, “I wonder...”
“What is it?” Her eyes were still focused on her work.
“What kind of a person is Yoruichi-san? People say that she was a supreme commander of something.”
“Commander of the Onmitsukidō and Corps Commander of the Corrections Corps. The previous one.” Currently Soi Fon held both positions.
“But what does that even mean? I don’t understand.”
Rukia finished up the last bit of potato and looked at him. “The Onmitsukidō is kind of like the living world’s CI-something...”
“Yes, just like that! That’s why their identities are always kept secret.” She looked a tad pleased with herself as she started to peel some garlic next.
“So Soul Society even has something like that...”
“When I went to the living world and discovered that you had such an organization, I felt the same way. Even though I’d done some living world studies at the Shino Academy... it really was better to get some hands-on experience.”
The Shino Academy was set up by the Captain Commander of the Gotei 13, Yamamoto Genryuusai Shigekuni. It was an educational institution dedicated to training shinigami.
“Living world studies, huh...”
In order for shinigami to not be too confused when they went on duty in the living world, the most basic amount of real world knowledge possible was taught in “living world studies.” Life in Soul Society and the living world was just too different, so this course had been set up seventy years ago.
“...So, what about Yoruichi-san?”
“By the time I joined the Gotei 13, she had already retired from her position as commander of the Onmitsukidō, so I don’t know the exact details,” she said as she started to cut up the garlic.
“What, even you don’t know?”
Rukia stopped what she was doing for a moment and turned to face him. “But... I’ve heard a lot of stories about her. She was the Princess of the Tenshiheisōban Shihouin Family, and the Flash Goddess who nobody could catch...”
“Oh, are you telling stories about me?” Yoruichi walked in smiling, followed closely by Soi Fon.
“Yoruichi-sama! And Captain Soi Fon!” Rukia quickly put down the garlic and greeted them.
“Rukia! Catch!” Yoruichi tossed a box of curry mix to her.
“Thank you so much!”
“No problem. I was bored anyway.”
“So you could find it even in Soul Society,” said Ichigo, looking at the mix in Rukia’s hands.
Yoruichi laughed and said, “There’s nothing that I can’t find! Especially in Soul Society!”
“You really are too wonderful, Yoruichi-sama!” Soi Fon added.
“If you need anything else, just call me! Bye!” Yoruichi turned and walked out of the kitchen. Soi Fon again followed closely behind.
“...Do the captains never work?”
“I don’t think... that’s true.” But as she watched Soi Fon shirk her duties to follow Yoruichi around, there really wasn’t much else she could say.
“Yo, do you need my help with that?” He gestured towards the instructions on the back of the box.
“No, I can do it myself.” Rukia started to fry the chopped vegetables.
“Oh.” Her tiny figure standing by the stove seemed to remind him of another tiny figure by another stove, long ago in the days after his mother had died. He then felt a certain unwillingness to leave.
Bored and with nothing else to do, he picked up a nearby copy of “Seireitei Communications, August Edition” and started reading.
[Lead interview special edition! Lieutenant of the Tenth Division Matsumoto Rangiku ~~ How to coexist with a workaholic superior officer]
[Learn from Third Seat Iemura! What to do when the unexpected happens ~~ Compound fractures chapter ~~]
[Remember that when reciting kido incantations, speed kills!]
[The BEST ways to take off that shinigami uniform!]
[Through clever use of small ornaments, be more fashionable today!]
Ichigo flipped through the magazine and let out a deep sigh. (And here I thought that the shinigami were going to be a bit more intimidating than they actually are...) Instead, the members of the Gotei 13 seemed to have the same sort of existence as performers and wrestlers in the real world.
“Now I’m having trouble trying to imagine what Byakuya eating curry would look like.” Ichigo put the magazine back and stood up to stretch.
The curry would be ready in another fifteen minutes. Rukia stood in front of the stove and tried to imagine Byakuya eating curry.
Byakuya bringing the spoon to his mouth, his cheeks already stuffed full of curry.
Byakuya noisily chewing the curry.
Byakuya with curry stains around his mouth.
(Truly... no matter how I think about it... Nii-sama wouldn’t look right eating curry...!)
Rukia looked down at the pot full of curry boiling merrily away, and froze. “I never realized that certain kinds of food could be inappropriate!”
“But is that really a problem? As long as you made it, Byakuya should be happy to eat it.” Ichigo believed that eating whatever his little sister made without complaint was the duty of a big brother.
“Really?” Rukia felt a slim amount of hope.
Just then, there was a commotion near the entrance of the kitchen.
“My my, what an interesting smell.” It was the Captain of the Fourth Division, Unohana Retsu. She walked gracefully towards them, smiling all the way.
“Captain Unohana! Kuchiki Rukia of the Thirteenth Division is temporarily borrowing your division’s kitchen!”
“Yes, Hanatarou told me.” She nodded gently and turned to Ichigo. “You are... Kurosaki Ichigo-san, correct? How are your injuries?”
“I’m almost healed,” Ichigo stood up to reply. “Thank you for everything that you’ve done.”
“No need... may I see?” She pointed to the wound on his abdomen. Ichigo nodded and pulled aside his clothing. “...Such a grave a wound, and in such short a time...” She placed her hand on his bandages. “That’s all, thank you.” She lifted her hand and smiled at him. “That ryoka girl seems to have very excellent healing abilities... You truly have some very wonderful friends.”
“I agree.” Ichigo couldn’t help but smile.
“By the way...” Unohana turned and looked over Rukia’s shoulder at the pot. “What is that?”
Rukia moved so she could get a clearer look. “This is food from the living world, called curry. It is served over rice.”
“Is that so...” Unohana’s face darkened as she looked at the curry.
“Captain Unohana...?” Rukia asked tentatively.
Unohana gave her a rather hesitant smile. “It is perhaps cruel of me to say so after you worked so hard, but Captain Kuchiki is still unwell. He needs to eat things that are light and not too hard on his stomach.” She placed a comforting hand on Rukia’s shoulder. “Even if it’s something simple, Captain Kuchiki should be very pleased.”
Advice complete, she added, “I shall take my leave then.” She turned and walked slowly away.
“Thank you for the advice!” Rukia bowed to her departing figure.
Ichigo stood by her side and looked at the now cooked curry. “So curry irritates the stomach?”
“What am I going to do now?”
“Maybe you should make some porridge? You already made some cooked rice. It’ll be pretty quick and easy.” Ichigo pointed to an empty pot next to her pot full of curry.
Rukia looked at the orange sunlight filtering in through the windows and decided that there was no time left to lose. “You’re right. That’s what I’ll do.” She turned off the stove and covered up the curry.
“What about this?” Ichigo knocked on the pot cover.
“If you don’t know what to do with it, how about I take it over to the Eleventh Division?” While he was being treated, Orihime had told him that the Eleventh Division had been incredibly helpful in the final mad dash to Sokyoku Hill. He’d already decided to go over there and thank them as soon as he was well.
“Okay, have fun sharing it with everyone.”
“All right then! I’m going!” He took the few scraps of cloth that she handed to him and wrapped them around the pot’s handles. And just like that, he carried it out of the kitchen.
Eleventh Division Barracks
Ichigo heard a very familiar sound.
“Ichi---------!” Yachiru stretched out her four limbs as she descended from the red evening sky. Her shinigami robes rippling against the wind made a sound much like the beating of a bird’s wings.
“What?! Hey, that’s dangerous!” Ichigo estimated where she’d land and jumped out of the way. Yachiru executed a beautiful twist in the air and completed a perfect landing on Ichigo’s shoulder.
“Damnit!! That was too dangerous!! What’d happen if I spilled it?!” He readjusted his grip on the pot.
Yachiru jumped lightly off his shoulder and started examining the pot.
“What? What is this?”
“It’s from Rukia.”
Yachiru didn’t even wait for an answer and lifted the lid directly. She sniffed and immediately sneezed. “Wow~~~! How spicy~~~!” She covered her nose and turned away.
“You’re supposed to pour it over rice. Are you guys having dinner right now?”
“Yup! Everyone’s eating!”
“Well, if we’re not quick then there’ll be no rice left.”
(When he finds out that Ichi is well again, Ken-chan is going to be so happy!) Yachiru smiled and jumped all around him.
The Eleventh Division had a very large dojo, the likes of which couldn’t be found in any other division. When Zaraki Kenpachi became captain, he didn’t feel that the Eleventh Division needed to construct a courtyard to receive guests, so he had a large and sturdy dojo constructed instead. And so, the previous dojo was turned into a cafeteria for the division members.
“I’m back -------!” Yachiru pulled the doors open so hard that they almost broke. The rectangular room was full of long tables placed widthwise and in rows. The only one currently in use was also the one closest to the door. The Eleventh Division might be an unruly bunch, but they still feared and respected Captain Zaraki Kenpachi and a few other seated officers to an unusual degree. Before the captain finished his dinner, none of them dared to enter the cafeteria. Yachiru took off her shoes and hopped onto Kenpachi’s shoulder. “A present for Ken-chan!” she said, pointing to the door.
Everyone looked to the door and saw Ichigo come in with the pot. The corners of Kenpachi’s mouth turned up when he saw him. “Yo, Ichigo. ...Nice present, Yachiru,” he whispered to her.
“Ichigo, how’s that wound on your stomach?” asked the Third Seat of the Eleventh Division, Madarame Ikkaku, who sat at Kenpachi’s right hand side.
Ichigo placed the pot on the table and replied, “Oh, I’m pretty much healed.” But when he saw Kenpachi perk up, he quickly added, “Wait, just wait! That’s.... right. They told me not to do any strenuous exercises!! So I even left Zangetsu in my room!!” He turned around to show that he was telling the truth. (Who on earth would actually want to fight with that demon for no particular reason...!)
“Che, how boring...” Kenpachi picked up some sake and started drinking straight from the bottle.
“Ah, Captain!! You’ll finish too quickly if you drink like that! Please use a cup!”
“Don’t be so stiff, Ikkaku.” Kenpachi didn’t listen to him at all.
“That’s right! Don’t be like that! You party-pooper!!”
A vein started throbbing on Ikkaku’s brow.
“Speaking of which... what did you come here for?” asked the Fifth Seat of the Eleventh Division Ayasegawa Yumichika, who sat across from Ikkaku.
Ichigo placed his hand on the warm lid. “I brought this here...”
“Ichi! Brought us some food to eat! Food!” Yachiru managed to steal his thunder.
“Hey, you’re rather loud...” Ikkaku covered his forehead with his right hand. Yachiru picked up the fish head from Kenpachi’s plate and threw it at Ikkaku’s shiny head. It hit completely on target, and slowly slid off the target’s head.
“Isn’t that right, Ichi!” Yachiru smiled sweetly at him, completely oblivious to Ikkaku’s anger.
“Ah... that’s right. This is from Rukia. You’re supposed to eat it on rice.” (How pitiful...) He looked at Ikkaku and placed the pot at the center of the table before lifting the lid.
“What is this?” asked Ikkaku as he cleaned off his head. “Can we really eat it?”
“It’s spicy mud -------!”
“It’s not mud!! It’s called curry! Curry!” Ichigo yelled at Yachiru.
“It’s not at all beautiful...” Yumichika stole a glance and crossed his arms. Kenpachi didn’t look very enthusiastic either.
“Oh, curry? Wow, this is quite rare!” Just as everyone was feeling rather listless, the silent person sitting at Yumichika’s side finally spoke up. He was the Lieutenant of the Seventh Division, Iba Tetsuzaemon.
“Iba-san, you know what this is?” asked Yumichika.
He nodded. “Yes. I had it once before, when I accompanied one of our new members to the living world.” In order to make him feel more at ease, Iba had taken him to a restaurant where they had a bowl of curry together. “Could I have some?”
“Of course, as much as you want!”
Armed with Ichigo’s reply, Iba poured some curry onto his rice.
“Um, who is that?” Ichigo asked Ikkaku.
“Iba Tetsuzaemon. He used to be our fourth seat, but now he’s a lieutenant in the Seventh Division.”
“Ah... it’s great that you guys are still so friendly.” Ichigo had thought that this was the long-awaited fourth seat, but he was wrong.
“It’s good,” said Iba.
Now Ikkaku wanted to try some too. “Hey, give me some.” He followed Iba’s example and poured some curry into his bowl. “Hey! It’s really good!” He took another bite and said, “It’s really good, Ichigo!” But just as he turned towards Ichigo, Yachiru made a sneak attack on his bowl.
It was the sound of curry being slurped.
The room was suddenly extremely quiet.
Ikkaku was the first to react. “You little rabbit! What are you trying to do?!” He wrestled the bowl away from Yachiru’s mouth and yelled.
“It’s good ------!” Yachiru swatted away Ikkaku’s hand and jumped on top of Kenpachi. Her entire face was covered with curry.
“Hey! How dare you treat me like this! I can’t stand it anymore!”
“All right, don’t get angry. Just get another bowl.” Ichigo jumped in the way as Ikkaku tried to tackle Yachiru. Iba and Yumichika didn’t react to the scuffle at all, like they had already become accustomed to this sort of thing.
It was not easy, but Ikkaku controlled his anger and sat back down.
Now it was Kenpachi’s turn to stand up. “I’m going. I don’t know what this smell is... but my nose isn’t even working anymore.” He quickly made for the exit.
Ichigo waved. “See you soon!”
Iba said goodbye as well, while Ikkaku and Yumichika stood up and bowed in silence.
“Ken-chan, I want to have a bit more before I go!” Yachiru hopped off his shoulder and waved.
Kenpachi said, “Whatever you want,” and left.
Everyone started to work silently on the curry. Iba and Ikkaku wolfed it down like it was ochazuke. Yumichika was careful to not let any of it get into his hair. Yachiru’s entire face disappeared into her bowl. Ichigo ate it slowly with a tiny spoon usually used for sweets.
(It’s like this warm feeling is spreading from my stomach throughout my body...) To Ichigo, who had been stuck eating nothing but flavorless food at the medical station, this really was a special treat.
Just as he turned his attention back to the curry, Yachiru lifted her head up from her bowl, which was of course completely empty.
“Koma is here! Ichi, Koma is here!” She stood up on her chair and looked at Ichigo. Even her hair was covered with curry.
“Your face... is kind of scary.” Before Ichigo even had a chance to finish, she jumped off the chair and opened the door.
“Good evening!” She greeted the Captain of the Seventh Division, Komamura Saijin, who was startled by the door suddenly opening but nevertheless waved at her in greeting.
“Captain! I’m sorry that I started without you!” Iba immediately ran up to Komamura and bowed.
“Don’t worry. Raise your head, Tetsuzaemon.”
“Yes, sir!” Iba did just as he was told.
Ichigo watched their exchange and thought (so there are divisions that have a proper captain and lieutenant...)
“Does Captain Komamura want some too? Even though it’s from the living world, it’s quite good.” Ikkaku pointed to the pot.
Komamura shook his head. “I’ll have to pass.”
“Just try some!” Yachiru jumped on him and started to pull on the fur behind his head.
“Kusajishi... please get off,” said Komamura, confused.
Yachiru got a firm grip and started to rub her face in his fur.
“Lieutenant, this is very rude!” said Ikkaku.
Ichigo elbowed him and asked, “She didn’t wipe her face beforehand... did she?”
It was true. Yachiru’s face was still covered with curry.
(That idiot... look at what she just did----!) Ikkaku ran up and pulled Yachiru off by her collar. The fur on the back of Komamura’s head was covered with yellow sauce. “I am so so so so sorry!!”
“Why are you apologizing...” Komamura hadn’t realized that the back of his head was a complete mess.
“Come back and play soon! Doggy!”
“Doggy...?” Ikkaku turned away from Komamura and whispered to her. “You idiot, you just smeared curry all over the place, and now you’re saying stuff like this?!”
“But, he is a doggy!”
“He’s a wolf!”
Komamura gazed down at the two of them whispering to each other and sighed in admiration. (They’re quite close over here.) “I’ll have to take my leave.” He walked out, still covered with curry.
“Bye-bye!” Yachiru saw him to the door and waved goodbye.
Looking at the little demon, Ikkaku sighed deeply.
“You really have it tough.” Ichigo clapped him on the shoulder and returned to the table. He picked up the bowl and spoon, and mumbled, “Maybe it’s because he’s bald...”
Behind him, there was a sound of a blade being drawn from its sheath.
He looked back.
The blade was pointed right between his eyes.
“Ah?! That... that was dangerous!” Ichigo managed to catch Ikkaku’s zanpakutou between his palms.
“I am not bald...! It’s just shaved...!!” Ikkaku said as he applied more pressure on the blade.
Ichigo pushed the sword away and sighed. “...Really?”
Chapter Three - Rice Porridge
Third Division, Detention Center
Lieutenant of the Third Division Kira Izuru worked alone in the dim detention center.
The very next day after Aizen Sosuke, Ichimaru Gin, and Tousen Kaname left Soul Society, the Captain Commander ordered that all their offices, along with the Central 46 Chamber, be searched. Kira was also implicated in their plot, but he had only been following his captain’s orders and had no clue about their true intentions. And since the Third Division might have to cease operations without their lieutenant, he hadn’t been punished at all.
Then, why was Kira still sitting in the detention center?
This morning, he’d sat facing Nanao on the other side of the bars as she read aloud from an official document.
“...Taking the above points into consideration, Kira Izuru is found to be innocent. This is the judgment of Captain Commander Yamamoto.” She directed the jailer to open up his cell.
Kira lowered his head and walked uncertainly out of the cell.
“Your office, bedroom, as well as the captain’s quarters are still being searched. Please find another room to temporarily stay in while the search is in progress. I will have to go back and supervise the search now.” Nanao turned and started to walk away.
“...Excuse me!” he called to her in a weak voice.
“...What is it?”
“Could I use this place then?”
Nanao frowned. “Isn’t this the detention center?”
“If Lieutenant Kira wishes it, then I won’t stop you. But is this what you really want?”
Kira nodded without meeting her eyes.
Even after the search was over, he didn’t return to his office. The peaceful environment behind these bars was one reason. Still, the biggest reason was because he didn’t have the courage to go near his lost captain’s rooms.
(Even so, I still... respect that man.)
His captain... had betrayed him and all of Soul Society. He understood that. But Ichimaru Gin still had an extraordinary sort of influence over him, one that made him willing to raise his blade against those he loved without any hesitation.
“...I am so pitiful.” He had lost count of how many times he’d repeated that phrase. But even if he said it, it didn’t change anything. That was something else that he understood. “I am really, truly pitiful...” Still, he couldn’t help but say it.
“Good grief! That’s about all I heard the entire way into here! It pisses me off!”
Kira jumped. The man who’d replied to him quickly approached his cell.
“Yo.” It was Abarai Renji.
“Abarai-kun...” Kira immediately looked back at his paperwork.
“What is it? Are you still feeling down?”
He lowered his head and replied, “It’s nothing.”
“How long are you planning to stay in here? Isn’t the search over already?” Renji leaned against the bars as he spoke.
“The search was over a long time ago. They didn’t find anything in the captain’s quarters except for a few blankets and clothes. Same for the administrative offices... other than some paperwork there was nothing else to find.” He put down his brush and moved the form that he’d just finished to the completed paperwork stack.
(Was it because he’d been planning to leave Soul Society all along?) He remembered how his captain never had bookcases or even a desk in his office. Ichimaru Gin had vanished almost without a trace. It almost gave one the impression that he’d never been there at all.
“Since the search is over, it’d be best if you left this place.”
Kira reached for his next piece of paperwork. “Did you need anything from me?”
“Do I have to need something just to talk to you?”
“I guess not...” he said in a quiet voice.
Renji sighed. (...What did I come here for?) He came because he hoped that Kira would cheer up soon... but he didn’t know what to say to make him feel better. “Didn’t you want to apologize to Rukia?”
“She’s busy making some food for Captain Kuchiki at the medical station. I suppose that if you brought some mentaiko to her, it could be a conversation starter.”
“That’s... right. I’ll do that.” He put down the form that he’d been working and rubbed his temples. The cell was stacked full with a mountain of finished paperwork. All that remained to be done was the form on his desk.
(Did I completely wear myself out...) He hadn’t slept at all. He thought that if he focused on his work then that’d block out everything else. He no longer knew how long he’d been awake.
Renji felt so pained by the sight that he had to turn away. “Don’t take on everything yourself,” he suddenly said. “Bye now!”
“...Ah, goodbye.” Kira looked up and stared at Renji’s retreating figure. He was very happy that Renji came. Renji still cared about him, even if he betrayed his own friends, even if he harmed his good friend Hinamori. Renji didn’t abandon him. “...Thank you.”
Kira slumped over on his desk. A few seconds later, his shoulders started shaking.
General Medical Station, Kitchen
Rukia looked down at the porridge bubbling away in a tiny pot. “So I ended up making boring old rice porridge...”
Shiratama zenzai and curry rice were both foods that could bring back memories of her time in the living world. She’d hoped to use this opportunity to tell Byakuya about her adventures there. She sighed, and turned off the stove.
“You seem very troubled.”
“Ah?!?” The sudden sound right behind her almost made Rukia upset the pot. She slowly turned around. “Lieutenant Kurotsuchi! You scared me...”
It was the Lieutenant of the Twelfth Division, Kurotsuchi Nemu. “You seem troubled. Did you need some excitement?” she asked in a monotone.
“Um... maybe.” Rukia was a bit scared of how she had no idea what Nemu was thinking but nodded anyway.
Nemu pulled out a tiny bottle from her waist pouch. “This is for you.” She held the bottle in front of Rukia’s face. It was filled with a clear liquid.
“With just one drop, this drug causes a violent reaction in the brain, which will then...”
“No no no no!! I don’t need that kind of excitement!!” Rukia immediately retracted her hand that had just been reaching for the bottle.
“Really?” Nemu looked at her sideways and added, “I think it would be good for you.”
“Yes! Thank you for the offer!!”
“There are only a little bit of... side effects.”
“Even a little bit is something!!” Rukia would never dose her brother with any sort of unknown drug.
A voice suddenly came from Nemu’s chest. “Nemu! Don’t dawdle! Hurry up!” It was the voice of the Captain of the Twelfth Division, Kurotsuchi Mayuri.
“Yes, Mayuri-sama,” Nemu said to her chest. It seemed like there was a communicator in there.
“Um, thank you again!” Rukia called out to Nemu, who’d turned to leave without another word.
She stopped at the doorway and turned to look at Rukia. “...You’re welcome.” For just a moment, it seemed like she smiled, but she just as quickly left through the doorway.
Alone again, Rukia covered a carrying tray with cloth and placed the covered pot on it next to a small bowl and spoon. She then stood back a few steps to look at her creation. “Eh...”
(Just as I thought, it looks very plain... if only there was something I could add...)
She started searching through the shelves, looking for some pickled vegetables or dried plums.
Just then, a shinigami said softly, “Umm, Kuchiki-san.”
It was Kira Izuru, carrying a small bag.
“Lieutenant Kira...” Rukia stared at her surprise guest. They’d been in the same year together at the Academy, but they never had much interaction together. At least, none that’d be a reason for him to visit her. “Why are you here?”
“Umm... Abarai-kun told me that you were making some food for Captain Kuchiki... so I brought this.” He handed the tiny bag to her. Inside was a box about as big as Rukia’s palm, labeled [Spicy Mentaiko Premium Quality].
“This is expensive... can I really accept it?” She stared at him in wonder, trying to think of what reason Kira might have to give her a present like this. (Maybe Nii-sama showed him some sort of kindness...?)
“I am so sorry!” Kira suddenly bowed down to her after a few seconds’ silence. His shoulders shook and his voice was strained. “I... helped push your execution forward...!”
To Rukia, this was completely unexpected. “...Please raise your head.” She smiled warmly at him.
“Lieutenant Kira was merely following his captain’s orders. You should share no blame in the matter.” Kira looked up at her warm, comforting eyes and felt as if tears were about to spill out of his own. He quickly looked back down. “Really, there’s no need to worry.” From his withered hair to his emaciated face, she could tell that his troubles lately had been many.
“I’m sorry...!” He quietly apologized yet again.
“I said that you didn’t need to apologize. I never even thought of blaming you for anything.”
She smiled at him as he looked up again. He lowered his head and walked quietly out of the kitchen.
When he was gone, Rukia cut the mentaiko into thin slices and placed it on a dish by the pot. She removed her apron, took off the tri-corner hat, and lifted the tray.
“...Here I go!” She took a deep breath and left the kitchen.
Step by step, she walked carefully towards Byakuya’s room. As the setting sun’s rays touched her face, her expression was strained from nervousness.
Rukia slowly climbed the stairs up to the third floor. When she arrived, she saw a certain figure standing in the middle of the corridor. Closer in, she recognized it as Seike Nobutsune, Byakuya’s white-haired and bespectacled servant. He bowed to her when he noticed her as well.
She quickened her pace and walked up to him. “I want to see Nii-sama...is it okay to go in?”
Seike regarded her with a kind expression and said, “Please wait a moment.” He then said to the closed door, “Byakuya-sama, Rukia-sama is here.”
Byakuya immediately replied, “Let her in,” from behind the door.
Seike quietly opened the door and bowed to him.
Rukia shuffled into the room. Her hands were sweating beneath the tray from nervousness. “Excuse me.” She then forced herself to look up.
Kuchiki Byakuya was sitting on the bed by the window. He was covered with bandages all the way up to his neck. She felt pained just from the sight of him.
Next to him, the setting sun shined on an exquisite tray of food, probably sent from the mansion. The main dish was the same rice porridge that she had prepared, but her own submission was completely defeated by the wide array of side dishes that the Kuchiki cooks had put together.
“Are... you eating?” Rukia looked down at the simple arrangement on her own tray and bit her lip.
(What on earth am I doing? I should’ve realized that something like this would happen...) Shiratama zenzai could be eaten as a snack, but curry and rice porridge were main dishes and would very likely interfere with whatever the clan’s cooks prepared for him. Why on earth did she not think of this sooner?
(I guess... I was foolish...) She’d always felt that there existed a great distance between the two of them, and right now he felt so very close. Yet he was still the head of the Kuchiki Clan and Captain of the Sixth Division. That, at least, hadn’t changed.
“I’m sorry, Nii-sama... I’ll come see you... some other time,” she said in a tiny voice and quickly turned away from him. She suddenly felt as if the mentaiko’s red coloring had become blindingly bright, almost bringing tears to her eyes.
“Wait, Rukia.” Byakuya’s commanding voice stopped her in her tracks. “...What is that?”
She turned around hesitantly and felt as if she had to say something... But when she was about to open her mouth, her complicated feelings wouldn’t coalesce into words. In the end, she didn’t manage to say anything and just lowered her head.
The room was filled with a warm orange glow. Byakuya looked at her face full of sorrow and suddenly smiled. “Seike,” he called.
Seike came in at once and stood to one side.
“Remove this.” A simple command.
Seike replied, “I obey,” and removed the tray in a flash.
“Rukia.” She had been watching Seike leave the room, but now she turned to face him. She looked at him so uneasily, his young little sister...
He closed his eyes. “...I’d like to eat now.”
At first, Rukia didn’t understand what he meant. “Ah...” But when she looked up at his peaceful profile, she finally realized. He wanted to eat the rice porridge that she made.
She was suddenly so happy that she started shaking all over.
“Yes...! Right away, Nii-sama!” She placed the tray on the table next to him, poured some porridge into a bowl, added a bit of mentaiko, and handed it to him with still-shaking hands. He spread out the mentaiko with a spoon and took a bite of the reddish porridge.
“Ah, Nii-sama! Could I tell you about some of the things that I saw in the living world?” she asked as she handed him a second bowl of porridge.
“...Go on.” She’d never seen his expression so gentle before.
This endless day was finally almost over.
Second Floor, Kitchen
“Ku-chi-ki-san-!” Inoue Orihime entered the kitchen. “Eh?”
“What is it?” Ukitake Juushiro followed her in. They were here to return the empty pot of shiratama zenzai.
“She’s not here...”
They looked all around and found no sign of her, so they left the pot and exited the kitchen.
“Where did she go? Kuchiki-san. It was so good! I really want to tell her...”
“Eh, Orihime, can’t you feel Kuchiki’s reiatsu on the floor above us?” He pointed at the ceiling and Orihime focused up there.
“Ah, you’re right! I can feel it! And there’s someone else...”
“Yes, that’s Byakuya. That’s right... he has already been moved to a single room.”
Orihime clapped her hands together. “Then, I’ll go thank Kuchiki-san, and ask after her brother at the same time!”
“Orihime,” Ukitake called after her.
“What is it?”
“I think it’s best to leave them be for now.” Ukitake was Rukia’s superior and knew how distant the two of them had been. Now that the situation was finally starting to look better, he felt that it was best to not interfere.
At first, Orihime didn’t seem to understand, but she very quickly realized what Ukitake was trying to say. “You’re right...!” she nodded forcefully. She knew all too well the pain of being separated from a brother.
Back when she was busy healing Ichigo’s wounds and heard Byakuya tell Rukia the true story, she had almost cried with happiness.
(How wonderful, Kuchiki-san!) Orihime smiled gently and looked out the window. “The sun is setting...”
“Ah... I feel as if today was especially long.” Ukitake leaned against the window frame, sighed, and closed his eyes.
“Soul Society’s evening colors... are so beautiful...!” Orihime placed both hands against the window frame and leaned out the window.
“My goodness, that’s dangerous!”
“Shh--!” Orihime placed her finger against her lips. When Ukitake looked confused, she leaned out the window again and pointed up. Ukitake then leaned out too.
...And like that, they could hear Rukia’s voice coming from the floor above. Even if they couldn’t see her eager expression, they could still imagine it just from hearing her voice.
Orihime mouthed “See?” and smiled.
Ukitake nodded and smiled as well.
Eleventh Division Barracks, Captain’s Quarters
All the doors facing the inner courtyard were completely open. Inside, the rooms were filled with the setting sun’s warm glow.
“Yay! Ichi lost!”
“Huh---!! How are you so good at this?!”
In the middle of the room, Ichigo and Yachiru sat across from each other, separated by a Reversi table where the white pieces took up two thirds of the spots.
“That’s easy! Because Ichi is stupid!~” “Don’t call me stupid! I want a rematch!! A rematch!!”
“Oh? You want to play again?” Yachiru looked annoyed and stretched out her legs on the tatami mat.
“Give it up, Ichigo. Our lieutenant might be a complete idiot, but her Reversi skills are unexpectedly good,” Ikkaku joked.
“Ichi is a billion billion times better than the baldy!”
“She just said that I’m a billion billion times better than you,” Ichigo said to Ikkaku.
“You, me, a match, now!” Ikkaku rolled up his sleeves.
A door farther inside the room creaked open. Standing there was a rather scary-looking Zaraki Kenpachi. He had been taking a nap after dinner and was woken up by all the commotion.
“It’s so damn noisy in here!! If you don’t quiet down then I’ll cut you all down!” he yelled in a rage, and slammed the door shut again.
“Oh---! You got yelled at---!” Yachiru pointed at Ikkaku and smiled.
“You little...!! Why do you think we got yelled at...”
“Yachiru, let’s have a rematch.”
“You two! How dare you ignore me!!” Ikkaku yelled at the two of them.
“Shut up!! Ikkaku!!” Kenpachi yelled from next door.
“Ah, you were yelled at by name...” Yachiru pointed at Ikkaku and laughed.
“It’s because he’s bald,” Ichigo murmured in a tiny voice.
“Hey, I heard that! Ichigo!!”
“I said shut up!! Ikkaku!!”
---- The Eleventh Division’s evenings were always very lively.
General Medical Station, Sewing Room
“You made a set of patterns for everyone here?!” Isane asked after seeing their stock of large pattern paper almost completely disappear.
“Eh, yes. The situation was rather pressing.” Illuminated by the setting sun, his profile looked extremely tired. That was because he actually was very tired. That came from making a set of patterns for all twenty or so female residents of the sewing room.
“I didn’t realize...” Isane shrugged and stepped back apologetically. “...Because I brought the captain too.”
Unohana stood there smiling. “I’ll have to pass, Isane. He’s already very tired.”
“I brought you here... I am so sorry, Captain!”
Uryu sighed upon seeing Isane apologize profusely. “You are... Unohana-san?”
“Yes. Captain of the Fourth Division, I am called Unohana Retsu.”
Stunned by her fine manners, Uryu hurriedly bowed to her. “I am Ishida Uryu. I can make a set for you. Just one or two more pages won’t make a difference to me.”
“Wow, really?! He said he’d draw a set for you, Captain!!”
“Ah... thank you!” Unohana smiled at Isane, who looked even happier than herself.
Looking at the two of them, Uryu couldn’t help but smile as well.
His glasses flashed brightly under the rays of the setting sun.
West Rukongai, First District “Junrinan”
Sado Yasutora carried Shibata Yuichi on his shoulders as he walked along a path by a little brook.
“...What is it?”
“I... I think the sunset that I see now is more beautiful than the one I saw when I was still alive,” said Shibata as he pointed in the direction of Seireitei.
“I... agree.” As the sun set facing Seireitei, it bathed the towers and buildings in light like the red leaves that cover a mountain in autumn.
“I think that wherever she is, my mother is definitely... watching this same sunset.”
“...Ah.” He placed Shibata back on the ground, and knelt down on one knee. Chad looked him straight in the eye and said, “Shibata... You might be separated for now, but one day you will definitely watch the sunset again with your mother.”
Chad patted him on the head. Shibata felt as if that hand magically wiped away all his worries.
The setting sun shined on Chad as he started the trek back to Seireitei, and on Shibata as he waved goodbye.
General Medical Station, First Floor
In a room dedicated to treating those with light injuries, Yamada Hanataro was busy healing wounds.
(Has Rukia-san... already given the shiratama zenzai to Captain Kuchiki....?) He constantly wondered about this matter while performing his duties.
“Yamada, don’t get distracted! Focus!” Iemura chided him as he worked on the next patient over.
“Yes, yes! I’m sorry!” Even so, he started getting distracted again not long afterwards.
Since he had been like this practically the entire day, Iemura let out a disappointed sigh. “...If there’s something on your mind, go take care of it first.”
“But only after you see all the patients in the next room!”
“I understand!! Thank you!!” Hanatarou ran happily into the next room.
Iemura watched him go with a feeling of sadness. The next room was full of Eleventh Division members who hated them for no particular reason.
“I wanted to heal them, but I got beaten up.”
“When I walked in, I was hit by a washbasin.”
“I don’t know why I got kicked.”
Since none of those who went inside that room managed to escape unscathed, it ended up becoming Third Seat Iemura’s responsibility to enter that room full of demons.
“Ahhhhhhh....!!!” Hanataro’s anguished cry came through the walls.
“...I am sorry, Yamada! For the sake of the Fourth Division, you will become a glorious martyr...!”
The setting sun shined down equally on Iemura as he placed his hands together facing the wall, and on Hanataro who sounded like he was on the verge of tears...
In front of the Fourth Division Barracks.
After Kira delivered the mentaiko to Rukia, he ran into Renji on the way back.
“Kira! Did you see Rukia?”
“Ah. I did as you said and bought her some mentaiko.”
Renji stared at him and nodded. Although he still seemed a little bit depressed, he looked a lot better than he did earlier.
“I’m going to go see Hinamori. Want to come with me?”
The name “Hinamori” made his expression freeze back up. “...I’ll have to pass.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“Because... I still can’t face her...!”
Renji frowned. “If that’s so, then when can you face her?” Kira merely bit his lip and did not reply. “There’s no point in hiding! Hinamori doesn’t hate you!”
“You don’t know that for sure!!” Kira lowered his head.
Renji sighed and crossed his arms. “When you saw her just now, was Rukia mad at you?”
“No... she wasn’t mad at all... she told me so...”
“The things that you did... it’s true that they aren’t anything to be proud of, but are they really anything to punish yourself over like this? I myself went to the living world to catch Rukia. So that means I also took part in the rebellion! If we try to figure out exactly who was at fault like this, then there’d be no end to it all!!”
This rebellion had been carried out under everyone’s noses. If it was a crime to not notice it, then literally everybody was guilty... Renji wanted Kira to understand this point.
“All right! I’m going!” Renji started walking to the medical station without waiting for an answer.
“Huh? Wait a second, Abarai-kun...”
“Only one thing’s for certain.” Renji stopped and looked back. “Shutting yourself off from everybody won’t make anything better.”
Kira soon followed him up the white stone steps.
“Hurry up!” Renji called back to him. Watching Kira pick up his pace, Renji felt that everything would be all right.
A few minutes later, the three old classmates were reunited underneath the warm rays of the setting sun. Even Hinamori’s pale face took on a warm glow... almost as if she was smiling.
Tenth Division Barracks, Administrative Offices.
After Rangiku finished cleaning up the reception room, she returned to the office where her captain was still hard at work.
“Hey, Matsumoto. This ‘Request from the Women’s Shinigami Association.” What is it?” He pulled out a form and waved it around.
More accurately, it was titled [The Women’s Shinigami Association’s • Tiny • Request ♥].
“Oh, that. At our next meeting, we wanted to publish a photobook of Captain...”
“...Since it’s the second edition, we wanted Captain to write down some of his thoughts...”
Rangiku returned to her own desk.
Hitsugaya slowly contemplated her words. “Second edition...?! That means... there’s already an edition out there?!”
“Of course. It came out a long time ago,” Rangiku replied and puffed out her chest. “It completely sold out in an instant! Captain, you’re quite popular! As your lieutenant, I was so proud...”
“Wait a second!! I don’t remember posing for any pictures!!”
“We did it all behind your back.”
“Behind my back... You mean they’re all stolen shots?!” Hitsugaya slammed his fist down on the desk.
Rangiku looked very surprised. “You shouldn’t use such an ugly term like ‘stolen shots’...! At the very least, you could call them ‘stealth shots’ hmm?”
“It’s the same no matter what you call it!! When did this happen?! Who took the pictures?!”
“Of course it was me! I had many opportunities, since I live under the same roof as you ♥.”
“You thought having the opportunity meant that you had permission to do so?!”
Hitsugaya was speechless at how she felt that she’d done nothing wrong. (That “a matter of course, what are you talking about” face...!)
They stared at each other for a few seconds.
“Fine! Do whatever you want!” Hitsugaya was the first to admit defeat and break eye contact. He then reached for a new stack of forms.
“Captain, those thoughts of yours just now were’t good enough! We need something that’ll capture our readers‘ hearts!”
“Those weren’t my thoughts just now!” He slammed his fist on the table again instead of picking up the forms.
--- One could only hope that the beautiful sunset might ease the poor captain’s overburdened heart.
Ninth Division Barracks, Corridor in front of the Captain’s Quarters
Hisagi Shuuhei stared at the empty captain’s quarters. He’d come here yesterday when he heard that the search of the captain’s quarters was complete. By then, Tousen Kaname’s personal items had all been carted off.
(Even if he came back to Soul Society... he’d only be treated as a traitor...) Standing by the empty quarters, the reality that Tousen was not coming back finally pierced his heart. He lowered his head and stared down at the floorboards lining the corridor.
When he had been named Lieutenant of the Ninth Division, the first time he came to meet his captain, he had stared down at these very floorboards as he kneeled by the door. Waiting for his new captain to call on him.
“...It must hurt your feet to kneel like that. Please stand.”
He’d looked up and saw his blind captain gazing at him.
“Hisagi. Are there any clouds in the sky?” He was frequently asked this question.
“Eh? Clouds? ...Umm, there are two or three.”
“...Really?” And then, Tousen would always look up to the sky with an expression that was both happy and sad.
Today’s sky was completely cloudless, and by now mostly orange.
“If only I had asked him...”
Why did he ask that question?
“If only I had asked him...”
What was he really thinking?
What did he truly hope for?
That “justice” that he spoke of, what exactly was it?
Hisagi had never asked, only blindly followed.
“That... was my fault.”
He closed his eyes but was not met with darkness. Even with his eyes closed, he could still see the orange of the sunset.
Hisagi covered his eyes with his left hand.
(In this darkness, what exactly did Captain see...?)
Hisagi’s lonely shadow stretched across the corridor illuminated by the setting sun.
Eighth Division Barracks, Administrative Offices.
Kyoraku Shunsui was tied securely to his chair.
The one doing the tying of course was Ise Nanao.
“Nanao-chan---! The sun is setting--- I can do the rest of it tomorrow...”
“No way!” Nanao cut him off and placed all the forms requiring the captain’s seal in front of him.
Faced with a mountain of paperwork, Kyoraku started to moan.
“This is your own fault! If you did a little bit now and then, you wouldn’t have to suffer this kind of pain!”
“There are no buts about it!”
“Nanao-chan is so strict...” Kyoraku’s shoulders slumped in defeat as he started stamping forms.
Nanao walked to the window and prepared to close it. As she looked out at the sunset while it changed slowly from orange to fiery red, her eyes seemed to smile.
“I suppose... we could take a break.”
“Thank goodness! Nanao-chan is so wonderful! So enchanting! So kind! So approachable!”
Looking at how ridiculously happy Kyoraku was, Nanao muttered “goodness” and laughed. “I’ll go prepare some tea.”
She left the room.
“Ah! Nanao! Can you untie me first? Nanao? Nanao-chan?” The chair squeaked as he rocked back and forth, but Nanao didn’t pay him any mind.
Left all alone in the office, he could only watch as the room slowly turned red with the setting sun.
Second Division Barracks, Reception Room
“Yoruichi-sama! I brought Yoruichi-sama’s favorite salt daifuku from Kiyono! Yoruichi-sama?”
Soi Fon looked all around the room for Yoruichi, who had just been sleeping on a bench... but could only find her clothes.
“Over here, Soi Fon!”
The voice came from under a chair.
Soi Fon knelt on the floor and watched Yoruichi in cat form yawn and jump on the bench. The fiery red glare from the window made her squint her eyes.
“The sun hasn’t even set yet... you’re off duty quite early today, Soi Fon.”
“I took care of it all early so I could get to Kiyono before it closed shop.”
“Ah...salt daifuku from Kiyono. I missed these things.” Yoruichi approached the box and sniffed it.
“Yoruichi-sama, why did you change back to that form?” Soi Fon sounded very disappointed as she sat down on the other side of the bench.
“It’s more convenient than human form. ...Do you dislike this form?”
“No, no way! I... I would never... No matter what, I’d still... to Yoruichi-sama!”
Soi Fon’s voice was covered up by the sound of Yoruichi ripping open the bag. Completely disappointed that Yoruichi hadn’t heard a word, she slumped in defeat.
Yoruichi was only concerned with ripping open the wrappers and starting in on the round daifuku. “The best thing about this form is that I only need to eat a little bit to get full!” She ate just one and started happily cleaning her fur.
“To think that the head of the Shihouin Clan... would have to worry about such a thing!”
Everyone knew that in Soul Society, the head of the Shihouin Clan could eat whatever she wanted. And to think that Yoruichi had gone an existence like that to one where she’d have to worry about having enough to eat... Soi Fon felt her heart break.
Yoruichi stared at her pained expression and laughed. “Don’t worry about me, Soi Fon! I’ve had to carry the Shihouin name all my life... so having the liberating and carefree life of a wild cat is quite enjoyable...”
The name Shihouin might be known to all in Soul Society, but in the living world it carried no recognition or power. Instead, when people saw her they might come up with a name like “little thing” or “tiny thing” to call her with.
In the living world, even the names were free.
“To not have to worry about position or family background... to not be saddled with any responsibilities... that’s something that you too can appreciate now, right Soi Fon?”
As she stretched lazily while the breeze ruffled her fur... Yoruichi did look very happy.
Soi Fon carefully stretched out her hand and stroked her back. Yoruichi closed her eyes and did not move. Surrounded by sunlight, even Soi Fon’s icy fingers felt warm.
“Will... you come back to Soul Society? Other than Yoruichi-sama, nobody else is fit to be the Commander of the Onmitsukidō...”
“Didn’t you know? I’ve been permanently expelled. There’s no way for me to come back.”
“But that’s all in the past! You were forced to leave for the living world to hide the hogyoku! I refuse to believe that you committed any crime...!” Soi Fon stood and faced away from her, shaking as she spoke.
“Give it up, Soi Fon.”
“...You’ve gotten stronger. I could tell from our fight how much you’ve grown.” She gently lifted Soi Fon’s chin. “You are strong enough to be the Commander of the Onmitsukidō, so have some faith in yourself!”
Yoruichi stood before her, back in human form. She laughed, sat back down on the bench, and kicked up her feet... all while completely naked. “All right, let’s just stop there for now. Go make some tea, Soi Fon!”
“Cl - Clothes...! Please put on some clothes, Yoruichi-sama!”
The red sunlight shined on Soi Fon’s bright red face as she hurriedly looked down.
In all their separate locations, from all their different perspectives, everybody watched as today’s sun slowly set.
Night had finally come to Soul Society.
General Medical Station, Second Floor
Rukia was in a particularly good mood when she brought the empty pot of porridge back to the kitchen.
“...Ichigo?” she called out to the familiar orange head by the counter.
“Oh, Rukia!” He turned to look at her, holding a sponge covered with bubbles. He’d come to return the curry pot, but since Rukia wasn’t there, he decided to wash it himself. “Did you go see Byakuya?” he asked as he scrubbed the pot.
“Ah,” she replied, and he could tell just from her voice that she’d been completely successful.
(It might be kind of weird if I said “That’s great!” or something like that...) Ichigo figured that he could use some other method to congratulate her. “You can bring the tray over here. I’ll take care of it while I’m at it.”
“Really..? My thanks then.” Rukia handed the tray to Ichigo and sat down on the chair in the corner. She suddenly felt tired as soon as she sat down. Her entire day’s labors were finally catching up with her.
“The curry was delicious!”
“Oh... that’s great!” Rukia closed her eyes, listening to water splashing out of the faucet. It sounded just like waves crashing in the ocean, slowly lulling her to sleep.
“The Eleventh Division guys were all wolfing it down... Yachiru even got it all over her hair...”
Ichigo’s voice... slowly... drifted away...
When he finished doing the dishes and turned to look at her, she’d already fallen asleep.
(...What a happy expression you have there), he thought as he looked at her peaceful face. He felt deeply that... he was so fortunate to come to Soul Society, that he was so fortunate to have something to protect.
“Hey, Rukia! Don’t fall asleep here! Go back to your room to sleep!” He shook her shoulder, feeling incredibly happy.
--- Right up until Rukia, rather angry to be woken up, kicked him right in the face.
“Bastard! What are you doing?”