Swallowed Whole

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.

A/N: Fuck, this guy's story is just depressing.


There is no reconciliation with the unbreakable loneliness of having no safe company but your own. And Ashido Kano wasn't entirely sure he was safe company for himself, the temptation to die was so strong some days. Fighting gillians sucked because they screamed; adjuchas with their intelligence at least spoke. The most stimulating conversation was to be found with the tailed one, Kano's steady boyfriend (holy shit I did not just say that. I said enemy). Their regular bouts never attracted gillians because the tailed adjucha wouldn't allow it. Kano was his to fight. And Kano in a perverse way appreciated the sentiment.

After all, it wasn't like he had anyone else to belong to.

"Today you die, Ashido!"

"You've been giving me that same line for years, dumbass."

Having finally killed the shit, Kano felt a deep pang of loss. He hadn't ever found out his name. Kuchiki Rukia he'd asked within an hour of meeting her, but his enemy of a few dozen decades was doomed to anonymity for the rest of eternity.


Kano pressed his foot to the runty adjucha's neck and his blade to her mask.

"What was the name of the Guardian of Menos Forest?"

"H-H-Hedge! His name w-was Hedge!"

Kano sheathed his zanpakutou and bowed to her. "Thank you for your help."

And as she was about to scramble away, he separated her head from her shoulders with his bare hands.

He was deteriorating.

Maybe his body looked twice as tasty as it had the day he'd first sprung fresh baked from Seireitei into the corner display of Hueco Mundo's subterranean hellhole, but his spirit was rotting. He could tell by the way he used his zanpakutou less and less often to kill. And the last time he'd released it had been...had been...way too long ago. Kano was slowly losing his shinigami self and becoming an individual, haunted by his dead friends and hunted by hollows. The Kano of a few short years ago would've been ready for this, prepared for this. He'd long since worked out that when the madness struck, he would go out in a blaze of glory, pitching himself against the largest nest of strongest hollows that he could find. But the Kano today had hope of rescue.

He blamed Rukia.

Who told her to open her fat mouth and invite him home? Who told her she had show up at all and shatter Kano's carefully constructed alibi for his existing so pathetically? Soul Society. The minute those words fell from her lips he was lost. Though he'd thought of bravely refusing her to die here with his comrades, he'd started thinking of Seireitei again. Running with her through the forest gave him ample time to reconstruct from memory his beloved City of Tranquil Souls, plus a few new, blank faces representing Rukia's unseen partners.

In the middle of wondering if his favorite bar was still open, he watched her release her zanpakutou to kill her opponent in the loveliest way he could've ever imagined. Honestly it had been worth losing the gazelle mask just to see that sort of thing. A treat for the eyes.

An itch in the heart.

Seriously? He was going to turn away from Menos Forest, his home (or lack of better word and better forest) for hundreds of years? He knew this place like the back of his hand. Seireitei might've changed. Hueco Mundo wouldn't. Sure the adjuchas were growing more powerful and the gillians taller and the trees thicker. But there was a pattern to it all that was comforting. Kano had once resigned himself to a martyr's demise, forgotten and alone. His fate had taken him. Who was Rukia to take him back?

"Your friends will forgive you for leaving," Rukia had said.

Of course they would. What were friends for? So Kano had been ready to leave, in accordance with his best judgment. Maybe back home there were medals and promotions waiting for him. He remembered he used to be a fifth seat in the 3rd Squad. He wondered who the captain was now. He wondered who the lieutenant was. He wondered if Yamamoto Genryuusai was still the soutaichou, and most importantly he was seething with an indecent curiosity to find out what the hell had happened to bring Rukia to Hueco Mundo.

To him.

God he could kiss the girl for what she'd done to him.

Hope nibbled at his ears like the perfect lover (like he wished Rukia would) and consumed him like a flame (like he also wished Rukia would). Having recently been in danger of being swallowed whole by loneliness, he was now eaten by pleasurable anticipation. It put a spring in his step and a shine in his eye, leading him to get fancy with the sword tricks and creative with the remainder of the killing he was doing before Rukia came back for him.

Because she was obviously going to come back for him. He tried looking for other ways out to hold his end of the bargain high; to catch up to them. But it had taken the better part of two centuries to find the one exit and he was looking for another but if it was going to take the same amount of time as the first...

He'd rather have Rukia rip a whole between dimensions and come fish his ass back into Soul Society.

(Ooh, that sounded good in his ears.)

Kano also attempted to pass the collapse of the exit by digging his way through it with kido and patience, but it was depressingly hard work and hope made Kano lazy. Besides, his kido had never been top-notch.

He fired off a few shots of white lightning at a gillian and watched it die, boredom playing party pooper to his shiny belief in Rukia's retrieval of his hot bod.

Jeez, the chick sure was taking her sweet time about it.

He chastised himself. Her primary target was to rescue her friend. Kano came next. (Not really, there was like a war waiting for her but why ruin a man's romantic fantasies?) Her name was Kuchiki Rukia, and she was going to be his star. He just hoped he could at least be her lucky penny or something; he didn't wholly like the way she said "Ichigo" and the way Ichigo said "Rukia". But there was usually always room in a woman's heart for one more important person.

Kano hung out.

Pleasurable anticipation waned.

The curse he couldn't reconcile with confronted him again, angry from having been ignored all this time. Loneliness swamped his body and made him incompetent; he got cut on his cheek and leg when fighting his next high-level adjucha and Rukia's warm kido-hardy hands weren't there to heal him.

She wasn't there.

She wasn't coming.

He had no watch and he had no calendar but he could still tell that time was passing. So where was his bloody star? Why wasn't she descending from on high to lead him to the edge of the sky and onwards to heaven? Kano was swallowed whole again. Resentment stuck to the redhead's innards like industrial glue. It was getting to the point where he was ready to tug on his testicles and give it up, shuffle off the mortal coil.

Why give him hope when she couldn't deliver. Kano would've been so much happier if Rukia had minded her own business and not tried to make him rescuing him part of her mission too. Having to face the idea of martyrdom all over again, especially now that he knew he'd accomplished nothing to be commended for, was going to take a truck load of work. Shit! Rukia had to take responsibility for this! He didn't know anymore, this was insane. Only pestilent petulance stopped him from hastening the deterioration process by talking out loud to himself.

Apple! Plucking! Beam!

Not that the deterioration needed a hand or anything. God, Kano was woozy with emotion.

God, Kano would kill the girl for what she did to him.

Or maybe not, since he was likely to die before he ever saw her again. He found himself carrying out that old plan, walking into the hardest assed adjuchas nest. They raised their bony heads to appraise his insolence before surrounding him. Kano filled his lungs with air, shoving out resentment in favor of good old-fashioned battle lust. Shouting a meaningless cry he laid into the hollows' souls like a madman, which he was well on his way to becoming. They kept coming until the strain began to show in his clenched jaw and sweaty face, his trembling grip on the zanpakutou that hadn't been released in over a hundred years.

He thought about it.

Why the hell not?

"Drown, Jin'ichi!"

The blade in his hands subtly changed to a shimmery black liquid, and he raised it to cut the next enemy with despairing coldness when an otherworldly zephyr kissed him squarely in the back and a low feminine drone spoke behind him.

"What an unusual name for a zanpakutou. Ashido, what are you doing?"

He pivoted to see her face and confirm her presence, but the enemy he meant to cut down was leaping for him anyway, and moment of reunion be damned. Rukia pushed him into the ground and called upon her own soul-cutter.

"Dance, Sode no Shirayuki!"

Face against the ground Kano could hardly believe it. Hell, why should he believe it? The last time he believed in her hadn't yielded the best results. Fuck this shit, he was lying here until she went away.

Instead he opened his eyes when he felt her crouch next to him, and was swallowed whole again was there no end to it? Her eyes were enormous. He didn't stand a chance.

"Let's go home, Ashido."

"Right behind you, Rukia."

And the hand she laid on his shoulder chased away all the curses in his heart.