Story: Light, Shadow, and The Hand

Pairing: Rukia/Toshiro

Rated: M (for swearing, dark themes, and probably other stuff)

Genre: Romance/Angst (lots and lots of angst)

Disclaimer: I don't own anything that belongs to anybody else... except for this story. 'Tis mine.

Uh, I think that's it?

Enjoy! :)

One gentle shift relaxed breath against moonlit skin. Silver shards tumbled through open doors to come to a crash landing against a floor. The scene seemed to belong within the stanzas of a fallaciously written poem. Against the light raised a shape, imprinted black on the faraway side of the light. A simple shape, somewhat round with five stubs extending off. Each stub, save for one, had three joints, and could bend and grasp with a fine skill. However, at the moment, these stubs were simply held against the light, spread apart, as if trying to imprison such silvery tendrils.

But the light couldn't be held by such an abominable force. It cascaded and slithered and eventually disappeared without a trace into black, with no proof of its existence besides a lingering memory and the natural instinct it would one day appear again. Even if there would be no one around to see it.

Against the light, the shape with five stubs began to gain comprehensive features. Small indentured lines were scribbled hastily amongst what looked like ghostly flesh. Each movement reflected a ripple within the muscle that made the light shift sideways. Movement was constant, so the light pattern constantly changed, even though it was difficult to see. However, the light continued to pass subtly by the shape, giving it a distinct outline. It was a hand, fine and amazing in all of its little abilities, set out to wrestle with the light.

Of course, the hand could never win such a battle. How could something so solid compete with a concept? The hand was defined as was. That hand would always be that way, with the five stubs and the indentured lines. Sure, there could be scars, or more wrinkles, or perhaps the hand could be completely mutilated. However, that wouldn't change the fact that the hand could never be anything it wasn't. Light, however, didn't exist in the infinity that was the hand. Light had its own power, and a hand couldn't capture that power. So the hand was forced to submit to the light as it was lowered towards the ground, and the light continued to shine on.

Knowing was the hard part for the hand. Because it knew it would always be what it was, and it was frustrating. It was difficult to fully accept the hand as it was, because the hand always wanted to be something else. Sometimes it wanted to be a hoof, sometimes a wing, sometimes a fin, sometimes not. Rarely did it want to be a hand, and because of that, the hand never did everything it could. The hand didn't create, nor did it feel. It simply grasped at objects that couldn't be touched, ever wishing it could be free of boundaries, like light.

And sometimes the light felt sorry for the hand. The light was free in all the ways it could be. It danced against skin, shimmered against water, and eventually melted into color. It was so simple in the ways it could be, yet its allure caused all beings to rely on its freedom. Only air itself could perhaps fathom the sheer notion that was light, but air has always been jealous of light, as it wishes that it could be seen, even if it can enter places that light can't.

That was why shadow was light's only friend. Because without shadow there couldn't be light, and without light there couldn't be shadow. While most believed that light didn't need shadow, that was completely ignorant. If it weren't for shadow's existence in the first place, light would never have existed. There would have been nothing. Nothing but air, which couldn't be seen. That's why light and shadow came together to create, and in their creation, gray was born. From gray expanded the rest of the colors, red, orange, blue, green, and so on. All these colors were born of light and shadow, and all of them eventually found their own ways into what was the world. Before, the world had been nothing. Before, the world had been only lonely air. But as light and shadow began to populate, things changed. Grass sprung up from the ground, the color of violent green. The sun showed a fluorescent orange, while water lapped a variety of blues. Each color found a home, and in those homes grew life.

You may ask what the point of this story is, but there is no telling. The only telling is that not much would make sense without it. This story begins with light and ends with shadow… but sometimes it is the other way around. Sometimes it's shadow who starts, and light that ends. Either way, somewhere between the middle and beginning is where the two touch, and somewhere after the end is where they fade away. Don't worry, though. Light and shadow never fade for long. As long as one exists, the other will stay alive.

Of course, what about the hand? The hand, in all of its confined glory, is key as well. Not much can be done without this hand, because even though the hand doesn't believe very much in its own existence, light and shadow know better. They know, but they don't tell, which can make air very angry. However, there isn't much the two can do. The hand must find its own way through existence, and eventually it'll come to realize the bitter truth of what has happened.

Now that you have been introduce to the hand, light, shadow, and air, there is a list of things that you may now know, some of which have already been explained.

1) Gray came before colors, and is the elder to all of the younger, more naïve colors.

2) Colors cannot create, only light and shadow can. Colors can only find homes amongst the creations of light and shadow.

3) Light and shadow cannot exist without the other.

4) While air is jealous of light, it could care less for shadow. And despite air's jealousy, it will always cooperate with light.

5) Shadow has never been evil, although it has been mistaken as just that many times.

6) The hand is the creation of light and shadow, but this isn't the bitter truth. The bitter truth can only be reached after the story is told.

Sometimes this story won't make much sense, but you must bear with it. Light and shadow are locked in an infinite dance, and sometimes the two don't make sense, even to each other. It takes patience to unweave light's blindness and persistence to coax shadow into listening. However, once these two problems are overcome, there is nothing that can stand in the way of light and shadow.

Last, this story isn't about light and shadow, although they play an important part. This story is about the hand which you have barely met, and even more about the owner of the hand. Air will also be included, but only to an extent. Don't worry, though, this story has promised to entertain and understand. If that confuses you, don't worry. Sometimes the story gets confused as well, and needs to be retold a few times before it can remember what exactly it was going to say.

Light and shadow meet halfway across the hand as a slice of silver slits across the stubs. The two are locked in an ever permanent game that the hand doesn't understand. The hand doesn't feel, so it doesn't matter very much. Instead of the hand worrying about light and shadow, it twitches slightly. Nerves are being awoken as eyes open against air. The hand begins to stop worrying as motor nerves are put into action. Light has come, and with it is consciousness. It is time for the story to begin.

The sound of inhales shared with exhales reverberated the space of air that lingered just outside of the slightly parted mouth. Even though she tossed from side to side as her mind continuously tortured her with relived memories, her breathing was continuous. Despite the fact it was ragged and shallow, it never stopped for too long.

The blankets that lapped on her body were scrunched and thrown carelessly aside as her body raged in rhythm to her dreams. Faster and faster, her muscles twitched, her face pinched, her breaths ragged until a high pitched scream interrupted the stillness of night, and the girl with the violet eyes shot halfway out of bed, her face contorted and each muscle strained with tightness. She froze as her gaze met only darkness, her mouth still open in a left behind howl. Her eyes were wide as the bloody images were left burned in her memory, taunting and grotesque in their own life.

Footsteps pattering against the thick wooden floors were immediate, but not hurried. Too sudden of movements would send her into a frenzy, as they had learned in the past. She was terrified, and this bone gripping terror couldn't be chased away with company. It couldn't be chased away at all, really. It was a terror that seeped through clothes like a frozen cold and was instilled into one's very bloodstream. Once it was there, it coursed like oxygen through veins, becoming an essence of the person. Eventually that terror was ingrained as a part of the person, where it stalked them everywhere. Even in moments where terror was momentarily forgotten, it was never completely gone. It always hung in the peripherals of the mind, waiting for a chance to slink into the open.

In the beginning, shadow was mentioned as being mistaken as evil, but shadow isn't evil. Evil simply has the same characteristics as shadow. It tends to lurk in shadow, although evil was as much present in light as it was in shadow. It was simply easier to see when one wasn't blinded by light. So it was easy to mistake shadow as evil, as was this case. Here, as she stared at the dark, she could only see anguish and fear. Her body was frozen with this complete terror, shivering, as she wished for some sort of light to chase the darkness away.

It seemed like ages, but there was only a few seconds difference between the sound of footsteps and the sliding of the door as it opened. A small candle was lit, and while only more shadow was produced by the light, the slivers of light managed to chase away the immediate darkness, showing only what wasn't there.

The timid girl in the doorway didn't speak up immediately. Instead, she watched the slow process of the mistress forcing her limbs to calm. Her jaw began to close, and her eyes went back to normal, although she didn't squint at the sudden light. Beads of sweat collected on her head, and her face was flushed from exertion. Strands of hair stuck to her sweating face, and her chest heaved from the sheer memory.

"Rukia-sama?" The small girl spoke softly, her voice timid chime bells that rode through the light to the mistress's ears. She didn't probe anymore, knowing she stood on a delicate balance. The woman's reaction could be different from her last night terrors. She might decide that the shy servant was a representation of an enemy, or she might simply collect herself, dismiss the girl, and settle in for a long night of staring into shadow.

Once again, the few splits seconds that held silence seemed to last for minutes, if not hours. The girl held the candle in front of her, unsure whether to speak again, or to place the candle down and leave, or…

Her frantic wonderings were cut off by the mistress raising one hand, a hand with five stubs and indentured lines. She didn't speak, not daring to trust her voice, which most likely would be torn with fear. Instead, she waved her hand, the fingers bending at the joints to accent the gesture. It was a dismissal, she didn't wish for the girl to stay.

The servant immediately bowed, before backing out of the room, taking the light with her. The door slid shut with a smooth racking sound, and Rukia was left with shadow that was only slightly disgruntled by the patches of moonlight that snuck through her closed window. While she longed to sleep with fresh air, she was too terrified to keep the thing open at night.

Silence reigned in the room, and now there's the thought that silence should have been introduced sooner.

Silence is an enigma compared to the others. Even though light and shadow and air can't speak, silence's stifling nature is almost too painful to endure.

There are different types of silence. There is the silence that is normal, one in which things aren't truly silent, but are quiet. Instead, there is the sound of birds in the background, or perhaps the wind, or perhaps even the sound of breathing and the beat of a heart. True silence, however, is mammoth. It is powerful, giant, gripping and terrifying in the way it stills everything. It is hard to find true silence, but once true silence is found, it is impossible to ignore it. It is heavy, pressing against every sense, and it knows no mercy. No creature is safe from true silence in the times it chooses to present itself, and now, in Rukia's room, true silence is imminent. Because, even though she is breathing, and her blood is coursing as her heart beats, she can't hear that.

All she can hear is silence's nefarious presence, the one the lingers and grips. She was breathing, and she had to close her eyes to break that true silence, knowing that if she didn't, she'd scream even louder. She forced herself to listen to her heart, and then she let out a long, interrupting breath. Just as well, silence wasn't too deterred. It had only met a few humans that could stand true silence for longer than a few moments.

Slowly, her heart beat began to return to normal. Shakily, she lifted her fingers to touch her sweating face, as if making sure all of the flesh was still there. Her touch was hesitant, as if she were afraid that it'd simply pass through. But it didn't. Her fingers met warm skin, slightly damp from sweat (and what she'd never admit was tears). Her fingers stayed there for a long time, while her unseeing eyes stared blindly into the darkness.

Her heart beat began to calm, and with it, her breathing was deep and rhythmic. She shakily lowered her hand from her face to grasp the blankets the lay strewn on top of her body. She knew she had to smooth them out so they covered her body again, the room was never warm, but she didn't quite have the courage to move. Not yet, anyways.

Instead she went through the normal routine. She'd stare into nothing, her mind strangely blank as comprehensive thought began to return in slow chunks. She'd begin to remember that the horrible taste was simply a dream, and that dreams, though torturous, could do no real harm. With that comforting realization, memories of her past few days would begin to come back, accompanied by the problems her days caused. She would then start to feel the stress piling onto her fine shoulders, but that wasn't anything new. Most people felt as much, if not more stress than she did. However they were able to get more than a few hours of sleep at night that wasn't terror-ridden.

As soon as thought returned to her head, she glanced out the window. She could still see the moon, which meant it couldn't be later than eleven. She had been in bed by nine, since she had a higher success rate of a good night's sleep if she went to bed earlier. Her high success rate wasn't very high, though. Now came the dawning realization that she still had at least seven hours before expected at breakfast, which meant at least five hours before she could get out of her room without being scolded.

Calculating that, she managed to gain control of her muscles to situate the blankets back on her body before carefully laying back down. Then she just continued to stare at the ceiling. Sleep would refuse to come, she knew, so there was no point in closing her eyes. Instead she just stared, her mind surprisingly numb, as she waited for the hours to trickle by.

As you wait for the moon to cross the ocean of sky and for the sun to stretch its head over the tips of the horizon, there is a distinction that has to be made. And that is the distinction between shadow and darkness.

Most would say that shadow and darkness are the same thing, but they'd be wrong. It wouldn't be bad, though, because it is very easy to mistake one for the other. Both are extremely similar in their characteristics and personalities, but there is a difference, however miniscule it might seem. While that difference may not look very large, it is assured that that difference will eventually grow to be important, so it is intelligent to explain the difference now.

You see, darkness has a different tangibility than shadow. It lurks in different places. While shadow is simply created where light cannot fall, shadow has no real definition. It is a concept, and therefore is free. It doesn't have any tangibility, one cannot touch a shadow. Perhaps they can pass their hand through it, but you can't say you know what a shadow feels like.

You might say that darkness is the same, it has no tangibility. However, darkness does. Darkness doesn't just mean black, because darkness has an ability shadow doesn't. Darkness can reside in one's mind.

Don't worry if this is somewhat confusing, you'll understand. Let's start with this. Shadow can appear in people's dreams, but shadow isn't a part of one's mind. It's a part of knowledge, as when you look down and see the dark imprint of your body against the ground, you know that is your shadow. However, darkness isn't really like that.

Another thing you should know is that, while there can be darkness without evil, their can't be evil without darkness. This isn't because evil doesn't exist in light, it's because evil can only really be seen in darkness. An evil that can't be seen doesn't really do much good, as it will be casually dismissed. So, even if evil can only be seen for a second, there has to be darkness. Perhaps that's why people think shadow is evil.

The point I'm trying to make about the difference between the two is that darkness is almost a noun. Darkness is what contains evil, so therefore darkness can exist in one's mind. And when darkness exists in one's mind, that means darkness has the ability to give people night terror's, to make them fear, to force them to watch the most gruesome images. That is something shadow cannot do.

One more thing. Don't think that darkness is evil. Darkness isn't evil, nor does it really want to be. It is simply that when evil takes over darkness, darkness has no choice but to do evil's bidding. Perhaps one thing you should remember throughout this story is that darkness isn't evil, and nor is shadow. Evil is evil, and that's all it ever will be.

Now that distinction has been made, the story turns back to the room. Time had fast forwarded a bit, and now the moon has practically disappeared behind building tops. The sun has yet to make an appearance, but there is a slight glow to the east where it is bound to rise. The earth is still cold from the moon's shivering glow, but everywhere, song birds are beginning to wake.

Rukia's eyes were already open, so she only required a slight turn of her head to see the promise of sun lurking on the floor. The day had lightened, and with it was brought a gentle heat, one too new to feel yet. Her eyes were open wide, and there was no inkling of tired within her mind. She was ready to start the day, and it wouldn't be until after her meal that her body would be reminded of the sleep it missed. Until then, it was easy to rouse out of bed.

The blankets slid from her clothed skin with ease, dropping in a sloppy bundle on the floor. They were strewn across her bed, but she made no effort to clean it up. A servant would come by as soon as she had left to clean.

She took one step onto the wooden floors, although the skin on her feet seized slightly from the cold. The wood was a good insulator, which also meant that when it was cold inside, the wood was cold as well. The depressed feeling made small goose bumps prickle over her arms as a shiver was sent up her spine. For a moment, it seemed funny that, while only her feet had felt the abrupt cold, her body reacted to it violently.

There wasn't much she could do for bare feet at the moment, her brother didn't like shoes worn inside the house, so she wrapped her robe tighter across her soft flesh. The rubbing sensation was one of pleasure, as the material was soft and gentle, gripping skin in a caressing way. It was obvious to the touch that this bedtime material cost more than some people got in a year of working, and sometimes she felt just a bit guilty as she dressed herself with the fine clothing.

Aiming towards her closet, she slid it open with an easy flick of her arm. The thin door moved without protest, making slight noise as it hit the wall. Using only one delicate hand, she rifted through the many clothes, although not for much reason. It was moment's like these that she was grateful there was a rather defined uniform, otherwise she'd spend hours staring at the wardrobe. While her brother was strict about what she left the house dressed in, she still found it difficult to select from that guideline. Not because her clothes were boring and ugly (at one point she had spent hours at the shops pouring over the selections, pulled by a strawberry blonde and a girl with bright orange hair), but because she didn't care much anymore. Fashion seemed like such a meticulous, difficult task that made her head ache, and reminded her of the lack of sleep from the night before. So she ignored the bright colors and soft kimonos that hung, thin layers of dust stacked from lack of touch, as she selected the black robes.

The touch of these clothes wasn't as gentle as her silky night pajamas. They were rough, both from frequent wash and unseen stains, made from a fabric that was meant to be durable, not soft. They didn't smell flowery or wild, like she imagined her own scent to be. They smelt like soap and an undertone of sweat and blood, which was the true mark of a fighter.

Her current yukata dropped to the floor in a heap as she undid the rope that tied the open front together. It slipped past her smooth skin, revealing her rather petite body in its barest. The feeling made her automatically uncomfortable… she didn't enjoy the feel of vulnerability. She had been trained since young to always be on alert, and her bare flesh, prickling slightly from the cold, now ached for coverage.

Her hands quickly complied, as she slipped the black robes over her body. The rough fabric pulled at some of her finer hairs, causing her eyes to blink in a tiny wince. These clothes held a whole different aura from her sleepwear, and it made her wary. They held power, sacrifice, even bravery. It was as if the persons that put on such clothes were making a tiny, subconscious vow to protect and fight. At one point, she had embraced this feel every time the robes had touched her body. She had relished in the deep smell and the fight that boiled through her blood as her figure was covered. Now was different, though. Now, she longed once again for her yukata which lay sloppily among the ground. She wanted the feeling of petite carelessness, not because she ever enjoyed being viewed as weak, but because her heart didn't feel strong enough to wear these clothes.

She wasn't worthy.

Worthy warriors didn't wake up screaming after two hours of sleep. Worthy warriors didn't lay their rooms a mess and expect someone else to clean it up. Worthy warriors didn't slack from jobs or purposely take easier tasks so they didn't risk messing up. Worthy warriors didn't let their friends… their friends…

Violently she shoved that notion away. Suddenly irritated, she yanked her pants onto her waist, tightening the band so they rested comfortably across her lower hips. She stepped brusquely away from the closet, her feet making soft padding sounds against the floor as she moved towards the mirror. While she herself didn't care much for appearance, there was no way her brother would allow her to leave with her hair mussed as she knew it was.

She always hated mirrors. Even back then, when she sat in front of the vanity to meticulously brush knots from her thick tresses, she had never quite understood them. The way that whenever she blinked, the reflection blinked back. She always got the strangest feeling as she sat by the mirror. Everything was opposite, and she could never shake the notion that maybe, just maybe, she was the reflection, and the real her was living out a life she dreamed of.

However, she always tried to tell herself that notion was silly. Not only did it seem impossible, but her mirror self was just like her, which meant her life would be identical. Therefore Rukia would never wish to trade places with her mirror self.

The pale face that greeted her was the same as it always had been. Large violet eyes, set evenly on her rounded face, blinked every now and then to keep her eyes from drying too long. Her raven black hair sat clumped on her head, and she could feel the grease on her nose and cheeks. She picked up the brush from the smooth brown table, where the handle fit snugly in the palm of her hand. The bristles were thin, but the shape was rather rounded. It was a dark purple color, and on the back was printed a small, happy looking bunny. It had stark white fur, with one ear half bent and paws raised, as if it were dancing. The picture was rubbed until it had faded, so some parts of the bunny were just a shade lighter than the brush itself. That was from when she used to hold the back of the brush itself, instead of the handle. When exactly she had changed that habit, she wasn't sure. Perhaps it was because every time she touched the bunny, grief would overwhelmingly swim through her gut, poisoning her stomach. The happy figure simply reminded her too much of the past, and she had enough terrors at night to constantly remind her. She didn't need to feel that terror during the daytime as well.

Her brush strokes were dully rhythmic, like an old woman knitting on her doorstep, her fingers bored from the memorized movements. Sometimes she had to tug a little harder in order to untangle the many hairs, and occasionally she would get fed up with brushing one spot over and over again, and would yank the brush through her locks. This action always caused her to wince, the feeling wasn't pleasant, but that didn't stop her from doing it again. It was the fastest way to remove the terrible knots, and she didn't want to spend all day staring at her lifeless, violet eyes.

A knock at the door interrupted her monotony, and made her pause. Servants didn't normally knock on her door so early in the day. Hell, most of them were sleeping at this time, save for the few who had hard, outdoor jobs and liked to finish them before the heat of the day baked their backs. Slightly curious, she let out a small, non committal sound, the closest anyone could get to her affirmative. She didn't speak in very full sentences these days, instead preferring small growls or 'ahs' or using her body language. Spending the time to think of her words before speaking was a waste of energy, especially when it was spent trying to be heard by those who refused to listen.

To her side, the door slid open smoothly, although a piece of wood seemed to catch the side a little bit, causing a thin, splintering sound. However, the noise was temporary, and if one hadn't paid enough attention to hear it, they wouldn't have noticed the problem at all. Rukia, however, made a mental note to have the servants re polish the wood soon, as she half turned her body, dull gaze connecting with the visitor who stepped three steps into her room…

… The story is now going to change a little bit. Not yet will it be going into the past, although you surely have questions. There will be a time for that later, but for now, going back in time would ruin a lot of what you are reading. If you knew what had happened, this ordeal would make a lot less sense, and you'd spend your time trying to connect the dots rather than understanding the story, which is critical.

So hold onto your questions. For now, the story is going to zoom out of Rukia's room, out of her house, and travel exactly 19.7 miles north of north east, on top of a shady hill that looms over a miniscule duck pond. There are never any ducks there, though. It's because of the vicious fish that lives in the pond. Any poor creature, that isn't larger than a medium dog, who attempts to drink from the pool will feel sharp teeth in their faces before being dragged underneath. No, the pond isn't very large or very deep, and it's a wonder as to why a fish resides there. It just always has been.

However, this story's focus is not on the pond, but on the hill. It's a relatively steep hill, with a sudden curve. It looked as if someone had poked beneath the earth, causing this one little mound of earth to rise. The angle is immediate, and the difference between hill and meadow is miniscule. Still, grass grows plenty over the sides and top of the hill, giving the whole thing quite a warm appearance.

A strange thing about this hill, however, is the fact there sits one lonely tree, rooted into the Earth, branching towards the sky. It's a tree with wide, silver branches and skinny green leaves that turn various hues of brilliant reds and vibrant oranges as autumn swoops by. On windy days the leaves will be caught by the breeze and will flutter for only moments, hovering and flickering through the air. Sometimes they will brush against human skin, but mostly they find a home upon the grass, where they become the shelter of tiny bugs which swarm amongst the foliage.

However, this story doesn't want to look at the tree's top, although there is a lot to be said by the seemingly random set of branches, it wants to look at the bottom. At the trunk, to be more specific.

The trunk isn't extremely thick, although this tree has stood for over a thousand years. An average child of the age of thirteen could probably wrap their arms around the tree and be able to at least skim their fingers, although not many children of thirteen wished to hug a tree. However, this tree is different, because, unlike other old trees of its kind, there are no deep rivets in the bark. No signs of weathering, no broken off slips of wood. In fact, the trunk is perfectly smooth. It has the same bark as a young tree, and because of that, locals call it the Tree of Time.

It was a confusing name, really, because you'd think that the tree was able to control or withstand time, but all this tree has kept is its youth. While its wild, rampaging branches boast of years of weathering and fighting to reach the sky, its trunk is smooth, devoid.

The point of telling you about the tree is because the story's other main characters feels a sort of kinship with this tree that's hard to describe. While knowing about this tree isn't necessary, perhaps it'll give you some insight as to who exactly our next main character is. Plus, it just so happens, that at this moment, he is settled against the Tree of Time, curiously watching the duck pond with no ducks in it. And now that your setting has been described to you, it is time to meet the next character.

He's not like Rukia, but he is. He doesn't have night terrors, and he has a rather extensive control of his own thoughts. Perhaps that is how they are alike and different. Both have tortured memories, but unlike her, he can suppress these thoughts with the skill a business man can suppress outside noises.

And he's more like that tree than he'd ever care to admit. He wasn't old, at least, not compared to the ancients that hung around Soul Society. And perhaps his branches spread in fascinating and random ways, but that's not what this story's going to focus on. Besides, that's an analogy to strange and broad to be used for this purpose.

What this story wants to focus on is the bark. The bark, which is silvery and smooth, despite all the hardships it has faced. While some would think of this as an extremely positive thing (since people over the age of forty spend about half of their paycheck trying to look young), in this case, it isn't. This is a negative thing, and here's why.

This is a rough example. Imagine yourself at your high school, or at any other meeting with teenagers. Imagine that you have a really large crush on that person over there, for all intents and purposes, there will be no gender. That person is your really good friend, and they tell you that their birthday is in a couple of days. Well, you happen to know this person's absolute favorite food is brownies. So this is easy, right? All you have to do is make some brownies to win your crush's affection.

One problem. You've never cooked a day in your life. Oh sure, you can make pour cereal and milk into a cup to make breakfast when the parents are away, but you don't go anywhere near the stove or oven unless your kid brother set themselves on fire. In fact, you just don't really like to be in the kitchen at all.

However this is a special occasion. When you get home, you research online how to make brownies. It turns out you have all the equipment you need, so you get started. You mix the ingredients, making sure to read and reread the directions several times. You don't want to mess up.

But inexperience gets in the way. You spill some of the mix, you drop an egg, and you forget to preheat the oven. Things aren't looking too great, and your mother is worried your spending time in the kitchen, but you don't ask her for help.

Finally, you are able to get the brownies into the oven, but you miss the part about the difference in pan sizes and how long you should back your brownies. You overcook them by five minutes, and by the time you realize, it's too late. You're out of time. You still have homework to do, and your brownies are slightly overcooked.

However, you don't worry about it too much. Instead you wrap the brownies up neatly, and set off to do everything else you need to. Secretly you worry, but you're too busy, and face it, too excited, so you push those thoughts away.

Morning comes, and it's the big day. You get to school, and in the cafeteria, you spot your crush. They have friends around them, others that are congratulating them on living another day, and you make your way towards them.

You say hello, and just before you can hand out the brownies, your crush offers you one of their own. It's sweet and perfect in all of the ways yours isn't. You realize it is made by a person they like, and they want to ask them out.

You smile and tell them you're happy for them, before trashing the over cooked brownies, and walking away, insisting nothing is wrong. But, truthfully, a lot is wrong.

Perhaps this analogy is a bit overdramatic in nature. Hopefully you don't become hooked or crushed over one person because of a few brownies, but what's overdramatic here is what's appropriate for Toshiro Hitsugaya.

If you're wondering if he got his heart crushed, it's only slightly. However, he had a lot more to lose than a crush. The feelings Toshiro are experiencing are ones of anger, despair, and guilt.

He worked so hard, he had always worked so hard. Sometimes he worked harder than the kids in his class, which was why he progressed so much quicker. They all thought it was because he was simply a prodigy, but that's not it. He worked hard because he had a goal, and because he was sick of others looking down on him because of his shorter stature or young age.

For that reason, he excelled in every subject. His kido blasts were accurate and precise, and sword skills were quick and graceful, and, physically, he could probably beat over half of the kids in his class without cracking his knuckles. He worked until he couldn't raise his arms, until his body was not only covered in a thick sheen of sweat, but he was bathing in his own stew. The teachers saw his driven nature and were impressed. Hardly anybody fought so hard with as much determination as he did, and for that, they respected him.

He graduated school extremely young, and went on to become a legend amongst Soul Society. He was the youngest Captain ever to grace such grounds. He was fierce in temperament and cold in personality. He was protective and wily, but controlled and unwavering. He didn't mind sneaking up behind his best friend, laughing internally as he watched her scare. He would stare as the sunsets melted into the sky, and, on rare occasions, he'd buy himself a whole watermelon to indulge.

That was before.

Before all of his efforts were literally ripped into a thousand pieces before his cerulean eyes. Before the blood had been so succinctly freed from flesh to mold onto his cloth and skin. Before those screams, those screams. How they haunted him when he wasn't suspecting it. Never in the day time when he thought, but sometimes, before he could object, they would sneak into his dreams. He would be dreaming normally, wrapped in a deep sleep, when those screams would gauge at his mind and unravel the tiny threads he had used to sew his broken heart together.

Perhaps it sounds silly, the fierce Captain of Squad 10 having a broken heart. He's a proud man, is he not? Wasn't he the one to leave Soul Society on his own to redo his own wrongs? Wasn't he the one who had made it through school at such a young age with a fire in his eyes which was hard to ignore. Wasn't he supposed to be the god damned hero?

The answer is no. This is because, and it doesn't matter how strong you think you, or anyone else, are, every single human has a breaking point. Every single living, breathing mass can only take on so much weight before their shoulders bow. And once their shoulders bow, it's difficult, if not impossible, to ever stand straight again. However, more often than not, a pair of bowed shoulders will eventually crumple beneath their grief, and suddenly you are left with a shell of a man, someone who functions as they once did, but are lost beneath the surface.

Going back to the tree, the real analogy is the difference of how they are perceived. If one ever chopped down the tree to look inside, they would realize an ugly secret. They'd see the thousands of scurrying bugs which had killed the tree a long time ago, and while the leaves still grew and died and grew again, the outside was lost in time. The bugs used the tree as their safety, and they didn't want it to die, so at night they all wormed out of the trunk so they could work their magic on the outside, leaving it smooth and standing strong, while it has been dead for hundreds of years.

That is why it's called the Tree of Time.

Perhaps it's gruesome to imagine, but that's how Toshiro was. On the outside, he was the man who had been before the accident. His eyebrows still twitched at the nonsensical ordeals of his subordinates. He still shut himself in the office for hours at a time to do paperwork. He sometimes even bought watermelon, just for himself.

However, if you were to cut him open, you'd see that inside, all there would be is a patched up heart and an almost fixed soul. Somewhere inside of him, the bugs are working to make him seem normal, to make him seem as strong as he once was. However, each attempt is a façade. He simply disguises it so well, the unobservant can't really tell. Or perhaps they are simply afraid he has changed, so they choose to believe he hasn't. Things are easier that way.

Easier, but not better. Each time the scent of watermelon hits his nose, hit heart rips a little more. When his eyes happen to glance out at just the right moment to see the sun setting the clouds on fire with brilliant hues, his will is chipped at. Whenever he spends time snapping at a subordinate for what others would call a stupid cause, his soul shatters just a little bit.

All these changes happen slowly, so slowly no one else can notice. Only he can feel the pain each time something happens, but his mouth stays silent. In his mind, he is no longer worthy of another's care or attention.

He's not the hero.

He's a god damned nobody.

Perhaps this story should change views for the second time. There wasn't meant to be so much angst from Toshiro at this time, this was simply supposed to be a beginning introduction. This story apologizes for the angst, but don't seem too beat down. This story changes, doesn't it? It fluctuates with the irregularity of a bipolar temperament. The only thing that's predicted is some unpredictable changes.

The focus is going to shift back to Rukia Kuchiki, the girl with the violet eyes and raven hair and terrible nightmares. When this story left, her body was slightly turned at an angle so her glassy gaze could inspect whoever decided to step into her room at the early hour.

However, after the brief break, she no longer was in her room. In fact, she was nowhere near her house. She was approximately six miles due west, at a different building in a different setting. Don't worry too much, though. This story will rewind just a bit to give you a bit of background. We'll catch up to Rukia in a little bit.

Back in her room, she was a little shaken at the idea of someone summoning her this early in the morning. Ever since she had joined the Kuchiki Clan, her brother and elders and always drummed in the feeling of instinct.

You see, instinct is an overwhelmingly powerful type of defense. Your instinct can tell you more about a person than any other sense alone, because your instinct combines all of your senses to be able to reach conclusions about someone. Have the feeling the person next to you is probably shy? Instinct.

And at this time in the morning, Rukia's instinct was telling her that this news wasn't unimportant. She had always listened to her instinct, but now she was wishing she could tune it out, because the feel of her visitor made her heart beat a little faster and the center of her palms perspire slightly. She was nervous.

Footsteps were soft and light as a girl inched into Rukia's room. It wasn't the same girl who had come to check on her during the night- she was different. She had olive tanned skin that looked natural in the way it sat over her bone structure. Her face was a gentle curved oval, with a pushed up chin and high cheek bones. Her eyes were ever wide and her eyebrows were bent graciously over her eyes, although they sat a bit higher than normal, giving her a look of surprise. Her hair was a pulled back mess of thick black ringlets, and a couple of strands escaped her ponytail to dangle at the sides of her cheeks.

She couldn't have been much taller than Rukia, and for sure, her aura was more timid. She mumbled a few words in a mousy voice that were inaudible as she thrust a small envelope towards the mistress. It was easy to tell in her movements that she was afraid of being accused of peeking, which only made Rukia more suspicious. However, she didn't say anything. Instead she plucked the envelope from the girl's hand, dismissed her with a small wave, and settled back down.

Her legs were crossed before her as she held the white envelope in her hands. It was a milky white color, with no markings on the outside. It wasn't sealed, and the seal hadn't been broken, so the message was most likely sent and delivered post-haste. This only made her more curious. It couldn't have been summons from Yamamoto, as he sent Hell Butterflies.

With shaky fingers that she clenched to gain better control, she slid the paper from the envelope. Tucking the white wrapping on top of her desk, she flipped the letter over, surmising the words.

There was only a couple of sentences, written in rapid, sloppy kanji from hurry. Her heart beat a little faster, as she read the words on the page…

… and was out of her room faster than one could blink. She may have seemed sluggish, but her flash steps were just as expert as most of the others in Soul Society. She didn't hesitate.

Back in the room, the paper flittered to the floor, landing with the text against the ground. Later, it would most likely be picked up by a maid and thrown carelessly in the trash. None would know the importance of the words she had read.

Miss Kuchiki

Your friend at the hospital is fading. There isn't much time left for her.

That was it. No signature, no name. Just a couple of vague sentences that held so much weight and desperate grief that it sent the collected Kuchiki whirling out of the room.

This story will skip the sprint from the girl's home to the Fourth Squad's hospital, there isn't too much to tell. In fact, this story will skip the rushed meeting with the nurse at the front, and the calmed walking towards the room, although her heart was beating faster and faster with each step, catching in her throat and making her breath ragged.

She rounded the corner, fists clenched and teeth gritting together painfully, although it helped distract her. She was numb to the world around her, and she felt heavier. She knew there was nothing left to be done, but it was still so damn painful.

They were laying a thin sheet over the body on the bed when she walked in. They were two young squad members, who both adopted pitying, almost scared faces as they felt her presence. She didn't mean to be scary, but she couldn't help the spike of spiritual pressure. She didn't want to admit it, really, but she was terrified as fuck. Suddenly her night terrors were returning the painful vibrancy, and she had to swallow hard in order to stop her stomach from emptying all contents onto the floor.

"Miss Kuchiki." That was the unmistakable voice, one full of gentle sorrow. At one point Rukia had wondered why Captain Unohana always spoke with such a quiet lull, and it was because she had the hardest job of everyone. She was the one who took responsibility for lives. She was the one who could deliver the happiest of news, but she was always there when one passed away from her safe hands.

Rukia turned slightly, and to everyone's surprise, there were no tears built in her eyes. Her face was unchanged, and apart from the spiritual spike earlier, she looked placidly normal. Unohana didn't blink at this irregularity, although it was only because she knew of the pain.

Do you remember silence, reader? Do you remember when this story spoke of silence's true weight, and how it was alienated by both light and shadow? Try to remember, because silence is ever present, especially in the minds of those who feel almost more than broken. Shattered, really, with a few too many pieces missing for the picture to be put back together. And in those times, reader, you'll realize that true silence will no longer be an enemy. It won't be an enigma, nor will it be crushing in its magnitude. Instead, you'll greet this silence like an old friend, because true silence is too full for someone to think. True silence is a reprieve, and while it always disappears eventually, sometimes that is what's needed to recover.

And now Rukia remembered the last time she had seen her friend, lying like a little china doll on the bed. Her eyes, which usually held such a spark of vitality that made Rukia jealous, were closed off to the world. Her long strawberry blonde hair that swayed in the wind and would turn a fiery orange when caught by the sun was now dull. Her skin, although usually pale, was now a ghastly shade of ashen gray. Rukia had only visited her once in the hospital, because she saw no point after that. In Unohana's eyes she had read that this was the same thing that had claimed everybody else.

And Orihime's body may have been there, kept alive by the many machines and tubes which pumped into her system, but her spirit was not. And without her spirit was no will to live, leaving her an empty shell of a human being. Rukia saw no point in visiting that shell. No one ever questioned that decision, although they all suspected her being weak. However, it was the other way around. It'd be weak to visit. It'd be weak to remember Orihime as this pathetic body which was kept alive artificially, when she had been so much more.

The workers peeled past Rukia, carting the empty body towards the back of the hospital. The wheels squeak occasionally while the bed would make a shuddering metallic noise when it hit the sides of the ground. Despite the fact Rukia had known thinking of Orihime as that dead body was weak, she couldn't help but remember.

This was because there was nothing else for her to do. She had failed, utterly and miserably, at her dream. She couldn't protect. She couldn't help. In the end, just like before, she was the worthless one that was left behind. She could do nothing. Nothing, but stand in the now empty room with the elder Captain watching her back.

Nothing, but stare at where that bed had once been.

Nothing, but remember.

Phew! This is a bit darker than what I usually write.

If you're wondering about the extensive, abstractness of this piece, it's simple. I felt like writing an abstract piece, and it just happened these two characters fit in very well with the story. Plus, my creative writing teacher has been getting on my case about slowing down my writing, not hurrying it, and adding more specific detail. So if it gets monotonous, I apologize. I'm doing my best.

Also, I apologize for any grammatical errors. I didn't proof read this, and I don't care to. However, if you point out mistakes, I will fix them.

Chapter updates will be few and far inbetween. I apologize again, but I'm busy.

Like it? Hate it? Have any constructive criticism that could help me out, or just want to give me your two-cents? Drop a review!

Until next time.