I stared, dead-eyed, at the wall of Sajin's room. It had been six days since Sajin and I had arranged for Captain Unohana to help me. Without conscious thought, I touched the right side of my face where the mask had formed. I kept probing, looking for some difference when there was none. No matter how many times I looked in the mirror or how many times I felt my cheek, it felt l was still wearing the mask. Sajin walked in at that moment and let out an exhausted sigh as he saw me going at it again.
"If you keep that up, you will rub your face raw," he said, sitting on the bed next to me. He took my hand from my face and gave a low grunt of disapproval as he saw the red mark that had manifested itself on my right cheek. He pulled out a tub of ointment and dabbed some onto his fingers before putting a small bit on my cheek. I winced as the burning was replaced with a frosty cool. Sajin chuckled mirthlessly. "You only have yourself to blame, and you should just leave it alone."
"I know," I sighed. "It's just that. . . . It's just that I can't shake the feeling that I am still covered in that mass as it creeps over my face. It was like being pulled into quicksand with nothing around to grab onto but a thin, rotten vine swaying just out of reach. If it wasn't for you, Sajin, I think I would have drowned in that pool of darkness and disappeared." I shivered as I remembered the feeling of complete helplessness as the mask and hollow inside me tried to claim my entire being.
Sajin put his arm around me gingerly, trying to comfort me. "You've been cooped up in here too long. Why don't you go out and try and enjoy yourself for a bit; I will join you in a while, after I finish up the last of my paperwork. It should take three hours at most," he reasoned with me.
I figured that he was right and decided that I should give the man some peace. "Okay," I sighed. "I'll go find something to do to entertain myself until you finish." Sajin looked a little surprised at my willingness, so I explained, "I'm probably driving you crazy with all of my moping." Sajin looked like he was about to say something but just shook his head and reached into his pocket, handing me a small wad of money.
"Go have some fun; I promise to be along shortly," Sajin said and ruffled my hair as we both got up to go about our days.
Sajin went back to his desk and sat down. I went to the bathroom real quick before going on my way.
I relieved myself and went to the sink to wash my hands. Looking up, I was shocked at my reflection. I hadn't bothered to check it since I died, really. Needless to say, I couldn't break away from the clone staring back at me with empty, golden-amber eyes.
The shadow in the mirror had sandy hair, more brown than blonde, that almost covered his eyes and reached well past his ears. Almost covering his neck, it was unruly and a complete mess. The skin was a fair shade that suggested that he didn't get out much. The lips were full but set in a firm frown. Sharp cheekbones jutted out drastically. The ears were pointed when the hair was pulled away from them. The teeth were white, canine pearls set deep into the gums. I looked at the hands and saw that the nails ended in sharp black points, almost like French tips. I grunted in disgust and punched the mirror; the eyes were an empty, aureate void that seemed to suck the life and vibrancy from the environment around them like a parasite. I thought of Sajin and realized he deserved better than to see that. "I am going to change; I refuse to let him see those eyes ever again," I said between clenched teeth.
I walked out of the bathroom to see Sajin sitting behind his desk, doing paperwork. I smirked to myself and snuck up behind him, planting a quick kiss on his jawline, not being able to reach any higher. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and gave me a questioning look.
"It's been too damn gloomy lately," I explained with a smile.
Sajin was about to say something, but I interrupted him.
"See you tonight!" I laughed as I ran out in pursuit of two specific people, leaving a confused Sajin behind.
I walked around the Seireitei looking for Captain Kurotsuchi. I was grumbling to myself when I heard the distinct sound of tortured screams. I turned and found myself in front of the R&D building. A shiver coursed through my body as I heard the crazed laughter of Captain Kurotsuchi through an open window.
I started to think about my abilities and those of Heiwa-Tekina Kagami, and I made my way to the center hoping for some answers. I knocked on the heavy door and waited. The screams abruptly shut off and so did the laughter. I heard a series of steps and then the door opened up and a petite woman with purple hair held back in a ponytail answered the door.
"My name is Nemu. If you don't have an appointment with Master Mayuri, I am going to have to ask you to leave the premises immediately," the woman said in a cool, emotionless voice.
"I wish to speak with Captain Kurotsuchi. My name is Hiroshi Osamu; we spoke a while ago and he told me to stop by sometime," I explained.
"Oh yes, Master Kurotsuchi mentioned you; come this way," Nemu said, just as devoid of emotion as before.
I followed her through an elaborate maze of corridors, hallways, and passages until we came upon a room with a giant computer docked at the center. A hunched figure sat in front of it with countless wires plugged into his head.
"Master Mayuri, Hiroshi Osamu is here," Nemu reported.
The man stopped what he was doing and turned around with a murderous grin plastered across his face. "Hello young man; I hope that this means you reconsidered my offer for modifications," Kurotsuchi chuckled.
I did my best not to shudder, "I'm afraid not. I was wondering if you had some answers for me."
"I have many answers boy, but information is not free. What do you have to offer me?" Kurotsuchi replied.
I thought for a second. "How about a tissue sample? I would also be willing to test out a few procedures for you if the information you provide is valid. How's that sound?" I challenged him, knowing he probably wouldn't be able to resist.
"If my information is valid?" Kurotsuchi asked hotly. "Be careful who you insult, boy!" he warned. He settled down a bit and brought his hands together in front of his face before continuing. "So what do you want to know?"
I thought about it a bit. "I guess I will start with, what's happening to me? I know that the Hollowfication has manifested and is taking control; but how?" I asked, framing my question carefully.
Kurotsuchi smiled. "That is quite the conundrum; a shinigami's power normally manifests at the same time as their Zanpakutõ, but yours blossomed before then went into a dormant state. The reason that they went dormant is because you hadn't trained properly beforehand, so you ended up using more than you should have been able to. They should have awakened when you arrived at soul society, but once again you used too much energy so they had to 'recharge', if you will. The Hollowfication itself probably acted as a stimulus for your powers. If your powers were of a different brand, you would've turned into a hollow without a shadow of a doubt," he explained.
I looked down at my hand and thought about the next question I wanted to ask. "What exactly is my power? I can take things and fire them back, but it's not like I am reflecting them; it's different," I said, more to myself than him.
Kurotsuchi's eyes widened and his grin spread even wider. "That is what makes you the perfect specimen!" he exclaimed. "Your powers are completely unique; they don't follow any specific path or element or ANYTHING!" he shouted. "You are taking in something and then making it your own. YOU WITH YOUR POWERS ARE EVOLUTION PERSONIFIED!" Kurotsuchi exclaimed, spit flying everywhere now as he continued his explanation. "You find things and you break them down to their base elements and then adapt it to suit you. If you trained some more or developed bankai, you could probably do this without physiological stimuli!" Kurotsuchi seemed to sense how far off the handle he had flown and collected himself. "You will never stop adapting; you represent the existence of every species and reaction ever known and then some. That is also the reason I am so interested in you," he finished, finally sitting back down.
My head throbbed, and I needed to go somewhere and process all that had been said. I stood up and excused myself. Before making my way to the door, I looked over my shoulder and asked, "I suppose I will see you tomorrow then, Captain Kurotsuchi?"
Without looking, I could practically feel the grin. "Not even the Captain-Commander himself could keep me away."
I walked out into the bright sunlight of the Seireitei and took in a deep calming breath. I was not sure how much of what he said I believed, but I went ahead and accepted it for now; seeing as that was the only opinion, or guess, that I had.
I walked to Squad 10's barracks and began asking around for Matsumoto. Someone finally told me I could find her at the Captain's office. I made my way to Captain Hitsuguya's office and knocked on the door.
"Come in." Hitsuguya's voice sounded through the thin wooden door. I opened the door, and he looked up in slight annoyance before mild surprise took over his boyish features. "Oh, Osamu. What are you doing here?" he asked.
"I was wondering if Lieutenant Matsumoto was available," I said in a carefully neutral tone.
Hitsugaya was about to say something when a very bored looking Matsumoto sat up and turned to face me. "Hi, Hiroshi!" she said in a tone of pleasant surprise.
Hitsugaya looked between the two of us and decided not to inquire as to why I was asking for his lieutenant. "She can go if she's finished her paperwork," he finally said, already turning back to his own stack of forms.
Matsumoto was next to me in a blur and started pushing me out the door whispering, "Hurry before he changes his mind."
I remembered something and stopped in my tracks and turned to Captain Hitsugaya one more time. "One more thing Captain, do you know what happened to Yamada? I haven't seen him since our co-operative test," I asked.
Hitsuguya's eyes narrowed slightly for a split second and then returned to normal, making me question if I had seen anything in the first place. "No, I have not seen or heard of Yamada since the exercise," he replied and then buried himself back in his paperwork, making it apparent that I wasn't going to get anything else out of him. I turned back to Matsumoto and we left the room quickly.
*Change of View*
Hitsuguya sat back at his desk the second the door closed and the hurried footsteps of the two people faded from hearing.
He lifted his turquoise eyes to the ceiling and let out an exhausted sigh. "Hiroshi Osamu, things just seem to happen around you. I Wonder how this will play out in the end," he said; his only response being the gentle stirring of the curtains in his office as an almost nonexistent breeze swirled around his office.
*Change of View*
Matsumoto and I stopped to catch our breath at the gates to the barracks and started to laugh a little. "So, what did you want?" she asked.
I stopped laughing and bit my lip nervously and tried to play it off like there was nothing. "I just wanted to hang out, and that's all."
Matsumoto's eyes narrowed ever so slightly as she studied me. "I don't appreciate being lied to," she said coldly.
I let out an exhausted sigh. "I need help," I finally conceded, avoiding her eyes.
Her eyes remained narrowed, but she looked a little more understanding. "I need more than that," she said.
"My eyes," I mumbled, "I don't like how they look," I said and turned my face downward in embarrassment.
Matsumoto cupped my chin and forced me look at her. "Hmmm. . ." she started, a ghost of a smile gracing her features. "I see what you mean; those are some pretty nasty-looking peepers!" she said.
"That's not what I meant," I said indignantly, unsuccessfully trying to suppress my chuckling.
"I know," she laughed. "It seemed like you just needed something to be happy about."
"I hate how empty they look. I just don't want Saj-" I cut myself off before saying anything else. I didn't want to slip up and mention Sajin's name since it could get him in some serious trouble. "I want to make sure someone special doesn't have to look at them anymore." I stopped there and tried hard to ignore the burning in my cheeks as a heavy blush covered my face and ears.
"Who is this someone special?" she asked, a Cheshire grin on her face. "Anyone I know?"
My blush intensified further, and I was sure I looked like a tomato by this point in time. "I'm pretty sure that you might know him," I said and then mentally slapped myself for saying him.
Matsumoto's eyes widened to the size of saucers. "HIM? YOU'RE GAY!?!?" she screamed.
The extra attention was doing nothing for my blushing issue, so I just hung my head. "Yes I'm gay," I muttered under my breath.
Matsumoto started to think for a minute. "You wouldn't be talking about Yumichika, would you?" she asked, smirking.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"Guess not then. Is he good looking?" she asked.
I laughed. "I certainly think so," I replied.
She laughed and began dragging me to some bar. "Let's play 20 questions!" she laughed.
"I thought we already were," I stated.
"True enough, is he tall?" she began again.
"Yes," I said, deciding to try using as few words as possible.
"Is he hyper or calm?"
"He's pretty collected."
"Hmmm. . . Is he a shinigami?"
"Is he ranked?" Matsumoto inquired.
"Yes," I replied.
"Is he a captain?" She tried.
"No more questions," I interjected; we were getting close to dangerous territory now.
"It's not Byakuya is it?" she asked, going down the list of male captains
I turned to look at her with an eyebrow arched.
"Guess not," she joked.
We reached the bar, and she walked over to the entrance, dragging me behind her. We walked in to a small group of people as they left; they gave us a wide-berth as they saw the shihakush? we were wearing. She led us to a small booth and immediately ordered a huge jug of Nihonshu.
She took a nice, long swig and let out a sigh, a rose-colored blush covering her cheeks. "Let's start again," she said, smiling.
I shrugged my shoulders and asked the waitress for some Ramune as Matsumoto began her new torrent of questions.
"Is he a cut loose and drink up kind of guy?" she asked.
I tried to think about Sajin drunk and laughing out loud but couldn't picture it. "Not at all; I don't think I could picture him drunk," I said, laughing.
"Uktitake?" She guessed.
I didn't say anything but thanked the waitress for the cool soda.
"Kurotsuchi?" she tried again.
I sputtered and choked on my drink. "God no!" I yelled, a little too loudly.
She laughed and started to thump her hand and began to think. A devious smile spread across her face. "Is it your captain?" she asked.
I slipped my gaze and drank my Ramune quietly.
"You are in love with Captain Komamura!" she screamed in wicked glee.
"You're drunk," I blushed, still avoiding eye contact.
Matsumoto laughed. "Honey, I haven't even started yet."
"Please don't start saying anything Lieutenant Matsumoto," I pleaded.
She seemed irked. "Listen Hiroshi, you've seen me drunk stupid and you are a 3rd seat; I'll drop the thing if you drop the formalities. Call me Rangiku."
I smiled. "Okay. . . Rangiku."
She smiled and then grew serious. "Does he know?"
I looked around and decided to go for broke. "Yes, he knows. He feels the same way as I do," I replied sheepishly.
She grinned in delight and gave a little squeal. "I can't wait to tell the Shinigami Women's Association."
I looked at her pleadingly. "Please don't, Rangiku. It would be bad if it caused a stir; Sajin and I want to keep it down as much as possible for a while."
She looked at me closely and seemed to stare right through me. "You guys are really close. . . . . . Hmmm, OH!" she screamed and covered her mouth in an attempt to smother her laughter.
I cocked my head to the side, "What is it?"
She leaned toward me and whispered in my ear, "Have you guys had sex yet?"
I swear the infernos of hell broke loose across my face; of course thinking about it caused me to pitch a tent, doing nothing for the blushing problem.
She laughed again and held her sides as she started to roll laughing. "This is too much!" she laughed.
"You don't need to laugh about it," I said, burning with embarrassment and defensiveness of mine and Sajin's love.
She seemed to sense my barely concealed anger and tried to amend. "It's not that, it's just that I don't think anyone would have guessed that captain Komamura swung for that team."
A picture of Sajin wearing a flamboyantly gay pink kimono and talking in a high pitched voice entered my head and I laughed hard enough to split my sides. "Okay, so I see your point; honestly, I don't think that I would believe it either."
Rangiku gave me a look that said 'you see?'
She opened her mouth to say something else, but I cut her off.
"If you ask me how good in the sack he is or if he's big I'm going to leave," I said, already standing up.
Rangiku downed the rest of the Nihonshu and left a generous tip on the counter as she stood up and we walked out. I followed behind her closely, and we talked about idle things: How was the other doing, bagging on fellow shinigami for her part, and talking about what irritated us.
I looked up towards the sky and started; the sun had started to sink from the sky like a slowly deflating balloon.
I looked towards Rangiku and smiled, "Thanks Rangiku, I really needed the distraction. I've been having a bad week."
She looked over her shoulder and waved it off. "You can just buy me a drink sometime," she offered.
"Sounds fair enough!" I yelled as I started to run off toward the barracks. "See you later."
I made it to Sajin's office a couple of minutes later and caught my breath as I waited for him to finish up his day's work. Ten minutes later, Sajin's door opened and the man himself came out and stretched out, basking in the sun's warmth. He noticed me sitting by the door and offered me a hand up.
I took it and stood next to him as he put an arm around my shoulder gently.
I looked up and smiled, "So what do you have planned?"
Sajin did a quick survey to make sure that no one was around and placed a quick kiss on my forehead. "I was thinking of a nice, quiet spot not too far from here. How's that sound?" he whispered into my ear.
"It sounds amazing," I breathed quietly. "When do we go?" I asked.
"Whenever you're ready," he replied simply, yet sweetly.
"I've been ready for quite a while," I whispered, pressing my body against his.
I traced the fingers of his hand idly while he crouched low and scooped me up bridal style and shunpoed us away from the Barracks and the Seireitei.
I closed my eyes and listened to the steady thump thumping of his heart as he put miles of landscape between us and the rest of the Soul Society. The rhythm of Sajin's heart and the sounds of the world moving around us reminded me of a song that my mother used to sing to my sisters when they were young; I started to hum under my breath.
I wasn't aware that we had stopped until Sajin gently nipped at my ear and sat me down on the ground.
I opened my eyes and saw that I was beneath a giant Sakura tree in mid-bloom. The leaves were a rich velvety green, while the blooms were light pinks, purples, and violets that danced with along with the very winds. The sun had begun to set, but not to the extent that the azure hue of the sky was affected. The bark was a rich, earthy brown that was firm, yet slightly yielding to the touch as it was saturated with the water of a recent rainfall. I backed myself into the trunk and sat with my arms slung over my knees as I took in the beauty of the entire area.
"This place is unreal," I whispered in awe. "How is it that you manage to find these places Sajin? First the clearing from our first night together, and now this!"
Sajin just chuckled. "I used to wander Soul Society in my earlier days before I joined the Gotei 13. I found a good many places as I looked for a place to rest and think. I remembered this place after you left today and thought you would like to see it." He finished his explanation and stretched out, looking over everything around us.
I started to think about what he said and suddenly it felt like I was being crushed by an invisible force.
A voice started to echo in my head. "I don't suppose you think that this is weird, do you?"
I wasn't really paying attention and assumed the voice was Heiwa-Tekina Kagami. "Why would I? He wanted to show me something beautiful from his life before," I replied in my head.
The voice laughed without mirth, "Exactly! His life BEFORE; what do you really know about him? You have known him for a little over three weeks and you have already let the guy in your pants!" the voice mocked me.
I startled and felt something inside of me start to break and my breath began to leave with more force than it was coming in. The voice had a point. I had let a complete stranger into my life without hesitation; a man I didn't even know in full had slept with me and taken my virginity. I had been too wrapped up in this to really notice, but now I realized I had been acting on teenage hormones and lust. I started to tremble and I felt sick.
"He saved my life," I said, clutching at straws.
"Because that is his job."
"Don't you see? You acted like a piece of trash; this guy could just leave you at a moment's notice. He may have said that he loved you, but words are cheap. You are probably just a little toy for him to play with." The voice seemed to pause and then resumed with a dark chuckle, "That is, until tomorrow when you will cease to exist as I claim every part of your existence."
I nearly retched as I realized that the voice belonged to the poison that was spreading through my entire soul, "How do I know you aren't just trying to mess with me?" I said in my head, trying to get a grip on something as I started to spiral down into a black pit of despair.
"I'm a part of you dumbass; if some bit of you didn't believe it, I wouldn't be able to use it against you like this." It laughed again.
"Leave him alone!" A hard voice drifted into my consciousness, this one belonging to Kagami. The poison in my mind seemed to fade away, but its work was already done. "Hiroshi, don't listen to him; he is a parasite that is trying to break you down in any way he can so that he can erase you. You can't let him do that to you," Kagami said, her voice back to the calmly sympathetic voice that Hiroshi remembered.
"Thank you Kagami, but can you just leave me alone for now? I will be sure to let you know if I need you," I asked.
She seemed reluctant to do so, but finally it was just me and Sajin left alone.
A tear like acid ran down my cheek followed by another and another, until they rolled freely down my face to make nearly silent plop against the fabric of my pants.
I felt more than saw Sajin's shadow tower over me before a gentle paw rested against my shoulder.
I flinched away from it and tried to bury myself into the bark of the tree behind me.
Sajin pulled his hand back and sat on his haunches in front of me. "Hiroshi, what's the matter?" The hurt in his voice palpable.
My body felt like it was made of lead as I raised my head inch by agonizing inch. I looked into his eyes and tried to find some assurance that the Hollow was wrong about Sajin. His eyes were filled with worry as he stared at me.
"Remember when you said you loved me?" I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.
Sajin nodded his confirmation.
"Why did you say that?" I inquired.
Sajin seemed confused and answered the best he could, "Because I do."
"Why?" I continued.
Sajin thought a bit. "Because, you were the first one who saw me for me and not as someone else. I wasn't a captain or a monster. I was a person who saved your life and helped you get better."
"But I don't even know you, and you don't know me," I whimpered.
Sajin seemed to grasp what was going through my mind and sighed, "It's true that I don't know you; I don't know your favorite color, food, activity, or anything and you don't know mine."
With each word it felt like someone had shoved another searing iron into my heart.
"But," he began again, "I know you are a kind person who thinks of others before himself. You see things in people that others don't and care about them. You could care less what people were to think or say or do to you, but if that person dares to speak or act against another you would be there in a second and sort them out."
"Why do you stay with me? How do I know that if I were to close my eyes right now that you will still be there when I open them again?" I asked my last question. The tears had stopped and I just felt numb and cold all over.
Sajin looked at me and stared into the very depths of my soul, like he could see my doubts and worries and my hopes and dreams. He looked a bit longer and then let out a sigh, "You can't know that."
My very last pillar that connected me to reality began to crumble away into dust.
"You can't know that," Sajin said again. "As shinigami, we both could disappear in an instant because something could kill us and wipe us from existence; even captains are at risk. But I can promise you right now that as long as we both draw breath that I will be at your side." He reached down and fished around in his pocket and pulled out the mirror I had given him three years ago. He held it up to me so that I could see my face in it. I was a wreck with blood shot eyes and tear tracks running down my face. "You have been marked by me; even if it was an accident, you are a part of me and I am a part of you. The bond we have is stronger than empty vows shared under an arch or sex. Our bond is as physical as it is spiritual. I swear to you that we will always be together," he finished with conviction in his voice.
I looked up at him and had to fight down the tears that threatened to spill over again. I flung my arms around him and hugged him tight. He wrapped his arms around my torso and pulled me close. Once again I could hear his heart beating, and I was wrapped in a feeling of warmth and comfort as his heart beat in synch with mine. I let go of him and he reluctantly did so as well and I returned to my spot beneath the tree with my head bowed a little.
He stood there for a bit and just stared at me before coming up next to me and sitting. He picked me up and gently placed me in his lap as he rested his chin on top of my head and wrapped his arms snugly around me. I smiled and leaned into his touch as I finally felt the drain of the last couple of minutes.
"I really have to stop getting so worked up all the time," I groaned. "I will end up sleeping all the time if I keep this up."
Sajin chuckled. "I don't mind; you look peaceful when you sleep."
I was about to say something but realized that my eyelids had grown heavy, and I leaned back into his embrace as I slipped into a calm, deep sleep.