Characters: Yachiru-centric, Kenpachi
Word Count: 868
Summary: Death happens for a reason. Yachiru learns this the hard way.
A/N: Written for prompt #12: loss, Table #8 - Misc. B (12_stories).
As the evening sun drifted past the horizon, creeping behind the mountains with a promise to return once the night ended, Yachiru settled down on the grass, the hakama of her uniform reassuring her knees to be untouched by the ground. The mound of earth had long been compressed by rain and sunshine, by storm and lightning; all the elements of nature had flattened out the ground before her. Granted, it was an old site, but still she couldn't really believe that it had been years since she came here to pay her respects.
Yachiru had lost count of the first time she came here. It was so long ago that she didn't even bother keeping track. Ken-chan never liked her to reminisce about the past, said that history held nothing but the regrets and stupid bullshit that people did, and it would only hinder them from moving on. Clearly he didn't want her to remember how they met, how bloody the both of them were, how lost he had been, how the innocence had been torn away from Yachiru's tiny, young self.
But, ironically, he had been the one to bring up the subject in the first place. After that frightening fight with Ichigo, in which Yachiru had almost began to fear for her Ken-chan's safety, he had surprised her by asking her whether or not she'd remembered the moment wherein he had given her a name. She remembered, of course. There was no way in hell would she ever forget. That was the highlight of her life, the most important memory that she could ever have. It wasn't just a name, it was her identity. Before that, she was no one – she was nothing.
She didn't understand him. She thought that she did, but now that she was older, she found that she hadn't really been paying attention. His words, his actions, his body language – she had been blind to everything until the moment where she finally broke her promise to him and delved deep within the past, recalling each phrase, each tiny gesture. And then she began to wonder why he didn't kill her in the first place, why he was determined, hell-bent, on taking her along with him when it was too obvious that she would be a burden.
She knew that she wouldn't receive answers to all her questions now; it was just too late.
With her right hand, Yachiru traced the inscriptions in the tombstone. Its surface was cold and rough to her touch, unwelcoming, and though she wanted so much to just pull away and scamper home, she restrained herself. She was torn between leaving and staying, but the lifeless zanpakuto that stood upright and rigid, its blade buried deep within the earth beside the grave, seemed to command her to stay. Or rather, she felt like she was the one who was pleading for permission.
It felt like it wasn't in her place to be here. She should have known from the tone of his voice, from the look in his eye and the way he carried himself that something was wrong. He would never force her to stay in the barracks to await his return. She and him – they were inseparable. She should have realized that something was up when he gave her a pouch full of money, a bag of konpeito candy that he had stashed away under his pillow, and told her to go to her room and lock the door.
Nothing reached the division, as far as she was concerned. The only fighting took place at the gates, but they were nonetheless ferocious. In her bedroom, she could hear the screaming and shouting, the chaos that raged non-stop for days on end. She didn't know how many suns rose, or how many moons shone in the night; all she knew was that the sky, once a beautiful, clear blue and decorated with puffy, white clouds, had been reduced to nothing but a smoke canvas.
She had stayed huddled under her blanket, hugging her knees to her chest. Never had she been so afraid until that moment.
As the sun cast its final glow over the Seireitei, a mixture of striking orange and red with bits of purple thrown in, Yachiru leaned forward and rested her forehead against the tombstone.
If I'd known that would be the last time, I wouldn't have let you go.
She would have held him, hugged him till there was no tomorrow. She would have her small, skinny arms wrapped around his neck, her head tucked under his chin, her cries and protests the only sounds filling his ears. She wouldn't care what he thought, what other people thought. She just wanted him with her, telling her bedtime stories over and over again, and when she fell asleep, he would take her into his arms and pat her back. His haori would be her blanket, his chest her pillow, and her little fingers would clutch at his shihakusho like her life depended on it.
And she would never let go.
"But...it's all right, I guess," she allowed a small smile to grace her lips, "Heaven just needed a hero like you, Ken-chan."