lacewood: (Default)
Pei Yi ([personal profile] lacewood) wrote in [community profile] toxicskyremix2005-12-14 10:08 am
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bleach/narnia - the war of winter

For [ profile] farli

Contrary to what people would later believe, winter had not been Rukia's season.

Winter in the southern precints hadn't been as harsh as the north, but it was still dangerous. They were cold all the time, and what little snow that fell was sparse and wet, more mud on the ground than anything else; most of the time, it just rained. The damp got into everything - the walls, their blankets, the marrow of their bones. Larry and Moe were taken in winter, coughing and shivering and pale until the morning they simply never woke up again. They were buried in rain, and what was left of them had kept vigil, wet and silent, until the rain turned to snow and they had to leave.

No, Rukia hadn't liked winter very much.

It had gotten a little better in the Academy. A little. At least they had better clothes, and proper shelter and food, and the snow that fell there was real snow, pale and soft and crisp. Rukia spent an afternoon watching snowflakes drift into her open palms, until her hands turned blue with cold and wet. Then she went in and forgot it. But practice was practice, whatever the weather, and training became a question of how long you could grip a sword before your fingers went numb with frostbite. In Rukia's case, it was never long enough.

Taken into the Kuchiki name, she entered a house of winter, where every movement was stark as a bare tree against a shadowed sky, every word a killing wind, and grace carried the purity of virgin snow. She was always cold here, frozen and unmoving, her fingers clenched into a rictus of uncertainty. The chill bit into her bones, ruthless and implacable, and this time there was no one shivering and swearing beside her, no warm body she could draw a beggar's comfort from. She did not need it, she told herself, and when she'd remembered how to breathe again, she discovered the cold had not killed her after all.

Only made itself her season, whether she would or no. And she bowed her head to its mark.

Rukia never told anyone this, but her first year in the Academy, she believed that everything they told them about the zanpaktou was a myth, an exaggeration out of proportion to their actual power and use. She thought she could not be entirely blamed for this - they were vaguely told a great deal about how the zanpaktou was a shinigami'a only true weapon, the importance of the bond between blade and wielder, how it was considered the only mark of power worth acknowledging. They were told nothing about how the zanpaktou worked, how they differed from the ordinary swords students were given during practice, what the technicalities were - nothing, in short, important.

They would understand if their time ever came, was all they were told when asked. It was dangerous and unnecessary for students to be told more. First learn how to point your sword in the right direction without stabbing each other, instructors barked. The best sword in the world will only be a joke if you hold it like a kitchen knife, Sanada!

The first time she saw a zanpaktou released, it was the middle of her second year. A group of them had sneaked out into the Rukongai to trail a pair of 11th Division shinigami sent to take care of a ryoka. She could not remember what their shikai had been anymore; but the power had been real, and even when they were caught sneaking back in and given two weeks of extra duties, she said nothing. She did not ask about the zanpaktou again, though she spent the rest of the year searching for books, scrolls, manuals, anything and everything that'd ever been written on them. But it was precious little, and of no use at all in the end.

Somehow, she wasn't surprised.

Shiba Kaien died on an evening caught between spring and summer. Rukia would always remember this, because the rain that fell was warm and fleeting and tasted of salt. Like the sea, she thought ever after, for all that she'd never tasted the sea. But it was better than thinking it'd tasted of tears.

Two weeks after, she woke to find her room covered in snow - snow, in the middle of May - and Captain Ukitake sitting in a chair by her bed, watching her.

"Captain," she said, sitting up, hard, to discover she'd kicked her blankets to the floor, and that she'd somehow taken her sword to bed with her. She dropped it back on the bed and would have stood, but Captain Ukitake only gestured for her to remain as she was. "This..."

"Rukia. One of the sentries slipped on the water outside your room and came to inform me it was snowing," he said.

She had not noticed the cold in her dreams, but now, the snow on her robes and sheets beginning to melt, she was wet and frozen and confused. "I am sorry for the--"

"There's no need to apologise. I was sleeping poorly anyway." he said, and smiled, and she thought it might have been the first real smile she'd seen him wear in - since--

"This... I have no idea--"

"It's not your fault," he said, gentle. "There are no predictors for what exactly happens when a zanpaktou begins to wake, but this will not be the strangest thing to have happened yet. Certainly not the most dangerous."

"My zanpaktou?" she echoed.

He nodded at her room, where the snow was melting to leave a mess - the floor, the papers on her desk, the uniform she'd draped over a chair - behind it. "It seems the most likely explanation, don't you think?"

"Ah." She stared at Captain Ukitake, then looked away. "There were reasons why they wouldn't teach us about the zanpaktou in the Academy," she said, mostly to herself.

She did not see him blink, study her. "Some things cannot be taught by conventional means," he said. "Unfortunately, the zanpaktou are one of them. What did you dream of?"

She looked at him, startled. "Dream? I do not..." She paused. "I dreamed," she said. "But I can't remember. Is it important?"

"Don't worry about it," he told her. Reaching out, he touched a hand to her hair, then withdrew it. "It will come in time."

When he left, Rukia cleaned her room. It took her the rest of the night; by the time dawn arrived, she had also re-written two of the ruined reports and mentally recited the list of all the lesser kidou techniques 3 times. She still couldn't remember what she had dreamed.

It did not snow in her sleep again (only in her dreams). She was haunted by small things instead - the touch of an unseen blade at her throat, an icy finger down her spine in the baths, looking up from a report to find her tea frozen solid in its cup. In her dreams, when she remembered them, blizzards and snowstorms and a woman's voice, screaming.

The first time she saw her: a clearing in a forest of black skeleton trees, icicles hanging from their branches like knives. Above the trees, a moon, heavy and swollen. In the clearing, a woman, twice her height, great and beautiful and terrible. Her hair was ebony, her skin deathly pale; her arms were bare, and her white dress long and rich and lined in fur. Her mouth was red, red and wide and cruel.

On her head, a crown of silver and ice.

She bared her teeth at Rukia. "Puny child," she hissed. "That I who have been Empress and Queen and Witch of lands past your imagining should be reduced to this."

She only stared, wide-eyed and silent. The woman drew a white stone knife from her waist, and she watched her come to her. The knife rose and fell; Rukia lifted an arm and the dagger opened it from wrist to elbow. Blood, steaming on the snow.

Then she woke.

Again and again, she dreamed. The knife was chalk white, each time, her blood leaving no stain upon it. Rukia learned to duck, to run, to not just stare stone-stiff under the woman's furious gaze, but it was never enough.

Again and again, she woke.

"What is your name?" she asked. The woman's eyes burned her with their gaze.

"I have more names than you could remember. They called me Jadis, they called me Empress, they will remember me as the last queen of Charn, the Destroyer of Felinda, the White Witch -"

"Who are you? Why are you here?" Those names had no power here; she realised; what she sought was a different one. How did she know this?

"They would have me serve you. They think somehow, that this is to be my penance. Fools, all of them!"

Her knife at Rukia's throat, searing with cold. She twisted, fell.

Woke again.

Rukia filled her waking hours in every way she could find, and when she couldn't find ways, she made something up. She took on extra duties, until Captain Ukitake had to ban her from taking on any more, joined councils and committees, wrote reports and rewrote other people's badly written ones. When she couldn't find something to fill a spare hour, she trained. Three times a week with Kiyone and Sentarou, once a week with her brother (she was never good enough, she could feel it in his silences, in the way his every flawless movement was a rebuke, in weight of his eyes). There were division drills every morning before dawn, and in the evenings, in the greying light before darkness, she ran through kata after kata, till what had been familiar to begin with ingrained itself in her bones, wrote itself into her aching muscles.

When her hands blistered, she bound them and kept training; when it rained, she trained in the wind and wet. Easier to push herself past the limits when she could still think; easier to inscribe her mind with every movement, every flaw, every mistake, with technicalities instead of unquantifiable things like fear and guilt. On days when it was particularly bad, she trained into the night, until the grounds were locked for the night and the night patrol had to send her back to her rooms because she forgot to leave.

She thought of the clarity of ice, the killing edge of winter air, the silence of snow. Easy things to think of. Sometimes she thought she felt her watching. One night, unable to face her dreams again, she left her bed and climbed into an empty hall through a window. Standing in the wide, empty room, she closed her eyes.

When she opened them again, there was a lion at the other end of the hall, watching her.

In the darkness of the moonlit room, he burned with his own light, warm and molten like a morning sun. Rukia drew a breath, quick and gasping, and there was a pang in her chest, as if she'd found something she hadn't realised she'd lost. She folded to her knees.

"You are--"

He crossed the hall to stand before her. "I have many names. Some in this world call me Aslan," he said.

A foreign name. She stared up at him silent. When he bent his head to her, she flinched; instead, he licked her, rough and warm and wet, and for a moment, she smelled grass, new grown - and strangely, something she thought was hope.

"Be strong, daughter of Eve," he told her. "She is not what she was. She was defeated before; she can be won again."

She drew a shuddering breath. But was that what she feared?

"She can be won, if you truly wish to win," he said. She started at the words, and he looked at her, grave. Another disappointment, she thought, going cold. Instead, he only said, "You cannot undo what has been done. Why should you not grieve?"

Because it had been all her fault. Because she would do it again if she had to. Because he was dead and all the grief in the world was useless. She didn't need it, want it, deserve it. Her shoulders shook, her teeth clenched. Blindly, she reached up and wound her fingers into his bright, heavy mane.

For the first time - or the second time, she couldn't tell anymore - she cried.

The woman was gone. Or not gone, but absent. Standing among the snow-covered trees, Rukia peered up at the glimpse of sky between the branches. She found herself in a different place here each time; until now, she had never been able to question or explore the boundaries of this world. With the woman not-here, Rukia set herself to finding out if the forest had an end. She did not know long she walked in the preternatural silence, the crunch and scrape of her footsteps the only noise around her, before the forest around her began to break and thin, giving way to stony ground. Passing the last trees, she found herself at the edge of a shallow valley; and beyond the valley, miles in the distance, a glimpse of shifting water reaching towards the fog-shrouded horizon.

The sea, she thought, startled, and woke.

She let her hands heal enough to remove the bandages; absently rubbing the calluses on each finger, she sat in an empty training hall with her sword in her lap. Jadis, Queen, Witch - she tasted each name with her tongue, and yet none of them the name she needed.

"Who are you?" she asked the silence.

"Yours," a voice hissed in her ear, bitter; her sword slid from her lap to clatter on the floor when she spun to her feet. The room was empty.

"Even in death he will not leave me be," the woman spat; Rukia whipped around and saw her now, tall and furious and brilliant in the dusk of the room.

"He said you could be defeated," Rukia breathed. The woman bared her teeth, white and sharp, and there was blood on them.

"And how would you best me, girl?"

"I don't know," Rukia said, and bending, scooped her sword from the floor and drew, swift. The woman swept one bare, pale arm around her and they were back, snow and forest around them. Stone knife in her hand again, the woman struck; Rukia parried once, twice, each meeting of their blades a bell-like clash in the crystalline air. Rukia leaped at her with a wide slash of her sword that would have opened her from hip to hip if the woman hadn't caught it, pushed her back.

It was easier, much easier to fight with a weapon in her hand, Rukia found, but it was not enough - her sword was weak against the witch and her knife, the steel beginning to crack and bend with each blow. Their battle wove through the thick-set trees; Rukia missed, once, and felled a sapling with her strike instead; she had to roll out of the way as it crashed to the ground.

Did she have a reason to win this? Did she have a reason not?

Another blow went awry and only opened a gash in the woman's long skirts. The knife came down, hard and fast, and she raised her sword; and now, it shattered to steel shards in the snow. Rukia leap back, weaponless - again, she thought, dodging the woman's merciless attack.

A traitor rock twisting under her foot brought her down; her hand dragged through the snow, found a loose stone and hurled it, before she could think, as if she was five years old again, lost and desperate in the Rukongai's careless cruelty. It was unexpected enough that it struck the woman on the lip, cutting a deep line of crimson down her white skin. She stopped at that, lifted a hand to touch the blood.

"You dare," she said, a low snarl.

Oh, she dared. Fear had become a different thing this time, Rukia realised; fuel instead of burden, weapon instead of scar. She remembered this; she would not have survived the streets and alleys of her youth without it. The woman towered above her, her knife raised high so it glittered in the weak light. Sometime during the fight, it had begun to snow again, powdery and fine, catching in Rukia's robes, invisible against the woman's dress. Rukia drew a breath and tasted snow on her tongue.

Now, she saw.

The knife fell and she surged to her feet.

"Sodeno Shirayuki."

Sleeve of white snow, come to me.

And around her, the wind rose, and the snow spun and whirled, took certain form, long and white and inexorable around the woman's arms, wrapped itself around the trees. The knife slipped, then plunged useless to the ground. Thus trapped, the woman stared at her with her proud, contemptuous eyes, and finally smiled, hard and cold.

Rukia drew a shuddering breath. "Your name is Sodeno Shirayuki," she whispered.


And she was back in the training hall, snow melting in a circle around her, her sword in her hands - white, white as stone and bone and death. She would have dropped it, but she did not, only slowly wound the long white ribbon around her hand - the better to grip with, she told herself.

"I am bound, not defeated," the woman said, an icy whisper in her ear.

Rukia closed her eyes and smiled, small and wan.

"I know."

Somewhere in the place between sleep and dreaming, she thought a warm breeze murmured to her, beneath the scent of spring flowers and summer rain.

"Be strong, daughter of Eve."

She did not dream that night.


December 2005

Russian translation available here

[identity profile] 2006-01-08 02:08 pm (UTC)(link)
This is absolutely gorgeous. I've just started picking up the manga, and love Rukia. It's so difficult to find a good gen fic about her, but this story helps make up for that lack. I love her strength and vulnerability in your story. The atmosphere you build is *stunning*--I could nearly feel the biting cold. I'm very impressed by the way in which you connected the Bleach and Narnia universes--I would never have thought of them as having crossover potential, but they work well together in your hands.

(Anonymous) 2009-06-08 08:55 pm (UTC)(link)
So beautiful.

Such an intriguing interpretation of Rukia's zanpat

(Anonymous) 2009-06-08 09:22 pm (UTC)(link)
(sorry, internet just HAVE to fail me..)

-oukou and zanpatoukous in general.

Most of zanpatoukou fic I've read are always spunned around the idea of zanpatoukou being like Guardian spirits, or like their wielders' souls.

KT only states that the sword spirit are reflection of the wielder's soul, which are not necessary its perfect representation. Sword spirit may as well be some distorted reflection...(Rukia herself is cold, cruel and bitter, and other things. But she resents and fears that part of her.) Also, they are sword, so they must be the fuel, the source of strength.

So true.

It's just so like Rukia to use fear and self-hatred as drive and be haunted by her own monstrosity and fear itself, to the point that it became her zanpatoukou.


You are awesome.

This fic is just too awesome.

So beautiful