Nobuyuki and I became friends in our second year of junior high school because we sat next to each other in class. I remember the first thing I did after he said 'hello' to me was insulting his name.
"You're called Nobuyuki?" I had said to him. "Who calls their son 'truthful snow'?"
To which he retorted with, "You can't talk. Your surname means 'decaying tree'."
He was a funny guy and got along with everyone. People always thought he was a foreigner because he had green eyes. The teachers scolded him because his hair was silver and they never believed him when he said it was natural. Of all the friends I made in junior high, I felt the most comfortable with him even though he was a guy. However, what truly brought us closer was that incident during the summer holidays…
Since the shrine near the festival that was being held that year was at the top of a hill, one could watch the fireworks show that happened at the end of the celebration without worrying about trees blocking their view. Usually a lot of people would stay near the shrine to watch the fireworks but I, after pulling some strings, made sure the area was cordoned off. But instead of enjoying the mini explosions of pollution in the sky, I had one foot on a man's stomach, holding them down, and a gun in my hand. I pulled the trigger when the next round of fireworks exploded, using them to camouflage the sound of the bullet being fired. By the time the fireworks ended 10 minutes later, a dozen people lay at my feet, completely still, with puddles of blood forming around them. I frowned in annoyance before turning to the shrine and clapping my hands together. After sincerely apologising for dirtying the sacred area and promising to clean up the mess, I boldly requested that the Gods would help Kings maintain their prosperity. When I opened my eyes, I spotted someone leaning against the tree.
I immediately ran up to them while drawing my knife.
"Stop, please!" I froze at the familiar voice. Slowly lowering my knife, I beckoned them to step out of the shadows. A silver-haired boy stepped forward with his hands raised.
He saw everything?
"Yes, I did that," I said answering his unsaid question. "You don't seem very surprised."
"Well… I was expecting to see dead bodies since there were gunshots but I never thought I would meet you here…" He rubbed his neck.
"Well, it's a long story," I shrugged before raising an eyebrow. I still haven't let my guard down. "You can tell the difference between gunshots and firework explosions?"
"Yeah," he replied slowly. "Um… I was brought up in an environment where I heard gunshots on a daily basis, I guess."
Is he related to the police? But the family members of policemen hardly get dragged into situations where they would come into contact with guns.
"I never expected you to be connected with the yakuza," I commented finally.
"No…Uh… Yeah," he sighed. "Don't tell anyone about my secret, OK?"
"As long as you don't tell anyone about what you saw today," I told him.
"Deal," He held his hand out and asked curiously, "So… Which yakuza group do you belong to?"
I answered without hesitation, "I'm known as Kime, the next heir to Kings."
He stared at me for a full minute with his mouth opening and closing like a gold fish. "Are you serious? Cool…"
I raised an eyebrow, "I tell you I'm a future yakuza leader and all you say is 'cool'?"
"I don't know what else to say," he scratched his cheek. "Well after seeing what's behind you, I can definitely say you're capable of the job."
"I still have a lot to learn. For one, I need to learn how to control my feelings…" I leaned against the tree and stared at the clear, night sky, "Are you scared of me?"
"What? Why would I be?" He looked at me incredulously. "I don't care if you're inheriting a gang, Rukia is still Rukia."
My heart fluttered at his words and I frowned at the weird sensation.
"You'll always be a stubborn midget," He added cheekily.
"That last part is unneeded," I glared at him and he laughed.
"Well… to tell you the truth," he said hesitantly. "My dad's actually a yakuza leader as well, but not for a big one like Kings."
I widened my eyes, "Are you serious? What's your dad's name?"
"You won't know him," he shook his head. "Like I said, the gang my dad leads is really small."
"Oh…" I watched him carefully. "So, are you going to try to kidnap me and stuff? To make your dad's yakuza group more famous?"
"What are you talking about? Who would do that kind of thing?" He spluttered in surprise.
I laughed at his reaction, "I'm sure anyone else would've seized this chance to."
"I'm not that kind of person," he clicked his tongue. "We're friends, right? Have more trust in me, geez."
I laughed and felt oddly reassured by his words, "Ok, I get it. I'm sorry for accusing you like that."
We spent more time together and grew closer however none of us talked about the incident that happened at the shrine. Neither of us mentioned anything about the yakuza and whenever I showed up to school with a bandage here and there, he never questioned it and just nodded understandingly. There was never a need to tell shoddy excuses to him. His father was also making him learn martial arts so we occasionally practiced together. He never beat me, though, and always got me to give him tips.
"Hey, Rukia, let's go watch a movie," Nobuyuki suggested a few days before our graduation.
"A movie?" I looked up from the manga I was reading. "Are there even any good ones showing right now?"
He shrugged, "We can just choose a random one once we get to the cinema."
"Ok..? Our tests have finished anyway."
The next day - I think it was a Sunday since we didn't have school - we met up and watched a movie. It was comedy and we laughed the whole way through it. We laughed so loud the people around us were glaring at us once the film had ended but we just ignored them. We stopped by a café for some snacks and we ended up in a park.
I looked around in confusion as we walked. We met up a lot on the weekends but we've never went to the park before. We found an empty bench and sat down on it. I watched him check the surroundings before turning back to me. We had walked passed a few couples on our way here and I was gripping the handle of my bag nervously.
Was he planning to…?
"Rukia," He called in a rather serious voice. "I don't know how I should say this but…I really enjoy the times we spend together and I feel so at ease when I'm with you. I don't know if I should say this because it might make things really, really bad but then I know that if I don't then I know I will regret this a lot once we graduate so…"
He took a deep breath and let out. He kept repeating that, getting faster each time he did, that I thought he was going to have an asthma attack but then he looked at me with determination in his eyes, "Rukia, I really li-"
"Don't move," a hoarse voice ordered. I was too focused on trying to understand what Nobuyuki was trying to say that I didn't realise that someone had crept up on me. I felt cold metal digging into my back.
"Well done, Nobuyuki-sama," a man who was wearing a plain T-shirt and faded jeans stepped out from behind the bushes. He pushed his sunglasses on top of his head and looked at me while sneering. "You did a great job in keeping her distracted." About 10 other men stepped out from behind trees and bushes and surrounded us.
He looked at me with wide eyes and said in a panicked voice, "No, I didn't know they were here. Honest."
"You set me up," I stared at him in disbelief and he shook his head frantically. "After everything you said…" A great pain welled up inside me and my eyes glistened from the tears that threatened to escape. My heart constricted at his pained expression. A part of me begged me to believe his words but my experiences were telling me otherwise. I've suffered betrayal more times than I could count.
"Rukia, I really like you," he stood up and pushed the man holding the gun against me away. "I would never do this!"
"No," I covered my ears and closed my eyes. "I don't want to hear your lies."
"Rukia, please! I didn't know this was going to happen," he begged and grabbed my shoulders.
I pushed him away and stood up, "I trusted you. I really did. That's why I told you my other identity even though there was a chance that you would do this. It happened to me so many times before but I thought… I trusted you… I-"
He hugged me tightly, "Then trust me some more. I'll prove that I wasn't behind this! Rukia, trust me! Please!"
"Don't touch me, you traitor!" I screamed at him as my tears slid down my cheeks. Taking out the switch knife that I always kept in my pocket, I stabbed him in the chest without thinking.
Nobuyuki's eyes widened and his face contorted from the pain before he slowly slid down to his knees. One hand clutched his chest while the other clung onto my arm.
Something was wrong, I realised in dismay. The men around us should've tried to stop me straight after seeing the weapon in my hands.
"I see you've finally noticed," the man who was pointing the gun at me before smirked. "It's as you suspect. We're not working for him."
He laughed hysterically, "All it took was for me to call him 'Nobuyuki-sama' and it got you all riled up! This worked out even better than I had expected!"
"Why…" I continued to stare at him.
Was I in a middle of a dispute between them and Nobuyuki's dad's gang?
"Why?" He echoed my question in anger. "You killed all of my men that day at the shrine! How dare you forget all about it?"
My heart dropped to my stomach and I stared at the wounded boy kneeling on the ground beside me.
I… caused… all of this?
I heard more footsteps and looked up to see Renji running up to us. He and several others, like always, had followed me at a distance while I was out.
"We heard you shouting so we came as fast as we could," Renji explained. He took a step back after seeing my face. One of the King's members called for an ambulance when they saw Nobuyuki.
"I want them all dead," I said numbly and kneeled down beside Nobuyuki. I heard Renji gasp before hesitantly ordering the others to do so.
Nobuyuki's breathing came in shallow pants and his shirt was stained with his blood. His face was almost as pale as his hair.
"I'm sorry," I chanted over and over. "I'm so sorry…"
He placed his finger against my lip and he smiled, "It's OK… It's not your… fault."
"Nobu…" I watched him, feeling completely helpless, as he coughed up more blood. "Nobu…The ambulance is coming so everything will be OK. Hang in there, please! Nobu!"
"Now you're the one lying," he shook his head weakly. I could tell he was losing his strength because he began to lean against me. "As expected of the great Kime… aiming for a vital place straight away…"
"Nobu…I'm sorry," I cried. He reached up to wipe away my tears but then he frowned when he got his blood on my cheek.
"It's not your fault. You just did what you were taught. I would've done the same thing if I were you." Beads of sweat formed at his forehead and his scrunched his eyes up in pain but then forced them open again. "I'm sorry I caused you… to have a bad… experience...like this one…"
Slowly, he lifted his head and, before my mind registered what was happening, our lips connected. His lips were pressed tightly against mine despite the condition his body was in as if he wanted to imprint this sensation into his very being so that he would still remember it even after leaving this world.
I don't know how long we stayed in that position – a second? A minute? – but the feeling of his smooth lips overlapping against mine was engraved in my memory.
When he pulled back he laughed cheekily and said, "Stole your… first… kiss…"
He kept chuckling even as his body finally gave out and he fell forward into my arms. His grin stayed there even as my tears landed on his cheeks and I screamed his name. He was still smiling even as his eyes closed and he breathed his last breath…
"I don't know what you've been told… but that's what really happened," I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked down at my hands while fighting the urge to roll up and cry as the memory assaulted me. Having avoided the memory for a full three years the pain from that day returned full force and threatened to suffocate me.
The room was completely silent except for the constant ticking of the clock and the occasional beeps from the medical machines.
When I had finally calmed my emotions I looked up again.
My ex-principal and my upperclassman stared back at me from their hospital beds. Shirayuki's eyes shone with unshed tears and Ukitake's eyes were downcast.
The man who caused the deaths of so many people including my sister and suffering was sitting in front of me but I no longer felt a sense of hatred. We were just a group of unlucky people caught in a relentless chain of revenge.
"Someone from the scene told us you picked a fight with my son," Ukitake said with a sigh. "I was told my son was completely unprepared for the sudden ambush in the park and…" He covered his face, "They were probably someone from the group of people who set you two up… Everything felt so suspicious yet all this time I actually believed-"
"I apologise for only saying this now. Since it happened in a park in broad daylight, we were too busy trying to hide the incident from normal citizens, so I never got the chance to find out who Nobuyuki's father was and explain what had happened. Once we took care of the aftermath, I locked away those memories," I said slowly. "I'm not telling you this to get your forgiveness. I just want you to know the truth. If you still hold hatred toward me then I am willing to be your opponent but I ask that you stop dragging innocent people into this. This matter is between you and me." When I was done talking I got up from my seat and headed for the door.
"Thank you for telling us the truth, Kime," he said so softly that I almost didn't hear it.
"Nobuyuki…!"Faint sobs, probably from Shirayuki, reached my ears as the door swung shut.
A guy standing near the entrance of the hospital looked up when he saw me walk down the hallway, causing me to slow down to a stop.
"Ganju…" I greeted hesitantly. There was still anger in his eyes but his murderous intent had significantly decreased since the time I saw him at Ukitake's party.
"I only heard about my brother's death from Silver Snake so I didn't know the full story. My sister told me what happened. I'm sorry… about your sister," He said slowly. "But you're still the killer of my brother."
"I understand," I nodded once. "You can hate me."
He stared at me, clenched his fists and sighed in frustration, "How can I do that when you say it that way?"
I widened my eyes, "What way?"
He gestured to my face with his hand, "You look so sad, sadder than me even."
I touched my face self-consciously. I did? It's already been a year. I thought the feeling would have already subsided.
I heard him sigh deeply and he scratched his chin, "How… did he die?"
The question caught me off-guard. Did he really want to know? The memories from that night came back to me and I blinked a few times, "Um… He had a few wound-"
"No!" Ganju interrupted me suddenly, causing me to stare at him in surprise. He played with the knot on his bandanna and rubbed his face. "I mean… How did he look when he died? Was he… happy?"
"He…" That night, Kaien did have a smile but… was he really smiling or just pretending? I remembered his letter to me… I watched Ganju's face as he anticipated my answer. "Yes, I think he was…"
He breathed out slowly, "That's good…"
"I'm sorry," I bowed deeply to him.
"Don't say that again," he said gruffly. "I know the full story now. You had no choice. If you apologise I'll seriously get angry at you!"
I couldn't stop a small smile forming on my face, "You and Kuukaku-san really are siblings."
"What's that supposed to mean?" He asked in confusion. "Of course we're siblings."
I shook my head and told him not to worry about it. "By the way, what are you guys going to do from now on?" I asked curiously.
"We're still deciding," he shrugged. "Actually… My sister wanted to join Kings, but she wasn't sure if I could deal with… y'know."
"We will always welcome you," I told him whole-heartedly.
"Why are you making this so hard?" He suddenly raised his voice. "It would have been so much easier if you were some annoying, stuck-up bitch but… but…" He ended his sentence with another frustrated sigh. "I'll think about it… And… You're actually quite different from the rumours I've heard… You're not as cold-hearted as people say you are and you're nicer as well." He gave me a little, sightly awkward wave while saying, "I've got to go… See you around."
"If you met me a year or two ago, you'll probably think the rumours are true," I said under my breath as I watched him leave.
"Well, I'm glad you changed," He said without turning back, surprising me.
I thought back to what happened in the past year and a certain Carrot popped into my head.Me too, Ganju, me too.