Being reincarnated into the Bleach world after dying of cancer- it sounds like the summary to one of those crappy fanfictions you hear about. The girl becomes friends with Ichigo and company early on, gets endowed with awesome powers, amazes everyone with her mad deductive skillz and insights into the future (that totally didn't come from having no social life in a past incarnation and watching way too much anime, really), kicks some bad guy ass and ends up with anywhere from two to seven guys after saving the day.
Unfortunately for me, my luck bailed out right after 'reincarnated into Bleach-verse after dying of cancer', so I didn't get the rest of the nice, convenient Mary-Sue package. Instead of being reborn into twenty-first century Japan with the benefits of modern technology (like flushable toilets, for instance), I was born a little over a hundred and fifty years ago. Far from having Orihime-esque powers, I ended up with no powers besides the ability to see souls and hollows from birth (I suspected my experience with death may have contributed to that), and fuzzy memories of maybe the first two or three Bleach arcs. The worst thing though, was being reborn into possibly the only character in the entire Bleach-verse who had died because of sickness, which, to someone like me who knew her hospital room better than her own bedroom, was like a cruel joke. Dying a slow, drawn-out, painful, hopeless death once was bad enough, but twice? I was beginning to think I was cursed.
The worst thing about dying of cancer, I decided, wasn't the dying of cancer part, ironically enough. Well, the dying of cancer part sucked balls, but it wasn't the worst part. The absolute, worst fucking part was that I spent four years studying my ass off at undergrad and then another near-decade at medical school, interning and completing my residency, and on top of that had spent a year working as an army medic as part of my contract to pay off med-school and I still hadn't seen the signs.
To be fair, when you're working in the army, little things like weariness and bruises are easily brushed off when you're dealing with things like gunshot wounds, 3rd degree burns and working eighteen hours a day. As it is, when my body finally gave out on me and I collapsed from exhaustion, I was told that I had stage three acute leukemia and that my chances weren't good. My contract with the government was terminated and I was confined to a hospital bed.
My friends' and family's reactions varied. Mom burst into tears and ran out of the room. My strict, no-nonsense, accept-nothing-less-than-the-absolute-best dad looked like he'd just been told that the world was ending…either that or that American football was canceled forever. Takami Kobe, proud otaku and my best friend since college freshman year, yelled at me for ten minutes straight about how I was an idiot, and what was the point of even going to med school if I couldn't even diagnose myself, before storming away. He came back the next day with an armful of cancer books, a determined look on his face, and my favorite Starbucks drink as an apology. Dave, my asshole older brother, aimed a punch at my face and when I moved to dodge, redirected it at my shoulder and lightly hit it. With a muttered, "Christina, you bitch, you better not die," he then turned away to hide suspiciously red eyes. Henry, my sweetheart 6-year-old nephew and my favorite person in the world, just hugged me before looking up with wide eyes and asking, "You're gonna be okay, right, Aunt Christina?" At the time, I'd just hugged him back before reassuring him that, "Heck yeah, it's going to take more than some rebelling cells to do me in." Looking back, I regret making that promise. In my last few days, I regretted a lot of things about my life, but I think being unable to keep my promise to Henry was my biggest one.
Day One A.D. (After Death)
Well, now I know why people don't remember their births. Being squeezed through your mother's vaginal channel is…fucking traumatizing. No wonder babies come into the world screaming.
While at first I was confused as to why it felt like I was being squeezed painfully through a warm, wet rubber tube when I thought I'd died, it really wasn't that difficult to figure out what was happening after hearing the words, "Congratulations, Yukimura-san. It's a girl!" I wasn't even that surprised by the reincarnation part—I’d found that you tend to contemplate the afterlife a lot more when you only have a few weeks left, at most, to live. I'd thought about heaven, hell, oblivion, reincarnation. So I wasn't all that surprised that I was reincarnated. What I didn't expect, or want, was to still have all my memories from my previous life.
Day Two A.D.
Yukimura Hisana. That's my new name. I suppose as names go, it definitely could have been worse. Hisana sounds pretty. Delicate. Refined and gentle. The only problem is, it doesn't sound like me.
Day Four A.D.
People always say that learning a foreign language is a useful skill. All I can say is, amen to that. Never have I been so grateful that I decided to minor in Japanese language and culture in college. That semester I spent abroad in Japan helped as well. Thank you, thank you Takami for convincing me to learn Japanese. Waking up in the body of a newborn infant was bad enough, I don't even want to think about how nightmarish this ordeal would be if I couldn't understand the language. As it is, from my information gathering, I’ve found out that not only have I been born in a different country, I've been born into a different era entirely. One without the benefits of modern technology. Fuck my life.
Day Fourteen A.D.
I remember thinking sometimes on my bad days, when I was being pumped full of chemo drugs and nauseous from the radiation, that as painful and hopeless dying was, at least I wasn't on the other side of the hospital bed. I'd rather die ten deaths than watch someone I loved wither away slowly as their body gradually killed them. At least I won't have to mourn, I thought. Now, stuck in a different country, a different century, with no way of seeing my family or friends again, I can't help but think that irony is a cruel, cruel bitch.
Day Twenty-One A.D.
It's funny, though at first I was endlessly frustrated at how weak my new body was, now I'm grateful for it. The fact that my body's brain hasn't fully developed yet, that I now require three times as much sleep as I used to—all of it serves as a buffer from reality. I am now physically unable to comprehend as much as I used to in my 32-year-old body, and I am eternally thankful for that.
Day Thirty-One A.D.
I find myself sleeping quite a bit more than I strictly need to. My new parents are worried, I can tell. Selfish as it may seem, I can't bring myself to care. When I'm asleep, I don't think about all the things I've lost. It seems silly-I'm over thirty years old mentally, I should be more independent than this. I shouldn't be so reliant on my family. I should be overjoyed to get a second chance at life after my previous one was cut short. Takami would punch me if he saw how I was behaving and yell at me to quit moping around. Familiarity is just one of those things you only appreciate, I guess, when you're thrown into a place where everything is different.
Day Forty-Two A.D.
I've realized that the Takami-voice in my head is right. Being this angsty really isn't like me. What the hell am I so upset about anyway? It's not like my parents, Dave, Henry, Takami and the others are dead. They're probably way better off than me in any case, by simple virtue of the fact that at least they don't have to get their diapers changed. And while they'll miss me, I know they won't let my death stop them from living. I'll miss them too, and I'll always remember them, but honestly, a month and a half old is really too young to be dealing with depression.
One Year A.D.
Thank god for all the times Dave made me babysit Henry. I wouldn't have a clue how to act like a normal baby otherwise. As it is, I'm timing all of my firsts (first word, first time crawling, first time walking, etc.) to Henry's.
Two Years A.D.
I stared. The ghost—for there was really no other way to describe it—stared back.
"Wha—how—you-dead!" I shriek, reverting back to English in my panic, arms gesticulating wildly, waving between the spirit and its pale, cold and very dead body still lying on the bed. Two years had given me plenty of time to accept my new situation, and I felt that I was adjusting very well to life all things considered, but that this new world I had been born in apparently had ghosts was something I was finding difficult to swallow. It was my first time seeing someone die since being reborn, something that would have happened eventually given the fact that my parents were the only doctors in the village. So far, they had done a fairly good job of shielding my toddler eyes from death. Not that it was the death part that bothered me—I had seen my fair share of people die as a doctor, myself included—but the shade wandering around with a giant chain sticking out of its chest made my head hurt.
"Hisana-chan?" Yukimura Asuka, aka my new mother, asked concernedly, walking towards me. She picked me up and began humming soothingly. Her eyes, though they betrayed her weariness and sadness, gave no sign that she saw the ghost now looking at me curiously. I continued to gape at the spirit, scrutinizing the chain hanging from its chest. Something about that looked familiar.
"Ah, can you see me little one?" The ghost inquired with a smile. He was taking the whole death thing a hell of a lot better than I did, though the fact that he looked to be in his mid-eighties may have had something to do with it. Poor geezer had probably expected to kick the bucket any day now.
"Don't be sad. I've lived a good, long life and I've known that my time was coming for quite a while now, although I must confess this wasn't what I expected the afterlife to be like," he chuckled. Well, that makes two of us. "It's interesting that you seem to be the only one that can see me though," he mused. "Well, since there's really nothing I have to do now, I suppose I'll keep you company for a while."
And he did. I discovered that while Adachi-san—the ghost—could interact with things (J.K. Rowling had been so wrong) and that he could touch living things (i.e. me) with no problems, no one else seemed to have the ability to see or hear him. "Perhaps it is your age that allows you to see me," he theorized, "Children have the ability to see and accept a great number of things that adults cannot."
Perhaps that was true, but considering that I had the mentality of someone in her thirties, I rather doubted that theory applied to me. I personally thought that the fact that I remembered my previous death had a lot to do with it. After all, experiencing death probably made me a lot more sensitive to all things death-related, right?
It was on the third day Adachi-san spent with me that something changed. If he hadn't been telling me a story about his Good Old Days (and if I hadn't felt that it would be rude of me, toddler or not, if I fell asleep in the middle of it), I probably would have missed the entire thing. As it was, I was very much awake when in the middle of the night some random guy dressed in a black robe appeared in my house. I was about to open my mouth to scream and protest this very blatant breaking and entering when the guy pulled out a sharp, very deadly looking katana. I closed my mouth and tried not to whimper. Adachi-san went pale. The possible murderous-psychopath-with-a-sword sighed.
"Look, I'm not going to hurt you. All I'm going to do is send you off to the afterlife, where you belong." The guy gave a reassuring smile. Considering the fact that he still had his sword in hand, it wasn't very reassuring. Apparently Adachi-san thought so too, since he retorted, "What's with the sword, then? I didn't know getting stabbed and dying twice was a requirement for moving on."
Huh. That sounded positively snarky. I didn't think kind, gentle Adachi had it in him. A part of me, the part that wasn't chanting please don't kill me, please don't notice me, I'm too young to die was proud of him.
"I hate doing this," the guy groaned, running a hand through his hair. "Who invented the idea of performing konso using zanpakuto anyway? I'm not going to stab you. All I'm going to do is place the hilt of my zanpakuto against your forehead, I swear. It's going to happen regardless of whether or not you fight, so just agree and we can get this over with." Adachi glanced at me, resigned. Well, I suppose it was hope the guy was telling the truth and let him do his thing or wander around the Earth as a spirit forever. When you thought about it, it really wasn't much of a choice.
"Well, I suppose this is goodbye then, Hisana-chan. May we someday meet again, though hopefully not for a very long time." He smiled at me and I felt a twinge of pain in my chest. I swallowed. Boring stories or not, I'd grown kinda fond of the old man. Adachi turned to the grim reaper, or whatever the hell he was, and I watched as the reaper placed the hilt of the sword against Adachi's forehead. As Adachi faded away, a peaceful look overcoming his features, a wave of déjà vu washed over me. I ignored it, lifting up an arm and giving him one last wave behind the reaper's back. He winked at me just before disappearing. The Japanese grim reaper dude then looked around the room, his eyes settling briefly on me, before vanishing out the door quicker than I could blink.
It was only after my heart settled down and I finished processing the fact that Adachi was dead—and gone for good this time—that it hit me why the scene had looked so familiar. The chain sticking out of Adachi's chest, the black kimono-robe outfit the death god wore, the 'konso' ritual and the 'zanpakuto'—strange, it all reminded me of an anime Takami had once shown me.
Of course, that was ridiculous. I could accept being reincarnated in a different time with all my memories intact. After all, who knew how death worked? And even in my past life, there'd always been those stories of people who claimed to remember a previous life. But being reborn not in a past time, but in a whole different universe? One that existed only as a manga in my home world? That was a bit far-fetched, even for me. Really, the only thing the similarities between what I had just witnessed and Takami's favorite anime—what was it called again? Detergent? Soap? Bleach? Something stupid like that—proved was that some manga artist had gotten a few things right about the afterlife. In no way did it prove that I was actually in a fictional world.
Still, no matter how hard I tried to tell myself that even the very idea was preposterous, an uneasy feeling remained in my gut. Either way, it was too early to tell. In order to prove the I've-been-reincarnated-into-an-anime theory right (or hopefully, wrong), I needed more evidence. In the meantime, I would try to dredge up what little knowledge I had about the Bleach-verse from the one or two arcs Takami had forced me to watch when he'd first met me. Which…easier said than done. Takami could probably list each and every character's abilities, age, birthday and eye color. Me? All I could remember at the moment was that the dorky librarian dude turned out to be some kind of evil mastermind and was after something called the Hoggy-whatsit.
Seven Years A.D.
I found the proof I was looking for, though not the proof I was hoping to find, five years later. It had been a beautiful day. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. The only thing wrong with the picture was the gigantic butt-ugly monster with a hole in its chest terrorizing the populace like something out of a bad horror movie.
The hollow (for it could only be a hollow, no matter how hard I tried to deny it), suddenly turned, knocking over a fruit-stall in the process. I froze, hoping against hope that it wouldn't notice me. Maybe, like in Jurassic Park, it wouldn't notice me if I didn't move? No such luck. Its eyes latched onto me and it grinned, revealing a mouth full of rows and rows of sharp, jagged teeth. My stomach dropped and I felt nauseous. Run, I urged myself, move, you stupid legs, move!
"Well, well, what do we have here?" It rasped, pincher-like arms shoving a cart full of fish over. "A spiritually-aware human? Today must be my lucky day." Now would be a great time for those soul reapers to show up, I thought faintly. The hollow moved closer. Luckily, this had the effect of shaking off the terror-induced trance I was in.
"Stay back, you stupid over-sized crab!" I shrieked in a moment of panic-induced insanity. Then, pointing to something over the hollow's shoulder, I yelled, "About time you got here, shinigami!" When the hollow turned to look, I bolted. Oldest trick in the book or not, I wasn't going to complain if it worked.
I sprinted for my life, ducking around buildings, stalls, and people confusedly looking around for the invisible being destroying property left and right, ignoring the hollow's calls of "Get back here!" and "That was a dirty trick!"
"Well, you fell for it, dumbass," I yelled back. About ten seconds into my escape, I'd realized that though the hollow was currently fixated on me and ignoring the myriad of people milling about, there was no guarantee that it wouldn't decide to go after someone else instead should it lose sight of me. And, curse my guilty conscience, I couldn't let it chomp on some other poor soul. Though my chances of winning against the hollow were approximately nil, the odds would be even more stacked against someone who couldn't even see it. So instead, I led it through the less populated streets and towards the forest. Hopefully, with the increased cover and without having to worry about someone getting hurt, I could stall until a shinigami finally arrived. That is, if a shinigami arrived. I didn't even want to contemplate what would happen if the shinigami in charge of watching over this village was taking a nap or something.
Thankfully, luck was on my side today, and so a shinigami arrived just as I dove behind some bushes. The hollow, as stupid as it seemed to be, didn't stand a chance as the shinigami was actually kind of competent, and so five minutes later I witnessed it fading away. After dispatching the hollow, the shinigami looked around, frowning briefly. My heart nearly stopped when his eyes landed on the bushes I was hiding in. Don't notice me, I prayed. I had no desire to get my memories erased. Fortunately for me, the shinigami either didn't notice, or didn't care enough to investigate my presence and disappeared shortly after. As soon as I was sure the shinigami wasn't going to come back, I collapsed breathlessly on the ground. My pulse thudded in my ear as I tried to calm my breathing. After a while, I made my way back to my house, trying to ignore the way my legs were shaking.
My father looked up as I entered the house. "Hisana, you're back," he said smiling. "I heard there was some commotion at the marketplace today. I'm glad you weren't caught up in it." A hint of concern crossed over his face when he inspected me more carefully. "You're a bit pale, Hisana. Are you sure you're alright?"
"I'm fine, Otou-san. Just a bit tired today. I'm going to take a nap, okay?" I told him, trying for a reassuring smile. Judging from his expression, I didn't completely succeed, but he didn't argue. Crossing into my room, I pulled out the journal I'd asked my father for when I turned four. He'd bought it for me under the impression I wanted it for drawing on. Instead, I'd filled it with every scrap of knowledge about Bleach that I'd managed to scrounge up from the depths of my memories—a surprising amount. Flipping through the pages, I scanned the notes I'd taken, all in English. Turning to a new page, I scrawled, Theory confirmed by hollow sighting. Am living in an anime world. Situation: FUBAR.
I stared down at the words I'd just written. Funny, they kind of looked like a death sentence. Turning around, I threw the journal at the wall as hard as I could. It didn't make me feel any better.
Nine Years A.D.
It took another two years for me to realize just who I had been reincarnated in. You see, though I found out I was now in the Bleach-verse, I'd assumed that I was just reborn into some random person with no real importance in the greater scheme of things. That assumption died a rather spectacular death when at dinner, with no warning, my mother blurted out, "I'm pregnant."
I choked on my rice. Dad began coughing on air. Mom had been getting sick a lot lately and she'd been acting nervous all day. Dad and I had begun speculating what was wrong after she spilled water all over a patient. As people who both made a living healing people, we really should have guessed what was up. We didn't, and I was starting to wonder if I was just a failure at diagnosing anyone who had a personal connection to me.
"What?" He spluttered. I pounded him on the back helpfully. "Asuka! This is wonderful! How long have you known?"
"Well, the symptoms are very similar to the ones present when I was pregnant with Hisana," she answered. "I started experiencing nausea a few weeks ago and recently I began developing a bump on my stomach." A worried expression crossed her face as she turned to me. "Hisana? How do you feel about this? I know this is a bit sudden."
"It's great, Kaa-san. I can't wait to be a big sister," I said sincerely. A warm giddy feeling was spreading through my chest and I couldn't help but smile. A younger sibling! "So do you want it to be a girl or a boy?"
"I wouldn't mind a boy," she said sighing, "but I just have a feeling this one is going to be a girl. Call it a mother's intuition."
"Well, I don't mind. I'm going to be a big sister either way," I grinned. "It's a bit early, but do you have any names in mind yet?" My father laughed. "This is all on your mother, kid. The agreement was that I got to name the first kid we had, and she got to name any kids that came after."
"I've been considering a few," Mom said thoughtfully, "In case I'm wrong and it is a boy after all, I was thinking Hikaru—light and brightness. What do you think?"
"It's a good name. I like it," I decided. "And if it's a girl?"
"Rukia. I've always liked that name. It's a lovely name, unique, and I have a good feeling about it," she mused.
"It's perfect! I approve! Should we have a daughter, Rukia she will be!" Dad boomed heartily, leaning forward to embrace her. It was a good thing he did, since it prevented either of them from noticing how I'd frozen.
Rukia. Could it be? What are the chances? How many other Rukias born in Edo Japan are there? I shook my head. No, this wasn't the time to contemplate things. Pasting a smile on my face, I forced myself to finish the rest of my dinner, hoping that I didn't look as sick as I felt. Luckily, both of my parents were too distracted to notice me much and so my quietness was left unquestioned. As soon as dinner was over, I calmly walked to my room and shut the door. As soon as I'd guaranteed myself some privacy (I had no doubt my parents would be too busy 'celebrating' to bother me), I ripped my journal out from under my futon and frantically searched through the pages. I stopped. There, about halfway through the book, I found what I was looking for. Kuchiki H.: Sister to Kuchiki Rukia. Wife to Kuchiki Byakuya. Abandoned Rukia when Rukia was a baby and spent the rest of her life regretting it. Died shortly after marrying Byakuya. Made him promise to find Rukia and take her in.
Honestly, there wasn't much on the person I suspected I'd been reincarnated into. I hadn't even remembered her name; only that it had started with an 'H'. What I did remember was that she'd wasted away because of some unknown illness. Was it even possible for a disease to carry across lifetimes? I asked myself slightly hysterically. Of course, there was always the chance that I was completely wrong and that this Rukia was completely unrelated to Kuchiki Rukia, but…let's face it…my luck wasn't that good. And now that I knew what to look for, I couldn't deny the physical similarities between myself and canon Rukia. The shoulder length hair, the strand of hair that fell over my face, the violet eyes—I hadn't seen it before, simply because the last time I'd seen these features they'd been present in an two-dimensional anime character, but now it was so glaringly obvious I couldn't dismiss it.
And then, as if discovering that I was the older sister of one of the main characters in an anime filled with constant danger, bloodshed and betrayal wasn't enough, I remembered that Rukia and Hisana died in the living world when Rukia was a baby. Which meant that I had little over a year to live. Shit.
Ten Years and Two Months A.D.
"Ahhhhh!" Another piercing scream split the air. I winced. There was a reason I’d never even considered becoming a midwife. Dad had forbidden me from being in the room, so I was saved from having to witness my new sibling being shoved out of my mom's vagina, but the shrieks of pure agony alone were making me cringe in sympathy. The labor seemed to take forever—I'd spent the last couple of hours bravely hiding in my room and covering my ears. Right then and there, I vowed, Never never never am I ever going to give birth. Adoption is looking like a fine course of action right now.
"Just a little more, Asuka!" How Dad could sound so excited when his wife was in unimaginable pain, I didn't know. "I can see its head coming through! Just push a little more!"
"Screw you, Seichi! You have no damn idea how it feels, so wipe that idiotic grin off your face!" Mom snapped back. I might have been shocked at hearing my polite, refined mother swearing at the top of her lungs if she hadn't been doing it for the past six hours now. Finally, finally, after what seemed like another six hours but was probably only about five minutes, I heard the sound of a baby's crying. All of a sudden, I couldn't breathe.
This…Rukia's birth would be the start of everything. While Kurosaki Ichigo may have been the hurricane of revolution that swept through Soul Society and changed everything, Kuchiki Rukia provided the catalyst for it to happen. No matter what occurred from now on, I could kiss my chance of having a normal life goodbye. As Rukia's older sister, my actions would inevitably influence her and by default, have an impact on the future and, well—there was no other way to put it- fate of the world. At that moment, I can't even describe how in over my head I felt. I'd known, of course, ever since I'd figured out exactly who I'd been reborn as, that I would have a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. It just never clicked in how much. While I was having the existentialist crisis of a lifetime, the door opened.
"Hisana! Come meet your new—what are you doing lying on the ground like that?" My dad asked. I blinked, looking around. Huh. In the midst of the mini panic attack I was having, I hadn't even noticed my legs giving out on me.
"Uh, well, I just felt overwhelmed! I mean, I've been an only child all my life and now…I'm not." I winced at my idiotic excuse. My dad gave me a strange look, but luckily was too excited to question it further. "Well, get off the floor and come on in! It was a hard labor"—tell me about it—"but your mother's doing fine and the baby's as healthy as can be! You now have a new sister; as usual, your mother's intuition was correct."
Entering my parents' bedroom, I found Mom sitting up in bed, looking sweaty and tired but radiant nonetheless. And in her arms was…
"Is that her?" I whispered, gaping slightly. Smiling, my mom nodded and motioned for me to come closer. Gently, she placed Rukia in my arms and guided me through how to hold her properly. "Hisana, meet your sister Rukia. Rukia-chan, this is your Hisana-neechan. Say hello, will you?"
Rukia opened her eyes at my mom's voice and peered at me curiously with solemn, indigo eyes so similar to my own. I gazed back, feeling something like awe settle over me. So fragile, so innocent…at that moment it didn't matter what the future held. It didn't matter that she was going to be a key player in a world where danger was the only constant. At that moment, all that mattered was that she was my baby sister and that I was going to do my damned best to keep her safe.
Ten Years and Eight Months A.D.
It's a curious sensation, knowing that in all likelihood you are probably going to die within the year. I'd gone through it once as Christina Dalton and I was going through it again as Yukimura Hisana. With no way of knowing how the original Rukia and Hisana died, I had no way to prevent it from happening (that didn't mean that I wouldn't try though). If my parents noticed that I became much clingier over the last few months, they didn't mention it. I didn't know if they died too, or if I would ever see them again but it didn't matter. Ever since Rukia was born I spent every waking minute with them. I shadowed my mom around the house, studying almost obsessively how she cared for Rukia. She thought it was adorable and would always comment on what a 'wonderful big sister I was'.
I also followed Dad around like a baby duckling, watching and occasionally helping him treat patients and listening as he taught me about the different medicinal plants and herbs he used. Asian medicine was fascinating, and something I'd never really explored in my past life. Dad was thrilled with my interest in healing.
"I swear, you just pick some of this stuff right up," he chuckled. "I think you know more about the human body than I do sometimes." Yeah Dad, having two decades of learning experience behind you will do that to a person. Still, for all my ability to diagnose diseases, setting bones, wrapping wounds and prescribing medicines, it was another thing entirely to make your own remedies with plants found in the marketplace and the nearby forest.
I didn't think about our impending deaths. If there's one thing I've learned, it's to not depress yourself thinking about things you can't change.
4:42 a.m., October 27, 1830
One minute I'm dreaming of chocolate chip cookies (something that was sadly lacking in my new life) and the next moment I'm yanked brutally out of dreamland and into reality. At first I'm confused as to what woke me; the next instant my question is answered when another violent shake knocks me back onto my futon. In the next room, I can hear Rukia start to cry. The door opens and Dad walks in, looking tired but otherwise alright.
"Are you alright?" He asks. I nod and another shake forces him down. After another few minutes of waiting, nothing else happens. "It doesn't appear to be major. Just a few tremors and no one seems to be hurt. Go back to sleep." He tells me, reaching out and ruffling my hair. I drift back into sleep, too tired to pay attention to the sliver of unease in the back of my mind.
"Hey Hisana-chan, look at this!" Takeru, the nine-year-old son of the local butcher calls out excitedly. I look up from where I've been perusing today's selection of fish, idly deciding what I want to have for lunch. Takeru is pointing towards the ocean, or more specifically, the beach where I can see the tide receding leaving behind wide stretches of sand. I frown; shouldn't the low tide have passed already? "Come on, let's go check it out!" He leaves just as I freeze, a terrible, awful realization starting to form in my mind. The fuzzy memories from this morning come back in full force. The earthquake. The receding tide. Living in Japan, a place with more fault lines than California. Oh god, no.
"Tsunami," I whisper out, horrified. The vendor, Ishibashi Kou, looks at me concernedly.
"Hisana-chan? Are you feeling well? You look awfully pale. Perhaps you ought to go home and rest for a bit?" He asks. I swallow hard, looking around. This village, all these people…how much time do I have? How many people will die? The villagers seem to have no concept of what a tsunami is, the way they bustle happily about their normal lives, oblivious to the receding water and what it means. I can't possibly save everyone; my priority is Rukia…Rukia! I balk, startling the vendor, and start running home. Before I've taken five steps, I hesitate and look back at Ishibashi-san, who stares back at me with worry in his kind eyes. Ishibashi-san, who taught me how to catch and prepare a fish. Ishibashi-san, who had given Mom two fish for free when he heard that she was pregnant. Ishibashi-san, who had no clue he was in danger. I made up my mind. Time limit or not, I couldn't just leave him there with no warning.
"Ishibashi-san!" I blurt out. "Listen to me. There's no time to explain, but in a few minutes, a giant wave is going to be heading this way. You need to get yourself and your family to higher ground as soon as possible, and tell anyone you meet to do the same."
"Hisana-chan—what—you can't be serious," he splutters. I can already see him beginning to protest, and I cut him off hurriedly.
"I'm deadly serious. Lives could depend, do depend, on this. I have to go. Ishibashi-san, please," I beg and then I turn around and sprint for home as fast as I can, not turning around to see if he decided to listen or not. By the time I burst through the front door to my house, my lungs are burning and each breath feels like a struggle. Mom looks up from the kitchen counter with a frown.
"Hisana? What's the matter?" She asks.
"Where's Rukia?" I interrupt her. Without waiting for an answer, my eyes scan the room and land on Rukia, where she’s in a makeshift basket/crib one of Dad's friends made. She's sleeping and I quickly pick her up. "Kaa-san, where is Tou-san?"
"He's away at the moment. Asari's father is sick again. Hisana, what is going on?" She demands.
"Look, there's a tsunami—a giant wave—coming our way. I don't know when it'll hit, but we have to be at higher ground by then." I say, urgently. How long has it been since I left Ishibashi-san? How long do I have left until it hits? Minutes? Seconds? Mom's face has turned pale and for a moment, I can only feel relieved that she believes me.
"I'd heard stories, but I didn't think…you're sure about this?" She demands sharply. I nod in confirmation. "I saw the tide receding. And with the earthquake this morning, I don't think that we need any more proof."
"Hisana, take Rukia and run as far as you can, you hear me? And," She grabs me by the arms urgently and looks me in the eye, "Swear to me that you'll do everything in your power to protect her, Hisana."
"I will," I whisper, "I promise." Something in her expression eases and her shoulders relax.
"Good. I'll go find your dad." I turn to run, but hesitate in the doorway. What do you say to someone you love when you know, deep down inside, that it's the last time you'll ever see them? Mom seems to know what I'm thinking because her expression softens and she smiles calmly, as if this is just any other day and I've just told her I'll be out for a short walk. "I'll be fine," she comes forward and embraces me tightly as I breathe deeply and try to memorize her scent. She smells like clean cotton and herbs. "Just remember that no matter what happens, your father and I will always love you both. Now go and be safe. Run."
"I love you too," I choke out, and then I'm running as fast as I can out the door because I know that if I stay a second longer, I'll never be able to leave. The awful thing about our village is that all the buildings are short and it's mostly flat ground. My best chance is to get as far away from the ocean as I can and then scale a tree or something. However, as I look off into the distance and watch the biggest wave I've ever seen in either lifetime approach like the claw of a legendary sea monster, I can't help but think that I'm already too late.
I cling to the tree as tightly as I can, even as I try my best to shield a screaming Rukia with my body, as waves upon waves of seemingly never ending water crash down all around me. I hold on to the tree like it's my only hope for salvation, and indeed it is, the sole lifeline keeping me from being washed away to sea. I'd only managed to reach the edge of the forest before the first wave hit, and I'd promptly thrown myself at the nearest, reasonably sturdy looking tree I could find. It had taken everything I had just to hold on as the wave crashed in, sweeping away everything in its path. The aftermath was the worst part though. As the wave receded, it was near impossible not to get pulled away with it.
Yet as bad as the first wave was, I'm coming to realize that the succeeding wave is much worse. It's only by sheer dumb luck that the tree I'm clinging to hasn't swept away yet. As the water pulls back, a large tree branch bumps into another tree which sends it straight at me. My body is tired and aching, my lungs are half filled with water and I'm bleeding from various cuts caused by debris. With only my legs and one arm (the other holding Rukia) holding on, I don't stand a chance when the branch crashes into me. With a choked yell, I'm knocked loose and I only just manage to hold onto Rukia. The last thing I hear before I go under is my mom's voice, "Protect her, Hisana."
I'm sorry, I think, I failed you, and then the world goes black.