Plain of Ice
... and if I am going to die, I will take you with me

From Yesterday

Started by Xiaolen Huang at Apr 02, 2019 7:41 pm
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Xiaolen Huang

Little Bee

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

? Years Young 17 Posts Goteijusantai Nibantai Lieutenant


Her name was different, now.

Still, Xiaolen would know her daughter, when she saw her, no matter what the others in Rukongai were calling her. So far, she seemed to be having a decent life. Logically, Xiaolen also knew, given her bloodlines, sooner or later, the girl would gain perhaps impressive levels of reiryoku, especially for a plus. But she wasn't a plus, now was she. She'd been born a shinigami, and would, someday, be a shinigami, whether Xiaolen was okay with that or not. The thing is, it wasn't her being a shinigami that upset Xiaolen; it was her being a Huang that upset her. A Huang-Shihoin, no less. Whether the Huang line or the Shihoin one claimed the girl didn't make a damned bit of difference, because both had the same expectations.

Most of her own life, everyone else always told her what to do. Go through the academy, graduate with high marks, get into the Onmitsukidou, rise to the top of the Executive Militia, take your grandmother's name, who cares that you have one of your own, make the Huang line proud of you. Do well in the Onmitsukido or die trying, and maybe we'll honour whatever's left of you by the end.

It wasn't like her to question things. Since the Winter War, though, that had been changing, and if she was being honest, she'd given her daughter up partially because she didn't want her daughter to live the same life she had, and partially because she'd have been in her way. And the realisation that, even for a bit, she'd thought this, even if it was so deeply she didn't even hear the words flicker through her head, had quite honestly made her hate herself. And she told Shouren all the time she'd fight the Huang elders for him. And why should he believe that, anyway, it wasn't like she'd decided she'd fight them for her daughter.

Some part of her couldn't handle it, too. Couldn't handle the living proof she wasn't as infallible as she liked to believe, and maybe, even now, she had some trouble with the whole concept.

She'd just gotten depressed. It wasn't like she could take back her decision, because it was done and over, and perhaps the girl would never know her as her mother. All the same, she was free. Free to be whoever it is that she decided to be, with no Huangs and no Shihoins telling her who that's supposed to be. Maybe Xiaolen would always regret that decision, no matter how much good came of it, but it seemed a lot of good did come of it. She should be happy about that.

Without paying any attention, she'd shuffled up to the gate around the manor, reached out to push it open, and then realised that was the wrong emblem. With a slight start, she looked up, her hand hovering a few inches from the wrought iron, and then blinked in surprise. This was not the Huang manor, but the Jeon manor. How did she get all the way here, and not notice where she was going? Oh lord. Her hand dropped to her side. Mostly, she looked a bit confused. On second thought, maybe here was a better idea. She wasn't entirely sure she could stand talking to her family, right now, when they were the whole reason she'd given up her daughter in the first place.

Most of the time, she was just angry at them.

Well, she didn't want to be a bother, so instead of going in, she just shuffled out of the way of the gate, settling down against the wall, instead. It was peaceful, here. Much more peaceful than home was, at any rate, and maybe she just needed a few minutes to think.

Habaek Jeon

Pretty Petals
? Years Young 10 Posts Goteijusantai Rokubantai Captain


Habaek was home, already. Admittedly, despite being home, he was in his office continuing working on paperwork that probably could have waited until he went back in the morning. But Habaek was never great at so-called work life balance, and at times like this, it showed. Probably he would have worked on this paperwork for several more hours, left to his own devices. But a flicker of spiritual energy outside caught his attention. 

Xiaolen?

Habaek wasn't honestly certain when it was that he became so in tune with her presence that he noticed when she got near the gate, even though she didn't come much further into the grounds than that. For a moment, he considered his options. If you really don't even try to see what's going on, I'm not going to talk to you for a month. His Zanpakutou's voice was slightly acidic in the back of his mind. Habaek resisted the urge to point out that that might actually be peaceful.

He ended up putting aside the paperwork and making his way outside. If nothing else, it was unusual for Xiaolen to come here uninvited, and stranger still that she'd come and then not approached beyond the gate, he was a little worried, if he was being honest with himself. 

Habaek hesitated a moment before moving closer and stopping there to one side of her. He didn't have any more clue what she'd come here for now than he'd had from his office, except that if he thought about it, perhaps, it was merely the fact that she and her elders didn't always get along.

"Long day?" It was precisely the sort of small talk he didn't bother with often. The difference, of course, was that with Xiaolen he cared.

Xiaolen Huang

Little Bee

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

? Years Young 17 Posts Goteijusantai Nibantai Lieutenant


Oh.

Her head turned, and then she looked up at him. You know, he was awfully pretty. Not that she'd ever tell him that; certainly, a certain someone had mentioned it quite enough when they were younger. Sometimes, though, she had to wonder when, exactly, she'd started liking him. She never really remembered. Most of her life went by kind of in a blur, and she barely remembered any of it clearly, now. Once upon a time, they used to bemoan Ashera and her ... Ashie-games, a lot, because he understood and she did, too, and he never made a point of reminding her she was a Kurogane, and Kuroganes did whatever they wanted, and Huangs shut their trap.

A breath in, and she shrugged, turning back toward the Rokubantai grounds, that way. "You could say that," she answered. Then, she looked up at him again, and stood up. "Sorry, I actually wasn't going to... but I came here on accident, and decided maybe home was a bad idea, anyway." It really probably was. The last thing she needed today was to get in a fight with them.

But this was her problem, not Habaek's. It was still hard to imagine, even though he'd sort of hinted, here and there, that he did kind of want her around, that he really did. Ashera clearly didn't want her around, why should he? That was her thought. She wouldn't even get into Tetsuya, even in her head.

"Um," that was very ineloquent, "I was... just going to sit here, for a few minutes, and think, and then I'll go... home. I think." She may end up at the barracks, but that wasn't - it wasn't terrible. (Was she nervous? Probably. She usually was, talking to Habaek.)

Habaek Jeon

Pretty Petals
? Years Young 10 Posts Goteijusantai Rokubantai Captain


He was quiet for a moment. That was nothing unusual, really. What was probably unusual to most was the softness in his gaze while he looked at her. Time with Xiaolen usually was different though, if he was being honest with himself. Usually like this, if he had to think about it. Kind of quiet, just the two of them. She'd known him long ago, when he was still a firework lit from both ends, at the smallest things. And somehow they'd still come to this.

"You're always welcome here." Was what Habaek finally said, in a rather mild sort of tone. Gently encouraging, more than anything. Accident or not, she was welcome to come here and bother him. No, perhaps that wording was wrong because it wasn't bothering him when she did it. Not like it would be for most people to just appear without warning or invitation. Then again this was Xiaolen, and she was never particularly irritating to be around. Maybe it was her personality, maybe it was the fact that he'd come to love her, or perhaps some combination of the two. Regardless, here they were.

"You can do that, if you'd like." Habaek was paying attention, if that was clearly what she'd rather do, he'd back away and let her have her space. They all needed it, sometimes, and the Jeon manor grounds were peaceful, if nothing else. "But you're also welcome to come inside and have tea, if you'd rather put off going home a while longer."

It wasn't like he'd been doing anything that couldn't wait until morning, or at least a couple of hours while he busied himself with other things - perhaps more important things, even.

Habaek wasn't sure when that had happened, when things dealing with Xiaolen had become 'more important' than paperwork that he brought home from the office because he hadn't gotten it done before the end of the day. When living, at least someone, had again become more important than work with his division. Grandfather would probably be frowning at him, for feeling that anything was more important than duty. But on the other hand... his parents would likely be pleased that he had remembered what it was to live.

It was, perhaps, a strange balance to be caught between.

Xiaolen Huang

Little Bee

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

? Years Young 17 Posts Goteijusantai Nibantai Lieutenant


That was not the response she'd been expecting. She was always welcome, huh? That was somehow difficult to imagine. He wasn't that same, hot tempered kid he used to be, certainly, but he did still have his tolerance limits for others. Given she'd also just, appeared randomly, that had to be annoying to him, in some way. He confused her, honestly, and had since he'd stopped being that hot tempered kid he used to be, but she somehow found him more interesting now. It was actually more fun to try and learn to understand his silence than she'd imagined it'd be. Did that make her strange? Maybe it did.

Eventually, she figured most things out. She was getting to be fairly good at it, decoding Habaekish, so to say, but it seemed like every thing she figured out led to a thousand more things to figure out. And some things, maybe she needed to hear him explain to her. She hated the idea of asking. It felt like an admission of failure, somehow, but she was starting to finally understand her family's idea of failure was mostly called humanity.

And, maybe, she just wanted him to say it, and maybe, that wasn't so bad.

"Tea sounds..." good, but she stopped. Ask him. She'd never really have an answer if she didn't, and maybe she needed one. Her gaze fell, for a moment, and then she breathed in, looked back up, and almost fidgeted. She shoved her arm down at her side to make it stop. "Why did you ask me that?" she asked. Her tone wavered the slightest bit. "To marry you, I mean. It's just... you could have anyone you want. Why me?" Her family were still nobility, at least. It wasn't quite the same as his deciding he wanted his last wife.

Yet, it almost was. He'd fought his elders for her, and it was fully possible the Huang elders wouldn't give Xiaolen up without a fight. Fighting the Huang elders was a lot worse than fighting his. She'd not told him no, but she also hadn't told him yes, either. She wanted to. But she was afraid she wouldn't be enough, and neither did she want to just leave Shouren to deal with the elders alone.

Xiaolen liked to think she loved him. But she also knew that she didn't know how to. Because she wasn't raised to love, she was raised to kill, and not question anything, and she was fairly sure Habaek wouldn't be happy with someone like her. So why her?

Habaek Jeon

Pretty Petals
? Years Young 10 Posts Goteijusantai Rokubantai Captain


Habaek wasn't sure how to handle the fact that she stopped in the middle of answering. He wasn't sure if that was rejection of the idea or not - she had sounded like she was going to accept, for a moment. And then Xiaolen had stopped. And while Habaek was usually at least passable at figuring out what might be going on in someone else's head, this wasn't one of those times he was having any real luck. Then again, Xiaolen was a little harder to puzzle out than most - perhaps he was missing more pieces than he realized. That wasn't... hm.

The train of thought stopped, of course, when Xiaolen spoke again, this time to pose a question.

Habaek was quite for a moment, considering what might have brought her to ask that. And of course, figuring out how to phrase his answer because if she was asking, then the answer was important to her, and Habaek wasn't fond of making a fool of himself at the best of times. 

"I asked you that because I'd like to spend the rest of my life with you, if you'll have me." He said it simply, calmly. And for a moment, it seemed that that might be all he bothered to say on the matter. "I asked because I care about you, Xiaolen." 'Care for her' was perhaps too mild a term, but it would suffice for the moment. 

Habaek would generally disagree with the idea that he could have 'anyone he wanted' but that was really irrelevant, because Xiaolen was who he wanted. And she was more than worth any fight that the elders put up to get them to be quiet about it.

Xiaolen Huang

Little Bee

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

? Years Young 17 Posts Goteijusantai Nibantai Lieutenant


Strangely (or not, if you knew anything about her, really), she looked rather confused, for a moment, and then it faded into vague blankness. Vague, because it was still somewhat visible in her eyes. That still didn't make any sense, to her. It wasn't like there was much about her to care about. As far as she knew, she hardly even had a personality to speak of. She hadn't paid a lot of attention to his first wife; honestly, Xiaolen had only met her twice, and mostly had just said hello, exchanged general pleasantries, and then run off to go do anything else but talk to her. In hindsight, Xiaolen realised, now, she was jealous, but at the time, the concept of jealousy hadn't quite formed in her mind, just yet.

Still, she had a hard time figuring out what he saw in her. Maybe it was just because she lived with herself, and missed some things that were apparent to others; that happened. Or perhaps she was right, and there was really nothing to see in her. Some could probably say, though, the confusion was valid the other way around; most wouldn't think there was much to him, but there was a lot. Was she like that? Anyway, it really didn't matter, she had no idea how to - because it wasn't like she'd ever - well there was that guy but Xiaolen preferred to forget that time.

He was awfully traditional, wasn't he? If he ever found out about her daughter... that probably wouldn't end well. The confusion in her gaze morphed into concern. "You know what Nibantai does," she said, thinking the words over. She wanted to word it right. "It's... hard, really, it's - even if you ignore the fact that Nibantai officers die, a lot, there's also... there's - I'm not even sure I could be called human anymore. And... and after your last wife I don't - I mean if I do I guess I do, and nobody lives forever, it's just - and Huangs are not wife material. And the elders are probably going to give you a fit from the bowels of hell, because aside from my brother, I'm the only one that can carry on the Huang line left. ... okay I have cousins somewhere but for some reason they don't like my cousins. Not the point. I know, I know you had that fight over her, I can't imagine you want to do it again. And my elders are worse than yours." Way worse.

Even to her own ears, it sounded like a bunch of excuses. Rather poor ones, even. Maybe that was a sign. It occurred to her, though, somewhere amid the rambling, that she was afraid of hurting him. She had barbs and thorns. Maybe more than most people did, maybe not; it was debatable. And she didn't want to hurt him with them. The actual getting married, that was the easy part. It was everything that came after that. "Huangs aren't raised to love, you know," she said, sighing a bit. "And... I don't know how to. And that's not really fair to you, or something you should have to deal with." That was all. Yeah.

Habaek Jeon

Pretty Petals
? Years Young 10 Posts Goteijusantai Rokubantai Captain


Habaek didn't say anything to the expression at first - he noticed it, certainly, but he wasn't sure how to engage with it immediately, because it was a little unusual for her, and then it faded almost as soon as it had been there. Still, Habaek was certain he hadn't imagined the confusion, and he thought it was sad that she was confused because it shouldn't be, not really. But it said a lot about the life she'd led this far that it was confusing to think about maybe someone thought she was worth the fight.

Well yes, second division officers died, but so did many others. They were a military, after all, in a constant war with hollows. Still, of course, Habaek allowed her to finish what she was saying without interrupting her, and he considered what she'd said carefully. It sounded a lot like excuses, like she was trying to say no without directly doing so - like maybe she didn't want to.

Habaek was quiet for a moment or two longer as he considered what she'd said and decided how he wanted to respond. "I didn't fall in love with wife material for the record. I fell in love with you, just as you are. Sharp edges and personality and all. I can't promise it'll always be perfect because it probably won't be, but I'm under no illusions that you're going to suddenly be someone different than yourself, Xiaolen." No, he knew what he was getting into, and he was comfortable with the implications of that. "And I'm more than willing to have that fight a hundred times over if I have to. You're worth it to me."

"But if this really isn't what you want, that's okay too. You can tell me no, I'm not going to be upset with you." Not to say he wouldn't be disappointed, or upset in some sense, but it was her choice, and he would respect it no matter what that choice was. Being completely fair about it all though, he'd been raised to uphold his family's honor and try to avoid embarrassing the Jeon name - he hadn't exactly been raised to love, either. Though his dad had tried to impart the importance of that upon him around his grandfather's lessons.

Xiaolen Huang

Little Bee

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

? Years Young 17 Posts Goteijusantai Nibantai Lieutenant


But there wasn't anything to fall for!

... okay. Maybe that was just, something she wasn't going to understand, and as her Zanpakutou had pointed out at least twice in this thought process, some could argue there wasn't anything to fall for in Habaek, either, and yet somehow she still had. At least, she thought she had. It was honestly so quiet it seemed fleeting and ephemeral, and often, when they were apart a while, she started wondering if she'd even felt it at all, because Xiaolen had gone through most of her life hardly feeling anything, and when she did, clearly it wasn't very strong. But she did often find herself wondering what he was doing, if he was having a decent day, if the paperwork-kami were being kind to him. Trying to remember, in her head, the precise way the light refracted in his eyes, and that odd way he managed to smile at her without smiling, and then she'd get flustered randomly and try and distract herself with being busy.

Often, she had to make herself leave when they'd been talking, even if it'd only been a few minutes.

For a moment, she looked like she might argue, there at the end, but instead, her gaze cast down, and she almost fidgeted again. That was the problem, wasn't it. That want thing. What'd that even mean? People used that word a lot, that want word, but Sui never did figure out what it meant, or was supposed to be. Obviously, it was a feeling of some kind, but she'd never picked out what it felt like. It wasn't like Xiaolen had ever really paid attention to her feelings before, though ending up in this... this... whatever she and Habaek were doing (were the kids calling it dating?) had a neat side-effect of making her squint at whatever it was that'd just flit through her this time. Most of them, she had no name for, still.

"It's -" Complicated, was what she was going to say, but, maybe she should be a bit more honest with him. "Not that I don't. I just don't know if I do?" Did that even make sense? "Huangs also don't want. It's easier to do what we're supposed to, if we don't. I don't even really know what want means." Even with things like, what to eat today, or what to wear, it wasn't a matter of want, it was, she made an executive decision based upon the options in front of her and which was most intelligent a decision. "I guess I'd better figure that out. ... I also think... I'm worried, about leaving Shouren behind. He's the last brother I've got left, and he never really quite stunted all the way. Or maybe Kaiou-sama was good for him. Either way, I don't think he'd stand against the elders long." And maybe leaving him to fend for himself wasn't a good idea, but Atsuya-sama had finally gotten Kaiou released, so, perhaps it wouldn't be that bad.

He was too emotional, for them. They'd hate him. Many, even, already did, and the only reason he hadn't been disowned or otherwise deposed of was Xiaolen was there.

Habaek Jeon

Pretty Petals
? Years Young 10 Posts Goteijusantai Rokubantai Captain


Habaek was quiet for a bit, waiting to see how she would respond to that, and seeing no reason to push forward lest it seem like he was rushing her. He was a patient guy anyway, and there was no reason to rush this. They both needed to be comfortable as they moved forward - that much was quite important. He'd been careful with his first wife, too but Xiaolen was... different. In a lot of ways, both in how she acted and even to an extent in how he felt about her. There was something that ran deeper about his feelings for Xiaolen, and he hadn't attempted to examine it too far.

Habaek considered what she said for a moment or two longer. Didn't know what want meant. That was actually kind of sad to think about, Habaek realized. But that was also one of those things he wasn't sure could really be taught either. Still, it was times like this that he remembered just what kind of damage the elders of certain families had done to the generations after them. It wasn't something they could change, necessarily, and it was a lot to remember, sometimes.  But the Huangs and the Kuroganes especially suffered from this interference. How many good Shinigami had been ruined because they didn't fit into the mold their family wanted them to?

He tried not to think about it.

"Well, it's completely for you to figure out if this really is what you want. I'm not sure I can do much to help with that." No, because how did one explain wanting something, exactly? "But you don't have to leave your brother behind, if you don't want to. Provided he's okay with it." Just putting that out there, because he could go and offer to Shouren directly, but leaving Xiaolen out of the loop wasn't very fair.

Besides, it felt like a bit of a betrayal of trust, going behind her back - as much as surprising her like that might be perceived in the positive way he would mean it probably it was better if he didn't... take a risk. Habaek really didn't want to upset her, given he cared a great deal about her. Xiaolen was important to him, and one generally didn't want to hurt the people they cared about. Habaek wasn't always successful - a few incidents during the winter war were sharp reminders of that, but he did try.