* * *
* * *
The touch of a twig on Rukia's shoulder brought her back to herself. She put her hand against the white stone to steady herself, and turned her head.
"Where else would I be?" said Sodeno Shirayuki.
"I thought" But Rukia suddenly felt tired, too tired to celebrate a reunion that was too late in the coming. "Somewhere safe."
She sat down on the tiles, folding her hands in her lap.
"But it looks like no one will let me go to my death guiltless," she said under her breath.
Shirayuki sat down beside her, though since he didn't have legs, 'sit' might not have been the right word. His carrot nose was already drooping, the snow too wet to hold it, and water dripped off the tips of his fingers to join the spreading pool on the floor. His permanent smile had melted into a grimace.
"Ichigo won't die," he said. "And neither will you."
"And you?" said Rukia. She did not dare touch Shirayuki, but Shirayuki reached up instead and touched her face, wood brushing her cheek.
"There will be other winters," said Shirayuki. "Have you already forgotten what I told you?"
"The great thing about snowmen is that they can always be made again," said Rukia.
"That sounds about right," said Shirayuki, so Rukia let him sit in the sunlight that came in through the one narrow window, because he, at least, had always kept his promises.