Chapter 1: Two A.M.
Theme: Two A.M.
He stepped through the window, heaving a sigh of relief. The clock on his bedside table read 1:59 in glowing red numbers. As he watched, the numbers changed. Two a.m. A soft tap behind him announced Rukia's presence as she alighted on the windowsill.
Ichigo thought longingly of days past, when he'd succumbed to the clutches of sleep at a far more decent an hour. Days when he'd been pleasantly oblivious of the existence of the obnoxious, bossy midget behind him.
Said midget was currently striding across the room to his closet. One hand gripping the wood of the door, she turned to look at him. There were no words spoken between them, but the softening of her sharp gaze spoke volumes. You did well. The moment passed, and the short shinigami scolded him. "Stop standing there like an idiot and go to bed."
The closet door closed with a soft click. Perhaps two a.m. wasn't such a horrible bed time after all.
Chapter 2: Solar Eclipse
"The rain drags the black sun down, but the rain is dried by the white moon."
The two orbs neared each other in the evening sky. Two great monarchs, fated to ever rule separate domains, to be always apart, always separated, always pursuing one another across the great expanse of sky.
The sun, kingly and proud, unabashed in its brilliant glory. The moon, barely visible, paling in awe of her counterpart's blazing audacity. The dance of precise movements, incremental adjustments, that had brought them to this day finally culminating in a defiance of fate, of destiny.
The moon, rendered invisible in the streaming glory that was the sun.
The first impossible contact- a warm hand grasping a smaller, cooler one. A darkening sky- a pale body pulled against a stronger form. Utter darkness. A black disc crowned with streaming light- lips pressing together in a fervent kiss.
And then the reluctant separation, as fate and destiny force the two apart- strong arms wrap around a slight body, desperate. Don't go. The inevitable tug of gravitational laws, ripping them apart- a cool hand slipping out of a warm grasp, arms outstretched longingly.
When fate and destiny are eclipsed once again.
Chapter 3: The Sky Cries for You
The Sky Cries For You
"Mommy, why is the sky crying?"
A small, sticky hand is squeezed lovingly. Soft brown eyes smile at the small child with his head of shocking orange. "It must be sad."
There is a pause as the young boy considers this answer. "Why?" It is a question she cannot, and does not, answer.
The boy quickly forgets his solemn question, happily distracted by the puddles which have collected alongside the road. The distinct slap of shoes against wet pavement is accompanied by his delighted laugh and the tinkling splash of falling rain.
A small girl stands alone in the drizzle, and all too soon, the sky no longer cries alone.
The sky is crying again.
Its tears fall on his broken form, crumpled on the street. The sound of its anguish is drowned by the pounding of his pulse. With each beat of his heart, his lifeblood stains the slick pavement, mingling with liquid sorrow in vibrant streaks.
Today, the sky cries for him.
Chapter 4: Shatter
Theme: Lost Scene
The screeching clash of steel against steel grated through the air. Two figures collided, striving against time and each other. Off to the side, another figure observed the struggle, golden eyes narrowed in a cat-like expression of concern.
"Rukia's execution date has been changed again."
A splintering crack spider-webbed across the sword. It was tossed away without hesitation as it shattered, discarded in favor of a more sound weapon. A brief pause, a lull, during which the sound of labored panting could be heard, and then the two lunged towards each other again. They met in a flurry of exchanged blows, invisible to the untrained eye but denoted by the harsh cry of meeting blades.
"The execution will take place at noon tomorrow."
They were well-matched, but the new sword was unable to withstand the merciless abuse. It, too, cracked and shattered. The sun continued its steady ascent to the zenith of the sky. And the battle continued.
Many minutes and several more swords met their end before the next lull. The pair watched each other warily, one gaze depthless, unfathomable, the other implacable and determined. The moment stretched, tautening- an uncomfortable pressure weighed down upon the scene, seeming to slow time itself.
The hand reached out for another blade, and the atmosphere shifted imperceptibly. Calloused fingers closed around the hilt. Time jumped into full gear. A confusion of sight and sound burst forth at the next collision.
A sword shattered.
Ichigo stood, victorious over time and soul.
Chapter 5: Soul Meets Body
She kneels before him, sword angled towards his chest. Both hands grip the hilt of the weapon, right above left. His left hand grasps the guard; their fingers brush together. It is the first connection that precedes the second.
There is a moment of hesitation. The hollow roars. Its voice grates uncomfortably in his ears. The sound is so raw, so broken—
And then the tip of the blade presses against his chest, pierces through the first boundary of skin, erasing all thought that is not related to the searing pain emanating from that small point of contact. The blade continues its invasion, ripping through him in an agonizing moment that stretches to last an eternity. It is a fragment of ice, invading his being, driving relentlessly towards his essence, the seat of his existence, his soul.
In the short moment that it takes to run him through, he lives an entire lifetime. Disjointed images and memories race through him. Faces he's never seen, people he's never known. Disconnected emotions jar him, shaking him, threatening tears one moment, searing rage the next, and unbearable emptiness somewhere in-between. Indistinct impressions of everything that she is, that she has been, and ever may be fly between them.
They are connected by the sword embedded in his chest. But it is so much more than a sword. It is a fragment of her very being, a part of her soul that has penetrated him. It is the most sensual and intimate contact he has ever known.
They are connected at the soul.
Chapter 6: Linger
If you have not read through manga chapter 423 (or really any of the Ichigo/Aizen fight) proceed at your own risk.
It has been a month since he last opened his eyes. A month of worrying and waiting and watching. Urahara has told us everything. He is losing his powers. This long sleep is not unexpected.
But the expectation does not ease the burden.
When he wakes, the relief that floods through me is like a monsoon that soothes the desert thirst. Though I am the only one to break the heavy silence, I am not alone in my relief.
He is so nonchalant about the whole thing. Rukia is no different. Her tone is matter-of-fact, impersonal. The discussion is uninterested, as if it is happening to someone else. I don't understand it, don't understand them. But for the solemn expressions that slip through their façade, you would not know that they are discussing the end of his life as a shinigami.
I wonder what it is like for him. What is it like to watch her fade before his very eyes? To feel all awareness of her presence slipping through his grasp like liquid sunlight. What does that look like? How does it feel? I cannot fathom it.
"This is goodbye, Ichigo."
"So it seems." The pause before he speaks is laden with everything he does not say. The memories of their time together hang in the air between them in that moment of silence. I do not understand their relationship. Are they friends? Partners? Lovers? I do not understand, or perhaps I simply do not want to. They are all of these things and more.
"Even if you can't see me, I can still see you."
And what is it like for her? She must know the very moment his gaze leaves her. He is looking through her, beyond her. Her expression shifts. The confident mask she's worn for him falls. There is something unfathomable in her gaze. It hints at profound sadness and loss. There is loneliness as well. Pain.
He cannot see her, but she is standing right in front of him. Lingering. She lifts her hand to his face in a ghost's caress. He cannot feel her touch, and the gesture is tragic. Her words echo in my head.
"I can still see you."
Chapter 7: Father's Day
A little Father's Day fluff for you.
The early morning sunlight slants in through the window, illuminating a tangle of blankets and limbs. Gold embraces porcelain. A delicate hand rests against a broad chest. The ring on the fourth finger catches the light, refracting it and throwing rainbows.
Indigo eyes watch steady breathing as small fingers trace idle patterns across warm skin. The cadence shifts, quickening as a strong arm pulls a small body closer. Cotton sheets slip over bare skin in an intimate whisper of cloth. Soft lips press a silent kiss against a pale shoulder.
Long eyelashes flutter, revealing dark irises still clouded by dreams. A quiet greeting drifts lazily through parted lips. A low, masculine voice, rough with sleep, returns it.
Lips meet in a different kind of greeting, welcoming the new day languidly. Fingers thread through locks of orange. Legs tangle together. Fingers entwine. Bodies meet in a rhythmic slip and slide augmented by a chorus of breathy exhalations.
Firm muscles tighten under glistening skin. Soft sounds morph into something more guttural; languorous caresses acquire an earnest undertone.
A name is forced out in harsh syllables broken by ragged breathing and suppressed groans. The rhythmic press of bodies deteriorates into the erratic twitch and jerk of muscles. Gasping breaths falter and catch, fading into brief silence shattered only by the inaudible pounding of blood jumping through spidery veins.
A broad torso slumps over a smaller one. A head buries itself between neck and shoulder. Damp orange locks brush heated skin. Two hearts slow and beat as one. Movement becomes possible once more; bodies lose contact as lovers shift. Large hands snake around a slim waist, pulling a pale back against a solid chest.
Slender fingers trace tanned forearms. Smooth hands rest atop rougher ones, pressing them against a small bump protruding almost unnoticeably between sharp hip bones.
"Happy Father's Day."
The words hang in the air momentarily. A body rights itself slowly. Brown eyes flick between the hand still pressed against a pale navel and dark eyes that glow with satiated happiness.
Flat brown melts into chocolate warmth. A delighted, awed grin crawls across angular features. Calloused fingers trace a line from cheekbone to jaw tenderly. Lips brush the curve of the stomach, silently greeting a new life.
Chapter 8: A Little Bit of Your Taste in My Mouth
"What is that smell?"
Rukia's question tugged Ichigo's attention away from his schoolwork. Lifting the pencil from the paper, he turned casually to glance at her. She was sitting on his bed again—irritation flared briefly. Hadn't he told her to stay off his bed? Scowling, he stood and approached the seated shinigami. Grabbing a fistful of her clothes, he lifted her bodily off the bed and deposited her unceremoniously on the floor.
Rukia glared at him briefly, weighing her desire for an answer versus her desire to cause the substitute shinigami physical harm. Curiosity won out.
"That smell," she growled, jabbing her finger towards his bedroom door.
Ichigo opened the door to his room and was assaulted by a sugary sweet smell wafting up the stairs. "Stay here," he ordered, padding down the stairs and into the kitchen. Yuzu looked up as he approached, smiling brightly.
"Nii-chan!" She greeted him brightly, waving a knife slicked with strawberry juice.
Ichigo smoothed his scowl into a smile for his little sister. "Hey Yuzu. What is that?" He gestured towards the various fruit scattered around her.
"I'm making fruit salad for desert!"
"Sounds good. Call me when dinner's ready." So saying, he turned and trudged back up the stairs with his typical slouch. Kicking the door to his room open roughly, he slumped into the desk chair once again, picking up his pencil. "Yuzu is cutting strawberries for fruit salad," he announced.
"Strawberries?" Rukia repeated, intrigued. "Those are the red berries covered in little seeds, right?"
Ichigo abandoned his homework yet again to look at her. She was sitting on his bed again. "Don't tell me you've never had one." A hint of disbelief colored his tone.
"Why? Is that bad?" Her dark eyes fixed on him with wide-eyed ignorance.
He shook his head, eyes closing briefly. "First the juice box and now this," he grumbled, rising to his feet and approaching the bed. Once again he grabbed a fistful of her shirt and lifted her from the bed. "Stay off my bed."
"I'm going to eat my desert upstairs," Ichigo announced. His father, outraged, started to protest, but his attack was stopped mid-kick by Ichigo's reflexive block and counterblow. The bearded man curled over, clutching his stomach.
"Misaki!" He wailed. "Our son—"
Said son did his best to ignore his idiotic father's complaints to his deceased wife. Nudging the door to his room open once more, he rapped sharply on the closet door. "Hey, midget. C'mere. I've got something for you."
Rukia slid open the closet door, glancing at him suspiciously. She'd changed into a pair of Yuzu's pajamas while he'd been eating dinner.
"Here." He thrust the bowl of fruit salad at her, avoiding eye contact studiously. "I don't want it, but Yuzu insisted."
The small shinigami took the bowl from his hands readily. Without looking at her, he turned and seated himself at the desk once more. Maybe he'd finally be able to finish his homework.
"So this is a strawberry!" Her tone conveyed pleasant surprise. Ichigo glanced at her. Damn it. The midget was on his bed again. Standing abruptly, he grabbed Rukia around the waist and hefted her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. The midget screeched angrily for a moment.
The bowl of fruit salad clattered messily to the floor, having slipped out of her grasp. Whipped-cream covered fruit went everywhere, smearing white streaks across his floor. Before he could begin to feel anger, the sensation of teeth burying themselves in the back of his neck surprised him. A moist tongue slid over his skin.
"ARGH!" Ichigo slipped on a smear of whipped cream, and they crashed to the floor in an ungainly heap. "The HELL—?"
Rukia scrambled away from him, eyes sharp. She scrubbed her mouth with her sleeve, seemingly disgusted. Her voice was acid. "You taste nothing like strawberries."
Chapter 9: Kissers and Killers
Kissers and Killers
Ichigo's voice scrapes through two octaves, shattering the crimson stillness of a vibrant Karakura sunset. There is a moment of frozen disbelief before the teen scrambles into motion, murder in his cutting glare.
A few minutes of expletives, crashes, bangs, and terrified pleading later, the small stuffed lion vainly attempts to escape the iron grip of a pair of hands that are wrapped vice-like around his neck.
"RUKIA!" It wails, tears flooding from beady black button-eyes.
The shinigami in question doesn't shift her gaze from the manga propped against a knee as she leans casually on the windowsill. One leg dangles outside the window. "What did you expect, Kon? You probably stole this idiot's first kiss."
Before the stuffed animal can venture a response, the sharp sound of snapping thread and tearing fabric interrupts the conversation. White-knuckled hands twist and pull, intent on separating head from body.
A mindless scream erupts from the lion as, with one last vicious tug, the stuffed animal is successfully decapitated. White fluff spills from the gruesome wound, falling to the floor silently in a grim testament of the violent demonstration. The scream continues despite the separation of head and shoulders. Apparently the mechanics of vocal chords do not apply in this case.
Gritting his teeth against further irritation, Ichigo chucks the dismembered plushie out the window.
"THAT BASTARD!" Kon's scratchy voice is unimpressive in his outrage.
Ishida Uryuu makes no response to the childish outburst. A flash of silver leaves a trail of neat stitches as the Quincy reattaches Kon's loud mouth to the rest of his body.
"He should be thanking me! That's probably the most action he's gotten in his entire life!"
Alright. You might be a little confused. I will enlighten you: Kon kissed Rukia while in Ichigo's body.
Chapter 10: Stranger than Your Sympathy
Rukia cannot be described as kind.
She is lacking that softness, that vulnerability, which defines those people. There is nothing weak or vulnerable about her—she is not breakable, as some he has known. She is strong and independent. She refuses his protection; she doesn't need it.
She is loud-mouthed and proud; an audacious combination for someone of her stature. She is innocent, but jaded and world-weary also. There is grace about her, though often times she appears no more than an awkward midget.
She is demanding and hard-to-please; a perfectionist to the last. Distant, ice-cold, and sparse in her compliments, she holds the world at an arm's length.
She is sarcastic and critical. She serves him dishes of biting commentary and abusive insults served luke-warm and indifferent. He can but respond in kind, one volatile nature reacting to another.
She is tactless and blunt, giving offense easily without intent.
She is brutally honest.
She grants him no breaks, never failing to lay bare his every mistake and blunder to the scrutiny of the world.
No, Rukia is far from kind.
It is a good thing, then, that Ichigo does not want kindness.
Chapter 11: And the Difference Between Us Is This
"I can't protect you without holding a sword. I can't embrace you while holding a sword."
And The Difference Between Us Is This
She stands next to him, and I will never see anything but the outline of his back. He is ever beyond my reach, unattainable.
The sword that he wields for my sake is the very reason I will never feel his embrace. The disparity between us is too great. I have not the strength to overcome it.
But where I am weak, she is strong. She wields her own sword, fights her own battles. That which I can only yearn for is within in her grasp.
They fight together, side by side. Blow for blow she matches him. They stand as equals, and when the battle is over, he can cast away his sword to embrace her. Because she doesn't need his protection.
And I do.
Chapter 12: C'est La Mort
I'm messing the canon story line a bit, but not enough to make it AU. A different take on what motivated Ichigo to accept training from the Vizards.
There is blood everywhere. The ground is painted with it. Crimson drips steadily from the tip of his sword. Bodies lay in heaps around him, gruesome wounds attesting to the cause of death.
"I-chigo." The name is broken, forced out on faltering breaths.
His head turns, seeking out the voice. Her face is unnaturally pale, lips tinged blue. He kneels over her, wide grin stretching his face. Her hand lifts to his cheek, bloody fingers touching it briefly. He drives his blade into her abruptly. His disturbed laughter pierces the silence as her eyes widen in surpise. He twists the blade slowly, eyes fixed on her face. The hand drops, fingers sliding over his face, leaving behind three streaks of red.
Her last breath escapes her gently, eyes dimming. He can see himself in those flat orbs. Yellow edged in black glares back at him.
Ichigo jerks awake abruptly. Moonlight streams in through his window, a silvery square of illumination on his bedroom floor. He is cold and sticky with sweat. Coughing roughly, he scrambles out of bed, stumbling into the bathroom weakly. Throwing the lid of the toilet seat up urgently, he hunches over the bowl and retches.
The acid from his stomach burns his throat, inducing another round of labored coughing.
He stands, flushing the toilet. Twisting on the faucet, he braces an arm against the counter and splashes cold water into his face. Lifting his gaze to the mirror, for a split-second the eyes that stare back at him are yellow and black.
The bathroom light flicks on without warning.
"Ichigo?" Rukia stands in the doorway, dark eyes wide in concern. It is all he can do to keep from emptying his stomach yet again as the images of her death come flooding back.
He takes a deep breath to steady himself, one hand rubbing his face tiredly. It is a moment before he regains his composure enough to respond. "What?"
She is still looking at him in the mirror with those big, dark eyes that he swears can see right through him. "Are you alr—"
"M'fine," Ichigo growls sharply, cutting her off. He slides past her, flicking off the bathroom light as he leaves. "Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep."
She follows him back to his room, clearly not satisfied with the explanation. Before she can say anything else, he turns, one hand gripping the door tightly. "Goodnight, Rukia," he says gruffly, shutting the door sharply. She stands outside in the hall for a few seconds before he hears her pad quietly away.
Leaning his back against the closed door, he slides to the floor. Propping his elbows on his knees, he presses his eyes against the palms of his hands, fingers curling in his orange hair.
Morning finds him at Shinji's doorstep, haunted by lifeless violet eyes.
Chapter 13: To Whom it May Concern
This piece falls somewhere in the 17-month gap between chapter 423 and chapter 424. I leave it up to you to decide exactly when according to whatever fits your fancy.
He is seated at his desk, pen poised above paper. Late afternoon sunlight streams in through his window, falling across the blank page in golden warmth. It is quiet, as it has been since she left.
There was a time when he would have killed for a bit of silence, but this was never what he'd imagined. Who knew it could be so bittersweet? This is not the silence of having nothing to say, but the silence of knowing there is no one to listen. This is the silence of emptiness and loss, of loneliness.
The pen finally touches paper, hesitant and reluctant. There is no greeting. He has never been known for eloquence or loquacity, and this is no exception. The words appear on the paper haltingly, in small spurts and jerks of ink, as if they have fought hard to emerge from the pen-tip.
Each pause is longer. The ink is molasses, viscous and unwilling.
Eventually, the pen drops from loosened fingers altogether. There is no proper ending. The missive is incomplete, interrupted mid-thought. A hand swipes the page off the desk, smearing still-wet ink. The paper flutters to the floor noisily.
A moment's pause precedes its retrieval. He cannot destroy it as he would like, and so he settles for slipping it, unfinished, into the shoebox under the bed.
A letter that will never be read. And so begins his lonely correspondence.
Chapter 14: Misery Business
He doesn't know why she insists on watching these kinds of movies. He really doesn't. Is it some kind of sick almost-masochistic tendency he hasn't noticed? And—oh, cue the dramatic music and camera angles. Here come the waterworks.
At first, it's only a few tears. They slide down her face and drop silently into her lap. Without warning the floodgates open. Ichigo is left scrambing, doing his best to avoid being swept away in the flash flood.
It really is the whole nine yards. The tears, the puffy red eyes, the runny nose, the hiccupping gasps. It's disconcerting. Who knew Rukia had it in her?
As her stuffed Chappi doll is nowhere to be found (and he swears he didn't have anything to with its disappearance this time) by default he becomes the replacement. She clings to him, face pressing into his chest. His shirt is going to be covered in snot and wet with tears. Lovely. Since when has be been the designated snot rag?
He doesn't dare wrap his arms around her. Who knows what evil retribution she'd impose on him later if he acted so audaciously. Letting her cry on him is one thing, holding her while she sobs her heart out is a completely different ball game. He does, however, have the presence of mind to pause the movie. She'll still want to see the ending when her crying jag is over.
But seriously, what the hell? From the way she's crying, you'd think it was her best friend who had died, not some fictional character.
Maybe this is how she manages to pull off the heartless ice queen. She expends all her tender emotion bawling over people that don't exist, and consequently has none left for anything else. It's an intriguing thought.
When her sobs have calmed, he silently offers her a tissue. She accepts it without comment, and he pointedly ignores her, gaze fixed on the screen, still frozen mid-frame. He resumes the movie's playback. There are no more tears.
As the credits roll across the screen, he stands up, turning away. "Why do you even watch these stupid things?"
Without waiting for her response, he makes his escape. Closed up safely in his own room, he can admit to himself that he doesn't quite hate the genre—he can still feel her clinging to him desperately.
It was totally Kon who kidnapped Chappi. He was jealous.
Chapter 15: And the Doors Are All Closed Between Your Heart and Mine
They are separated by a door.
A silver pool of moonlight illumates the cold floor in front of that door; a tall figure casts a dark shadow through this puddle of liquid moonbeams, an island of darkness amidst the shimmering expanse.
How long he has been standing before this simple barrier is unknown. Minutes, hours, seconds? It has become his habit of late—this silent, motionless confrontation with the one thing that stands between them.
A warm palm presses gently against the wood; warmth seeps into the door from this point of contact. Fringed lids obscure fathomless brown depths. Noiselessly the hand slides down the flat surface, fingertips trailing across the smooth plane ghost-like and tender, a lover's caress.
Fingers meet metal, curling around the edge of the handle slowly. He is tense, poised to destroy the only wall that stands between them. Muscles tighten, tendons strain, as if against an insurmountable foe. He is trapped inside a moment, caught between what is yet to come and what has already come to pass, grappling against forces ranged within himself.
The moment passes. Muscles loosen, tendons relax. The hand drops back to his side. Another motionless moment before the closed door. This, too, passes.
The figure retreats into darkness, leaving the expanse of liquid moonlight unbroken once more.
On the other side, a held breath is slowly released. Violet eyes close in a mixture of disappointment and relief. She turns on her side, away from the unopened door.
They wait for the day that the door will open.
Chapter 16: You Can't Count on Me
Even Ichigo has desires.
Suppressed, denied, hidden―but still there. They warp the metallic frames of his inner world and turn gravity upon itself.
They are personified in sharp yellow glares and bleached skin. An incongruous, inverted shadow. He is other, ruled entirely by base desires and instincts. He is the savage lurking just behind brown eyes, the amalgamation of wants perpetually repressed.
And the appetite increases. Insatiable. Starving. He yearns to dominate, to devour, to destroy.
His gaze lingers on her and it is at once gentle and violent―and a hint of yellow tinges the brown. The urge to protect wars with the urge to possess.
He covets every glimpse of her.
His dreams are colored red with her screams. Screams of pain and pleasure intermingled. He wakes and he is aroused and sickened in equal measure.
Even Ichigo has desires.
Chapter 17: The Horizon Has Been Defeated
The Horizon Has Been Defeated
The sun falls...
A flash of reflected light, a spurt of blood arcing away from a gruesome wound. Ichigo staggers forward a step, sword slipping from his loosened fingers to clang jarringly against the ground. He tips forward slowly. The ground rushes up to meet him. They collide with a muffled thump. He does not move again.
The enemy lowers his blade, a contemptuous sneer spreading across his cruel features. Cold eyes survey the work of his hands with detached satisfaction. Blood drips from the end of the sword. The hero is fallen. The enemy departs.
To the east, the first of dawn colors the sky in pastels. Pale fingers twitch and curl into a fist. Soft hues intensify into burning colors. Palms flatten against the ground. The fiery disc clears the horizon, banishing the last remnants of night. Ichigo rises, righting himself slowly.
...and rises again.
Chapter 18: Charm
Ichigo Kurosaki's shadow darkens the pale concrete of the sidewalk. He stands motionless, a statue but for the breeze that ruffles his hair and the tell-tale rush of air into expanding lungs. School bag slung carelessly over the right shoulder, head tilted forward, the other hand held palm up, fisted around a small hidden object. Brown eyes gaze steadily at the metal shape within, curled fingers made transparent by his intensity. The edges of the small shape dig into the flesh of his palm, imprinting the curves and edges into his skin.
He holds this pose a moment longer. Fringed eyelids slide closed briefly, flicking back up again in twitch of movement. The fist drops to his side as he steps forward, his decision made. Striding away from the store, Ichigo's hand slips into his pocket, depositing the small treasure. The feel of it lingers as if its shape has been burned into the skin of his palm. He flexes his hand, rubbing it distractedly against the pant leg of his school uniform.
From within the shop, a pair of flat eyes watch Ichigo sedately. The barest hint of smile curves the edges of a mouth framed by an unshaven face. The brim of a striped hat throws the eyes into shadow, giving the man a decidedly mysterious air. A small sound of amusement escapes him as he turns to retreat into the recesses of the store, wooden sandals clacking against the floor distinctively.
Slender fingers curl around the edge of the closet door, pulling it away from the wall steadily. A dry scraping meets the ears as the wooden door slides open. A beam of light penetrates the darkness within, widening into a rectangle that reveals a pair of neatly folded pajamas and a makeshift bed.
An unexpected glint draws the eye. Her cool hand reaches out for the small object, removing it from its resting place for closer inspection. A moment of brief observation change violet eyes from an expression of puzzlement to one of surprised pleasure. A faint smile spreads across her lips as she tucks the Chappi cell phone charm into her pocket carefully.
"Baka!" She berates Ichigo quietly, recalling his obstinate criticism of her love for the fictional rabbit character the day before, but there is no heat in the words. The smile refuses to fade even as she crawls into bed and succumbs to the grip of sleep.
"Baka," she repeats one last time before dreams claim her.
Chapter 19: Stay Alive For Me
Theme: Passions Run
Stay Alive For Me
The door swings open with a violent bang. Ichigo's head whips towards the door in alarm, orange hair swinging into his eyes. A moment of breathlessness passes before he recognizes the short figure in the doorway. His expression softens, relaxing into a familiar scowl. "Rukia."
He does not recognize the look on her face. It is a mixture of alarm and relief, anger and fear. Her mouth is a thin line turned down at the edges into a tense frown. Her hands are fisted at her sides. They tremble slightly, though he does not know if it is from fear or anger. Perhaps both. Her eyes are overbright, shining with what he'd swear are the beginnings of tears. When he calls her name, something in her hardens. Violet eyes bore into him, accusation and righteous anger burning into his skin. Without warning, she breaks into motion, striding towards him with all the grace of thinly controlled anger. "Baka." It escapes her lips as nothing more than a hiss, but it hits him with the force of a yell.
The insult tempers dull confusion into the sharp edge of anger. He rises from the bed in one jerk of motion, cool brown eyes flashing molten in seconds. The searing heat of emotion burns away any trace of physical pain associated with movement.
She is still coming towards him, eyes flashing. "Baka," she repeats, her tone rough with a mixture of emotions he does not take the time to examine. "You almost died!"
Her tiny fist closes around his shirt; the fabric pulls up over his midriff exposing layers of extensive bandaging, gauze, and medical tape. The beginnings of anger are wiped away by momentary confusion. "What?"
Rukia's grip on his shirt loosens. "You don't always have to be a hero." Her anger has abated somewhat, but it still tinges her voice with passion.
"I didn't see anyone else volunteering," he snaps back habitually. "And what does it even matt—"
"It matters to me." The interruption is quiet. Her fingers loosen their hold further. She avoids his gaze, choosing to speak to the floor instead. "It matters to me," she repeats softly.
A moment of silence follows her words.
The short shinigami curses and recoils, hands flying to cover the sharp stinging sensation on the side of her head. Her indignant glare rises to Ichigo's face, a hot retort already forming on her lips. The expression on his face kills her voice before it can escape her throat.
His mouth is turned down into that familiar scowl he reserves only for her, but his eyes are soft. His hand descends to rest comfortably on the top of her head. "Baka." He returns the insult to her gently. Their fingers brush as he ruffles her hair roughly. For a brief instant, the corners of his mouth lift into a smile. "Only someone who's worried would say something like that."
The moment passes. Rukia pushes his hand away, falling back into the routine with ease. "Worry about you? Who would?"
Chapter 20: Distraction #74
"No." The fifteen year old's refusal was abrupt and firm. Kon stopped mid-sentence, jaw hanging open in shock. The arrogant bastard hadn't even looked at him, let alone listened to his request! The small stuffed lion scrambled to gather his thoughts.
"Bastard! Listen to me before you give an answer!"
Ichigo gave no indication that he had heard Kon's reprimand; unperturbed, he continued packing his bag. Irritated, the mod-soul clambered up onto the bed, moving to stand defiantly on top of the half-filled duffel. "Let me use your body," he demanded imperiously.
A derisive snort escaped Ichigo. "Like hell I'd do that." A single nudge from his hand was all it took to send the plushie tumbling onto the bedspread.
Kon let loose a stream of derogatory insults as he leapt back onto his feet. Enraged, he lifted a single felt claw in an accusatory point. "If you die in soul society, I'll be stuck in this body forever! How'm I gonna get laid? Do you wanna die a virgin?"
Ichigo froze mid-motion. His face settled into a blank mask; only the vein throbbing in his temple and the straining tendons in his arms betrayed his outrage. The oblivious mod-soul, mistaking the teen's silence for a victory, plowed on triumphantly. "That Orihime chick already likes you anway—she'd be ea—"
The sentence was cut off in a gurgle as Ichigo's hand clenched around the plushie's neck. The small lion scrabbled desperately at the hand, his eyes bugging out. Ichigo shoved his free hand down the mod-soul's throat, his expression stony. A few moments of groping yielded success; he removed his hand from the unpleasant opening, a small round ball trapped between forefinger and thumb. The stuffed animal fell lifeless and limp immediately; he tossed it away carelessly.
Fist clenching around the soul candy, he marched out of the room deliberately. The knuckles on his hand were white beneath the taught skin drawn over them. The door to Yuzu's room swung open quietly.
Moments later, the calm of the Kurosaki household was shattered by outraged shrieking.
"BASTARD! WHY AM I IN A GIRL'S TOY?"
Chapter 21: Movie Script Ending
Theme: Seize the Day
Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare Tyrrhenum:
sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what end
the gods have granted to me or you, Leuconoe. Don't play with Babylonian
fortune-telling either. How much better it is to endure whatever will be!
Whether Jupiter has allotted to sink you many more winters or this final one
which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the rocks placed opposite
— be wise, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes
to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have [already] fled
Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.
Eyelids lift, briefly revealing brown depths clouded with the remnants of sleep. Ichigo blinks away unconsciousness slowly. Gradually, awareness returns to him. When he is lucid enough to comprehend his surroundings, he finds himself greeted by a crowd of faces that must have been there from the beginning, though he is only now aware of them. Memory returns, and his eyes seek out the one face he truly wants to see.
Violet eyes meet brown solemnly. His awareness of the world narrows to her pale face and dark eyes. Rukia. The only face that matters, the face he will not see again.
The other faces have disappeared now, borne away by legs and bodies that belong here in this world, forms that will not disappear with the dwindling power within him. There were other faces too-ones that will also disappear with time, but the loss of these is nothing compared to the loss of this one face.
They have not spoken much; neither wishes to mar this last day with any mention of the inevitable. Their silence is their mutual understanding. There is no talk of the future, for tomorrow does not exist for them. The past is gone and done. And so they have only the here and now. The reality of her presence has been a truth he has thus far taken for granted; not so this day.
He has resolved to regret nothing. If tomorrow does not exist, he simply must make the most of today. The words between them are few and far between. Mostly they are names, exhaled softly and tinged with all that cannot be said.
"Rukia." Her name is a prayer, a thank you, a farewell. A declaration of love, of friendship. It is irritation and sadness and joy. Anger. Fear. Desperation. But mostly it is an acknowledgement of who she is and what she means to him. Affirmation that in this moment, she is still real and tangible before him.
The sun has neared that western horizon. And though he would sacrifice himself a million times over to halt its descent, the uncaring world continues its rotation. The time for last words is now. There will not be another chance.
"Rukia." It is the only word that will escape the barrier of his lips.
The edge of that fiery orb touches the distant edge of the earth. Her form melts away before his eyes, dissipating as sparks thrown from a fire. "See you later, Ichigo." Even though he won't.
And then she is simply gone. The last of the sun disappears beyond the edge of the world, and he is left alone with his thoughts.
Chapter 22: Your Possible Pasts
Theme: Every You Every Me
From Sode No Shirayuki's POV.
Your Possible Pasts
Rukia does not remember, but I do.
We knew him long before she plunged my blade into his chest, before his grandfather's father drew his first breath, before this town ever even existed. We have always known him.
We have known him by many different names and many different lives. We have known him by the scent of smoke and crushed pine needles, by the lingering sweetness of strawberries on our tongue, by the intimate caress of princely silk and the familiar scratch of coarser cloth, by the swing of a sword and the stroke of a pen, by the mesmerizing lilt of mournful notes and the bright splash of color on canvas, and by many other things besides. But always, always, we have known him by orange locks and piercing eyes.
Byakuya is wrong. It is not he that resembles Kaien, but rather that Kaien resembled him.
Chapter 23: Checkmate
The checkered board spread out in black and white mundanity. A small mound of chess pieces piled off to one side; sacrificed soldiers in a tangled heap of friend and foe, enemy and ally.
The few soldiers that remained stood sorely outnumbered. The king: backed into a corner defended by a scant few pawns: loyal foot soldiers that had escaped the enemy's merciless reaping through a bit of skill and a great deal of luck. The queen: distant yet near, ready to behead any who dared approach her consort. And a knight. Horse, really; the knight had long since been abandoned.
Moves are exchanged; positions shift. A few enemy soldiers fall to the queen and the horse before a seemingly crippling blow is struck. The queen succumbs to a grudging exchange: her own life for that of the enemy queen.
It is just the king and the horse and a few pawns, and even the pawns do not last long. The king and the horse alone on the battlefield. In the face of defeat the horse charges forward in reckless abandon, decimating enemy lines with startling ease. The tide is turned in the king's favor abruptly. The horse takes the final enemy, delivers the final blow.
"See King? You can't even win a game of chess without me."
Chapter 24: Thirty-Two
She was cold. She had always been cold.
The first touch of her skin against his as he gripped the guard of her sword. The cold pierce of her blade as it slid through him, severing muscle, connecting him to some hidden power within himself. The icy distance in her glares, the cold sting of her criticism.
She was ice incarnate, and everything about her bespoke winter and cold and darkness.
Chapter 25: Something as Simple as Boys and Girls
I've heard that opposites attract; I've heard that differences are supposed to bring people together. But to be honest, I never really believed it until Rukia embedded me in that boy's chest, in his soul.
Where we are ambivalent, they are passionate. Where we are cold, they are warm. Where we are winter and moonlight and snow, they are summer and sunlight and rain. Where I am white, he is black, where I am pure, he is corrupted.
And yet, we can't take our eyes off the orange-headed shinigami and his black Zangetsu. They are everything we are not, and it is there that attraction blossoms. That they are strong and obstinate and determined, foolhardy, irritable, gruff; That they are what can never be despite how we might wish it; that they are thaw to our freeze; it is simply the nature of the relationship.
Apart, we are unbearable cold and insufferable heat, but together we are temperate warmth with a crisp chill.
Opposites really do attract, it seems. More than that; they are made to complement.
Chapter 26: Truth No. 2
Theme: Lull and Storm
Truth No. 2
The rain is falling again.
It strikes the cloaked figure, each drop a freezing bullet seeping through dark cloth to pale skin beneath. There is nowhere to shelter from the relentless downpour in this featureless expanse of metal and glass. Strands of dark hair cling to his face; water drips from the ends in a steady metronome.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
He knows not where that inverted doppelganger has gone, but he is sure that the heartless aberration is overjoyed. He lives for the rain and all that it signifies.
A soft sigh whispers between parted lips. The cloaked man lifts his head to the sky, eyes obscured behind dark glasses that serve no purpose beneath an overcast sky. "Again, Ichigo?"
There is no response. His weilder always has been particularly hard of hearing. It is no surprise that he does not listen now, either.
As much as he hates this accursed weather, it is an ironic twist of fate that without it he cannot exist. He strives to stop the rain, to destroy anything that might prompt it to fall, but the truth is that without the rain, he has no purpose, and therefore no reason to live. Without the rain he is superfluous, a meaningless existence trapped within the confines of a limitless prison.
He hates the rain, but the moment this endless reptition of lull and storm ceases, so will he. And so the cycle continues.
Chapter 27: Innocence
Bubbles of laughter swell and pop in the warm spring air.
Two small children giggle and tumble through long stalks of grass, staining their garments with tell-tale verdant smears. A boy and a girl. Siblings.
A cautious breeze ripples through grass and hair alike.
Dark hair, soft violet eyes. He is the oldest; quiet, circumspect, and serious already. Vibrant orange tresses and warm brown eyes. She is the precious younger sister: loud, obstinate, and impulsive.
The faint sound of an adult's distinct tones drifts out over the waving grass. One small hand snatches another eagerly. Two pairs of feet stumble along hurriedly. They are all smiles and breathlessness as they throw themselves into the open embrace of stronger arms.
Brown eyes meet brown eyes and violet eyes. A large hand tousles each head in turn, grinning widely with irrepressible affection. One fell sweep and he straightens, a child in each arm, carrying his precious ones away from the grass and the wind.
The hands that once gripped the hilt of a sword have learned the gentleness of fatherhood.
Chapter 28: How to be Dead
Theme: We all float on
She hardly recognized him.
The frail frame swathed in stark white sheets, with its faded eyes and wrinkled skin—surely it must belong to someone else? But no, there was that trademark orange hair, bleached with age though it was.
How old would he be now? Eighty? Ninety? Time was perceived differently in Soul Society, where people did not age as quickly. Twenty years by that reckoning was long enough to encompass an entire human lifespan in this plane.
The machines next to his bed kept a steady record of his mortality. She did not need their assurances; his soul was already wandering. It floated, unaware, above the hospital bed. The Chain of Fate still connected it to the mortal body, but the final like was tarnished with age and spider-webbed with cracks.
The slumbering soul was incongruous with its body. The soul showed no signs of age; firm skin, vibrant hair. She smiled. It was so like him—even old age and death couldn't break his spirit. He was a young soul trapped in an old body.
A vase of flowers on his bedside table drew her attention. Freshly cut, they still retained the bright color of life. The card that sat beside them was inscribed with a neat, flowery script. She wondered, bemused, how he'd chosen to live his life. The ring on his left hand told her he'd been married. Probably the damsel-in-distress type—Orihime, maybe? She'd certainly have satisfied his need to protect.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the connecting link began to crumble without warning. It started out slowly, but quickly gained speed. The fragments dropped onto his chest for a moment before they dissipated into nothingness. The deterioration took only a few moments. With the sole connection to life severed, the chain clinked, sliding off the bed with a silvery hiss to swing freely. The only lament of his passing came from the emotionless machines as they emitted one stretching, mournful note.
He stirred, opening his eyes to this realm. "Ichigo," She called him. His attention, drawn by the sound of his name, fixed on her.
"Rukia." His eyes told her he was pleased to see her. The gaze held until he looked away a moment later to examine the body that had so recently been his. "It's about time," he commented, sparing the scene a single cursory glance. "What took you so long?" He sounded somewhat irritated as he looked up at her.
She had no answer to give that would satisfy him. He would not appreciate hearing that the research division of the Gotei Thirteen had searched long and hard for a way to return his powers, nor that she had stayed away because she could not stand the pathetic loneliness of coming back when he could no longer see her.
"Whatever, let's just get this over with," he grumbled after a moment of silence.
She grinned, pulling her zanpakutou from its sheath. In a single fluid motion, she pressed the end of the hilt against his forehead. The flat portal opened below him, and he began to dissipate from the feet upwards.
"Rukia." She met his steady gaze. "See you there."
"Yeah. See you there."
Chapter 29: Accidental Intrusion
The bathroom door swings open as a moody youth slouches in, towel flung over one shoulder carelessly. He barely has time to register the short woman clutching the shower curtain against her presumably naked body before his eardrums are split by a scream.
"IDIOT! GET OUT!" The command is punctuated by flying shampoo bottles and expletives.
"The hell?" He demands angrily, retreating quickly behind the sturdy wooden door.
Rukia is still screeching her indignation at him. "DON'T JUST WALK IN WHENEVER YOU FEEL LIKE IT! KNOCK FIRST!"
"Learn to lock the damn door!"
Chapter 30: A Boy Brushed Red Living In Black and White
You'd think, in a world with such tall buildings, there might actually be a nice view to go along with them. But no. This is Ichigo we're talking about here. Nothing about this bastard conforms to standard expectations.
There is nothing to see here except sky and more sky. Maybe the occasional jagged crack in a glass window, or a spot of rust eating away at the metal skeletons of enormous skyscrapers that never really touch the sky, but just extend endlessly in both directions.
It is little wonder then, that any time I can escape the mind-numbing mundanity of the monotonous plane, I laugh like a mindless animal. The exhileration of escape drives me to near manic highs.
But even the material world is aggravatingly dull; the only color these menacing yellow eyes perceive is the crimson taint of fresh blood. And so I kill, hoping to relieve that gaping ache within me, to fill the hole that was torn through me the moment Ichigo could not save us from death in that dark pit. The vibrant arcs of that wonderful color are the only cure for this ravenous ache.
I cannot stand the monochromatic palette I am doomed to see, and so I will paint this world with blood to cure my blindness.
Chapter 31: In the Sky with Diamonds
Theme: Hope is the Thing with Feathers
In the Sky with Diamonds
Flowers are like birds, she decides, fingering a delicate white bloom. The satiny petals give easily, slipping over her skin with a pleasantly ticklish sensation. Not in the conventional sense, of course. She holds one petal between thumb and forefinger contemplatively. With but a bit of sentience, it, too, could dwell in the sky.
But it does not have that bit of consciousness to lift it from the ground; tangling roots anchor it down, discouraging the lure of airborne freedom. But still, it yearns for the heavens: twining tendrils reach up, up, up toward that intriguing domain as though, if it only stretches far enough...
The bloom longs for the sky and the bird cannot keep it. He flits through it, freed from the constraints of earth and soil only momentarily. Invariably he returns to the realm of living things, never truly free no matter how high he climbs. Earth is a demanding mother; as he wanders farther from her embrace she calls him back to her with increasing insistence until he cannot but heed her.
No, the bird cannot keep it, but the flower will never lose it. Fixed upon the ground as it is, it will never know the fleeting exhilaration of completely escaping Earth's hold, but neither will it ever know the bitterness of relinquishing such freedom.
The bird is like the flower, then, because they are both residents of two worlds; one an inconstant traveler forever slipping between the two, the other neither here nor there yet somewhere in-between and within. The bird, forever the optimist, forever sure that this one last flight will be the one that never ends. The flower, ever the realist striving for the sky with no chance of falling.
Hope may be feathered, she surmises, but promises have petals.
I'm not exactly sure what that was either, to be honest. If it so pleases you, you might consider the flower theme and how it relates to Orihime.
Chapter 32: We Still Kill the Old Way
Duty. Honor. Pride.
Such empty, meaningless words. Labels humans have created to make themselves feel better, ideals to cling to. Like any of them really do.
They're just ways to die. Sugar and sprinkles to make obligation, ignorance, and ego a bit more palatable. The smart ones abandon them at a moment's inconvenience, the not-so-smart ones die.
Only proud when it serves their best interests, only honorable when it's beneficial, only dutiful to what keeps them alive. Humans are creatures that live on pretense and appearance, buzz words and pretty notions.
I know better. I know what I truly am. Lawless, base, violent, condemned, blood-thirsty. Strong. And the weak die to sustain my need for power, destruction, and carnage.
Duty? Honor? Pride?
Ha. These are not things to live by. Life is instinct. Living is survival. Thriving is strength.
And whether he wants to admit it or not, these are what keeps him breathing. My ideals, not his. Animal ideals.
We live by instinct and die by duty.
Chapter 33: Mediocre Bad Guys
Theme: Enemy Gate
Mediocre Bad Guys
"What is this?"
An enormous pile of splintered wood, bent metal, and cracked stone rose up before the small group of shinigami. A lone scout stood facing the group, his back to the rubble.
"Well, it used to be a gate, sir."
The captain's eyes turned back to the debris, and sure enough, he was able to pick out the twisted remnants of what had once been a formidable oak gate with steel bracings. The width of the stone walls upon which it had once been mounted attested to its size. He turned back to his subordinate.
"The work of another division, I assume."
"No, sir." The captain frowned. "It was a single shinigami."
"A single—That's preposterous."
"No, sir. I saw it with my own eyes. I'd never seen him before. He had the oddest orange hair, and a zanpakuto as long as he is tall."
The captain sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. "Ah. Now it makes sense. That would be one Kurosaki Ichigo, shinigami representative. Though, I suppose that makes about as much sense as it doesn't. What business would he have here?"
"If I may, sir?" The captain waved his hand in assent. "He did all that with a single swing, but before that, he argued with what appeared to be his companions. It seemed he was shouting something about a sister, sir."
The captain's face broke into a wide grin as he chuckled, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "God help the idiot who thought up that plan." Turning back to his men, he cleared his throat. "Alright men. Looks like we're no longer necessary here. We'll head back and report to the Captain Commander."
Chapter 34: Poison & Wine
Theme: Turpentine Kisses and Mistaken Blows
The first touch was his hand against hers on the hilt of a sword.
The first kiss ended with mutual embarrassment, loud complaints, and louder denouncements of his intelligence.
The second touch consisted of pale, slender arms wrapped around his throat, and milky thighs around his waist. He kept his hands resolutely hooked around her knees.
The second kiss ended with blood pouring out of his side, further denouncements of his intelligence, and hysterics.
The third touch found her pressed against his side, his arm curled around her middle securely as she hung bewildered and indignant in his grasp.
The third kiss ended with a slap and simmering anger.
The final touch was tender; fingers brushing gently over cheek bones and jaw, ghosting over opened eyes and leaving them forever closed in their wake.
The final kiss ended with tears and trembling, wracking sobs, and fists pounding against his chest.
Chapter 35: The Hardest Thing and the Right Thing
Theme: The beginning is the end is the beginning
Unbeknownst to most of the population, Karakura town had once again become a spiritual battlefield upon which the question of its very existence would be decided. Invisible battles rage in the dawn of what would otherwise have been a very peaceful day. Unlike before, however, the enemy this time did not take the shape of hollows or shinigami-hollow hybrids. This time, distinctions between friend and foe were much more subtle.
The black arc of bankai'd gestuga tenshou flew across the sky with startling frequency. Black-robed shinigami fell beneath it, one after another. Captains, Vice-Captains—even the Captain Commander succumbed to its self-righteous rage.
All except her.
Her friends lie scattered around her, spent. Their breaths rush from their lungs in panting gasps. And she never thought the day would come when she would have to choose between friend and something more, between the entire world and Karakura Town.
And the choice is destroying her, even if her outward appearance suggests otherwise. He stands motionless before her, sword held loosely at his side. She is the only one he can't fight. She knows her duty, but she also knows her heart and at the end of this day, she will have betrayed one of them.
His mask crumbles away.
And suddenly he's just the innocent fifteen-year-old squirming on the floor of his bedroom, insulting her drawing skills. The only human to break her kido, the begrudging shinigami-substitute who says one thing and does the other. Just the boy who plunged her sword into his chest to save his family.
A flash of movement, and her sword is in his chest for the third and final time. His eyes never left her face, not even as she ran him through. Even now, with his blood seeping out of his body and staining her sword, her hands, her soul, he does not look away. His hand comes to rest on the hilt of her sword. Their hands brush, and his is much too cold. Like ice. Her frozen sun.
"So this is it how it ends."
And she knows he's not referring to the battle or even his life, but rather tothem. This is how they end. In a twisted, bitter mockery of their beginning. They've reached the end of the line only to find it was never really a line at all. It was a circle, and the beginning is the end is the beginning.
Chapter 36: Where the Story Ends
Where the Story Ends
The office was just as he had left it: spotlessly clean, every book in its place, every sheet of paper-work filed neatly away. Her eyes swept over the familiar sight, taking it in fully for the first time in years. All the little details that had she had long since ceased to notice presented themselves to her anew.
She stepped further into the room, approaching the bookshelf behind the desk. She ran her fingers pensively along the shelves. His presence was so strong here that she could almost have sworn he was still in the room with her but for the silence. Her hand dropped to her side as the other tightened around a tattered square of white fabric.
The books held her attention only an instant longer. Turning slowly on the spot, she considered the real object of her visit to this room. The top of the wooden desk was clear, uncluttered to the point of emptiness. There was nothing to bear testament to the cares of its owner, not a telling photograph or treasured momento in sight. But that was how he'd always been. A curious mixture of introversion and stubborn disregard for public opinion, of silence and loud-mouthed declarations.
Her fingers curled around one of the knobs and the drawer slid open smoothly. Just like his desk, he'd always kept the things that were important to him tucked away inside, out of sight of the idle observer.
The contents of the drawer was no surprise to her. Though she had never before invaded his privacy in such a manner, the items within were familiar to her. All had seen better days; the march of decades and centuries had not left them untouched. A tattered cloth triangle with green and white stripes, a soul candy dispenser, a flower hairpin, a cross pendant, a bracelet with a distinctive star-and-circle charm, a beat up old cell phone, a skull badge, a hastily-written note with equally hasty illustrations, and a large fragment of some bone-like material. Her fingertips slid gently over the items, reverential. Each and every one told a story, represented some ideal or facet of him. They were all emblems of him, of what he'd stood for and why he'd fought. And to these already gathered, she would add yet another.
She lifted the fabric square and uncrumpled it, spreading it out in her hands to look at it. A distinctive black crest claimed the expanse. Frayed, torn edges told a tale of violence. Cleaner edges on two sides had been made more deliberately; a clean cut from a white blade as it freed the division crest from the bloodied, ruined garment. The same crest emblazoned on the white band tied around her own upper arm.
She closed her eyes as she folded it up neatly and placed it in the drawer, unable to escape the images that played on constant repeat in the back of her mind. She was forever watching him fall to the ground broken, forever watching his blood seep endlessly from his body, watching his eyes dim and close, the last breath fade from his body in a murmured word too faint for her ears.
Many would say it was a heavy burden to bear, this crest. Casting her eyes over the collection of items one last time, she found she disagreed. For Ichigo Kurosaki, there had been far heavier burdens.
Yup, another future!fic with Ichigo!death. Seems like I'm on a roll with killing off Ichigo here. So, kudos to the reader who can identify all the items in the desk drawer. Everything except the crest that Rukia puts into the drawer is something from the canon story, although some items (and I'm fully aware of this, I just wanted to include them anyway) would be unlikely or impossible for him to have.
In my head, this fic takes place hundreds of years into the future, long after Ichigo has lived and died (whether that be a full human life or a short one, you decide) and all his human friends have lived and died. My head!canon for this story says that after he died and went to Soul Society, the Gotei Thirteen made short work of promoting him to captain status (of Rukia's division, no less, because Ukitake = sick and by this time he'll have died or retired). After living a long time as a shinigami, Ichigo is finally cut down in battle. And this scene is Rukia visiting his (their) office sometime after he died. Once again, the timing of this visit has been left up to your discretion as a reader.
Chapter 37: Weaker Than I Used To Be
A pinch at the crook of his elbow, one instant of pain before it was swept away in the rush of the cold liquid spreading along his arm, numbing as it went. The cold crept through his body at an agonizing pace, and the moments between the initial pierce and the and the dispersal of the substance to his heart and then his brain were agony.
And then utter nothingness. It was bliss. His name, age, loved ones- both present and absent- faded and disappeared beneath the onslaught of the drug. He surrendered to the chemical, tasting a bit of death in the action, just a hint of the final escape for those too cowardly. A glimpse of what he would be like without the world.
When had he first started this? It seemed as if he'd always been this way, dependent on that drug to erase the memories and make him forget himself in the bliss of escape from reality. Without the context of life, he questioned his motivations, questioned the very validity of his actions. What was he doing? Why did he keep coming back to this? And under the influence of that drug, he always resolved that this was the last time, that he wouldn't come here anymore. But the trip always ended, and the end of the trip brought reality crashing back down around him.
But for now, he slipped away from himself the same way the needle slipped from his skin as the syringe fell from his loosened fingers and clattered to the floor.
Chapter 38: Just Desserts
Paper crinkled as he peeled it slowly away, revealing a simple box inside. He lifted the lid with his fingertips, and the aroma of sugar and cocoa wafted out of the small container. Placing the lid carefully on the desk, he took a moment to contemplate the contents.
A chocolate cupcake, complete with chocolate icing and jelly beans, was nestled carefully inside the box. It certainly smelled appetizing, but with Orihime, you really never knew...
Steeling himself, Ichigo reached forward to lift the Valentine's Day offering out of the box. Further visual inspection of the dessert revealed nothing more suspicious than the jelly beans she'd used as a topping. He heaved a small sigh, then lifted the cupcake to his mouth for a tentative bite.
As he bit into it, it crumbled. A mass of crumbs fell into his lap, and he jerked backwards, a surprised sound issuing from his mouth as he tried to avoid messing up his school uniform, to no avail. A large dollop of the icing had fallen right into his lap.
Damn. Usually he would have changed into something a bit more casual when he'd gotten home, but he'd been preoccupied with mulling over Orihime's surprising gift. She'd ambushed him just as he was leaving the school, and shoved the small package into his hands. Her words had mumbled too quietly and quickly for him to decipher, and she'd vanished again before he could properly thank her; the rest of his walk had been spent inspecting the gift-wrapped box and mulling over why she'd been so flustered.
He placed the rest of the cupcake back into the box, his movements stiff and awkward as he tried not to spill the crumbs resting in his lap. The bit of cupcake he'd bitten off earlier was chewed and swallowed quickly (with a wince, he discovered that Orihime had added chili powder and pepper to her recipe). He reached over to drag the trash can closer, and proceeded to sweep the crumbs into it briskly. A napkin and some water were all that was needed to erase any traces of the smeared icing from his pants; a quick swig from the same glass of water cleansed his pallet.
He attacked the cupcake again, this time with a napkin spread across his lap to catch any debris, and finished it in a few quick bites followed by several gulps of water. As he folded up the napkin, careful not to spill any of the crumbs onto the floor, he wondered if Orihime's weird taste in food came from being forced to cook for herself from a young age or if she was just that odd.
Either way, Ichigo was thankful that he had a proverbial stomach of steel.
Chapter 39: A Boring Day in a Boring Town
Theme: Comedy of Errors
In went the soul candies, out went the shinigami.
Tall and short, orange and black, they spared only a few terse instructions for the two artificial souls before they darted out the window and off into the Karakura sky without so much as a backward glance. Rukia trusted Pyon-chan with her body implicitly, and Ichigo—well, Ichigo's threats of bodily harm weren't to be taken lightly.
So, naturally, as soon as the two shinigami were out of sight and sound, all hell broke loose.
In seconds flat, Kon had Pyon-chan bent backwards over the desk with a hand sliding steadily up a milky thigh. "Pyon-cha—"
His back hit the opposite wall with a loud crash before he could finish crooning the epithet. Picking himself up off the floor, Ichigo-turned-Kon mustered up a rather pathetic pout. "You don't have to play hard to get, Pyon-chan," he cooed in what he obviously thought was a seductive tone.
The Chappi model artificial soul tilted her head and smiled. "Kon-kun, you know Ichigo-san and Rukia-san told us to behave, pyon."
He reached her again in two strides and wrapped his arms around the slight form, lips diving in for the kiss. His back hit the wall yet again.
"But Pyon-chan, we're not doing anything wrong," he whined, leaping back onto his feet without a moment's pause. He pushed her wrists up above her head and reached for the top-button on her blouse.
The door rattled in its frame as Ichigo's body slammed into the wall for the third time. "Mod-soul rule number one, pyon: Don't do anything the shinigami wouldn't, pyon."
Rukia's back met the surface of Ichigo's bed, his waist straddling hers and his palms flat against her shoulders. "You really think they haven't already done this?" He asked, disbelief dripping from each word.
Pyon-chan blinked, finding no immediate answer, and Kon wasted no time sliding his hands down from her shoulders to grasp the edge of her shirt triumphantly, poised to rip it up over the pale skin of her midriff—
He hit the wall and slid down to lay in a crumpled heap against the floorboards, seemingly defeated. "Rule number two, pyon: Imitate trademark behaviors, pyon."
Pyon-chan crawled to the edge of the bed to look down at the other mod-soul. "Kon-kun, pyon?"
Tilting her head when Kon failed to respond, she crept closer, slipping off the edge of the bed. The moment her feet touched the floor, Kon erupted from the ground in a sudden burst of movement and pinned her against the wall. "Nee-chan is just shy."
"Yuzu, pass the—"
A loud bang echoed down the stairs and interrupted Karin's request. She turned an irritated look in the direction of Ichigo's room, sighing in exasperation.
"That's the fifth time in ten minutes," Yuzu commented, concern furrowing her brow as she handed her sister a bowl of rice. "Do you think Ichi-nii is okay? Shouldn't we check on him?"
Karin snorted in derision, accepting the bowl with a thank you. "Not if you know what's good for you." Her words dripped with implications that her younger sister failed to catch.
Before Yuzu could ask Karin to explain, their father's head hit the table, rattling the dishes. "Masakiiiiiiiiiiiii," he wailed, tears streaming from his eyes, "Our son is growing up! Kuchiki-chan is going to be our third daughter!"
Seventy-nine collisions later, Ichigo and Rukia reclaimed their bodies, none-the-wiser.