The air is stifling hot and horribly humid, the sun shining down furiously even in the late afternoon. No hint of the wind stirs the leaves on the trees. The calm before a thunderstorm, Ichigo is sure. He walks through the heat and heavy air, mind blank and body moving mechanically. Something about the weather… the day is making him uneasy and restless, and his feet are automatically leading him to the one person Ichigo trusts to know what is going on.
A storm front is approaching from somewhere, and it’s going to tear something down, break it to pieces and wash it away with torrents of icy water. It’s inevitable, inescapable and coming here.
Ichigo finds Urahara sitting on the roof of the tallest building in Karakura. He’s not in a gigai, and is smoking a cigarette. Ichigo can see a few bottles of sake keeping him company. He’s staring thoughtfully at the setting sun, gaze sharp and perfectly lucid despite the multiple empty bottles of alcohol. The ever-present hat is on one of the bottles, rather than atop that sandy hair. The picture of relaxation, though it’s completely ruined by the stagnant air that reaches even here, warping the illusion of peace.
“Hello, Kurosaki-kun.” He says as Ichigo plops down next to him. They’re both close to the edge now, feet dangling over over it. Urahara offers Ichigo an unopened bottle, but Ichigo refuses with a shake of his head, unwilling to cloud his head with alcohol when it’s already been permeated by the oppressing heat. “Ah, well. I’ll indulge in all my vices by myself then.”
There’s silence after that. They both stare at the sky, and Ichigo feels lost, standing on a beach and looking at a brewing storm on the horizon. Who it’s coming for, Ichigo doesn’t know. The smoke from the cigarette almost makes Ichigo cough, but he stops himself, unwilling to break the still silence. The sun sinks slowly, a giant orb of light turning the sky red and gold and pink.
“I always knew this would happen, you know.” The voice is unexpected, but it doesn’t invite a response. Ichigo glances sideways. The shopkeeper sounds tired, but his face is peaceful. Resigned to the hurricane that’s approaching them fast. “The high-born, the respected. They are always welcomed back, no questions..” He takes a drag of his cigarette, and exhales the smoke slowly, watching it rise up lazily into the clear sky. “On the other hand… a no-name captain, just a couple years in office… They never rescinded the order for me, you know.”
Ichigo’s almost sure what the exiled shinigami is talking about. The storm is swelling, approaching at lightning speed with clouds of blades and executioner’s axes.
He carefully looks at Urahara. Despite the red light of the sun, his hair glints white and his eyes are dark and stormy, bright azure-violet-white glints flickering in the dark grey. Like flashes of light in the dark storms that Ichigo has seen. Ichigo looks behind them for a second, and sees dark clouds begin creeping across the sky towards them. Darker than night. There’s a light wind now, bringing a refreshing wave of cold.
An age seems to pass before another word is spoken. The sake bottles are drained one by one, and the cigarettes burn down steadily, the smell probably sinking into Ichigo’s clothes permanently. Ichigo lets Urahara enjoy his vices in peace, feeling it to be an unspoken last request from the shopkeeper. From his friend.
“Thought I’d see it for the last time, you know. The sunset… It’s beautiful.” He sighs. “I’m tired of running, tired of hiding. It’s time to… let go. Move on.” There’s an odd, trilling tone to those words, almost birdlike. Ichigo still hasn’t said a thing. He’s not sure Urahara wants to hear anything, and he’s not sure he has anything to say to him anyway. Right now, perhaps all he needs to provide is company, sit vigil for a person who hasn’t died yet.
There’s silence after that. The sun sinks below the horizon, staining it a bright red. Like Benihime’s power, it’s setting, but at least it will rise anew tomorrow. That sword will never be raised again, never send red lightning and build storms of bloody light, Ichigo can feel the truth of that in his bones.
It is considerably colder now than it had been an hour ago, and the clouds are black and menacing, just over the edge of town.
“You should go, Kurosaki-kun.” Urahara says at last, looking directly at Ichigo. For the first time in a long time, there’s no hint of a smile on that face. There’s a light frown, and the gaze is eerily piercing. “Can you do me a favour, please? When the thunder passes… do not return here. Do not look.” Ichigo can’t deny the last request, not with that thoughtful and sad tone to it.
Urahara sighs as he notices the cigarette has burned down to ash, singing his fingers, and looks at the last one he has, as though wondering whether he’ll have enough time to finish it.
Ichigo stands, placing one hand on the shopkeeper’s shoulder. He’s trembling slightly, Ichigo notices. Just a little. Maybe it’s fear. Or anticipation. Ichigo doesn’t know Urahara well enough to recognise whether he wants to live or die. Doesn’t know his mentor at all, not really. He leaves, having said nothing, but this time a goodbye wouldn’t have fit anyway. He doesn’t look back, looking only at the sky as walks home. The clouds are covering the entire sky, but the rain doesn’t fall. It’s waiting, along with Ichigo.
He doesn’t sleep. He sits and looks at the clock. Minutes pass. And then… He knows. It’s over.
Over. How can a life be over just like that? And yet...He’s dead.
Rain starts to pour, thick and almost silent, a solid curtain of water.
Ichigo waits for the storm to break, feeling hollow and empty. He’s not crying, too tired and drained by the wait. The sky cries enough for them both anyway. Someone, dead. Just like that. Just some orders. He can’t muster the energy to be angry, as he remembers Urahara’s face. Accepting. Unafraid of the death that had been coming to him. Ichigo wonders if he could have done that. Wonders whether that calm had lasted till the blade sunk through his heart.
One hour. Three hours. Five. He dozes off a couple of times, ears pricked for the first explosion of sound.
It’s one o’clock when it happens. A powerful crack echoes through Karakura as a thick lightning bolt crashes into the town. And another. And another. The air is thicker and heavier than ever, the cracks and crashes endless and continuous. It feels like it goes on for hours, but in reality it’s an hour or two, at most. Ichigo can feel every strike in his bones, the storm relentless and unforgiving, the sky as light as in day-time. Grieving, yet purifying.
Eventually it ends as abruptly as it began, the rain fading out suddenly and the sky clearing completely to reveal a star-strewn sky. The vigil is over.
It’s all over.
An hour later, a soft, quiet knock comes on the door.