This is an Ichiruki Musical AU, in which Ichigo and Rukia are cast as 'Ichiroku' and 'Hikari' respectively in the musical adaptation of the popular shounen manga 'Fabric Softener'. Inspired by a bunch of stuff the Bleach musical cast has done, including but not limited to:

- Gin's actor tweeting (a few weeks before the end of the manga) that he's looking forward to Ichigo and Rukia being canon

- The Ichigo and Rukia actors tweeting selfies (not looking too happy) of themselves with the WSJ issues in which the last Bleach chapter ran

- The Ichigo actor proposing to the Rukia actor, unscripted, in-character, at their last performance. With a ring and everything.

. . . We're totally canon. When will IH EVER lmao bye

The Author is Dead

by hashtagartistlife

"You're kidding me."

"Unfortunately not."

"They don't get together at the end?! What the fuck was I acting for all this time?"

"Beats me. I have a kid with a guy I never showed the slightest romantic inclination for! How do you think I feel?! This is a spit in the face to feminism!"

"No, you've got to be trolling me. Give me that!"

A brief scuffle over the magazine ensued.

"Fine, fine! I yield! You won't like what you see, though. I was trying to keep you from breaking your own heart, dumbass."

Rukia threw the magazine into Ichigo's face, and Ichigo didn't even bother to snap back at her for it. He grabbed a hold of the magazine and rifled feverishly to page 132, where the first page of the last chapter of the popular, long-running manga Fabric Softener began. His heart sank lower and lower with every page he turned, until—

"Wait, that's IT?!"

"Well, did you think I was lying?" his… sort-of-not-really-girlfriend-more-like-bestfriend-definitely-colleague crossed her arms imperiously and drew herself up to her full four-foot nothing height. "That's it. Zip. Nada. Finito. Fabric Softener has left the building, folks. It's gone. Shuffled off the mortal coil. Fallen off the deep end—"

"Fallen off the deep end is right! What the fuck kind of ending is that?!"

Rukia shrugged. "Take it up with the mangaka, moron, I'm not him! But I do agree, what the hell was he thinking? What was he on when he wrote this? Is he ok? Should we pay him a visit?"

Ichigo threw the magazine down and dragged his hands over his face. "I can't believe my character ends up with… with her. What the fuck? She wasn't even important enough to be in this musical! And why the hell do I have a receding hairline?!"

Rukia snickered. "Maybe it's a prediction for your own inglorious future."

"Don't even joke about things like this," he snapped. "How the hell are we gonna play this, Rukia? We just assumed we'd end up together in the end! The entire cast did! Hell, the scriptwriter and director thought so too! We have a fucking duet together, I cannot believe—"

"I know, I know," Rukia soothed. "Believe me, I'm not exactly happy with this either. I can't believe he dropped this on us the night before our last performance, but what the hell, there's been rumours he's unhappy with his editorial department. Maybe this was his last chance to say 'Fuck you'."

"He didn't have to bring us down with him! What the hell kind of adult ruins his own career just to say 'fuck you' to his own bosses?"

Rukia ticked the list off on her fingers. "Let's see, there was that time you got into a punch-up with the director during Romeo and Juliet because you disagreed with his interpretation, that time during Twilight where you hated the production so much you deliberately overacted the script to the extreme and had it backfire on you because the director loved it, that time you—"

"Alright, alright, I get the point! But I mean. Those were for productions that only ran for a couple months at maximum. Fabric Softener is kind of a long-running thing, you know? 15 years. And it's international to boot. I just… I can't believe he'd go so far as to cut of his own nose to spite his face, yeah?"

Rukia was surprisingly patient. "Agreed. But there's nothing we can do now to change the course of fate, Ichigo. I know we were both very invested in this series and the characters, but it is what it is. We only have one more night left of this production, in any case. We better try to forget the ending happened and just enjoy it to the full."

Well, that was oddly touching. Terrifying harpy she may be on occasion, but Ichigo couldn't deny Rukia had a way with words that fired him up like nothing else. He looked into her violet eyes, brimming with steady purpose and steely determination, and allowed those qualities to overflow into him as well. "Rukia…"

The tentative leaning in of their heads towards each other was interrupted unceremoniously by the door banging open. "Hey! Ichigo! Rukia! You guys seen the new chapter yet?! I end up with Rukia's character, of all things!"

Ichigo slumped onto Rukia's shoulder and groaned. "Fuck off, Renji."

Renji grinned broadly. "That's my line, asshole, that's my wife you were about to snog."

The end of the once-popular, long-running (some would say interminable) manga Fabric Softner had had a…. mixed reception, at best. Following the adventures of one Shirosaki Ichiroku, who receives shinigami powers from a mysterious girl called Juuchiki Hikari one fateful night, it quickly gained popularity for its quirky, lovable cast, gritty urban feel and unique artwork. Deviating from the standard shounen formula, it carefully detailed Ichiroku's growth from a surly teenager to saviour of the world to…

"…to what? Balding couch potato? Honestly, did we even figure out what I do for a living at the end of this stupid manga? I'm the goddamn main character, how could he sideline me like this?!" Kurosaki Ichigo yelled, slamming the magazine down and knocking back another shot. There was a smattering of applause and a couple of 'hear, hear!'s from the rest of the cast.

"Speak for yourself," Rukia slurred from beside him. "I end up… hic… married to… hicRenjihic… with a kid I apparently don't even care enough to keep an eye on! He straight up murdered Hikari as a character, that bastard…"

"Aw, c'mon, my character ain't that bad!" Renji raised his beer lazily from the corner. "That chick Ichiroku ends up married to, though, Ta… Tarohime? Tashihime?"

"Tamahime," Rangiku supplied, helpful. "Whaaat? I liked her!"

Renji snorted. "Oh, she was nice enough and all, but what exactly does she do in the story again? Besides moon after Ichiroku?"

"I gotta admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for unrequited love characters," Hinamori threw in fondly. Several pairs of eyes glared daggers at her and she backtracked quickly. "I'm just saying! I'm just saying! But I agree with the rest of you, this ending makes no sense!"

"Ta… hime… ain't even in this goddamn musical…" a muffled muttering came from Gin's direction, and everyone looked his way briefly before looking away again.

"The ending hit him hard, poor guy," Izuru said in a hushed tone. "He was pretty strongly in camp IchiHika. Even tweeted about it last week."

Ikkaku slammed his glass down. "As were we all!" he roared. He looked around the room for support. "Eh? Eh? Don't even lie to me, we were all expecting IchiHika! Sappy bastard told her she stopped his rain! Speaking as a man, you don't say shit like that unless you're in love! Why're you all lookin' at me like I'm insane?"

"Well, I mean, I'm certainly not disagreeing. But I'm surprised you noticed all that, Ikkaku, didn't you say you only read Fabric Softener for the 'manly parts'?" Rangiku arched an eyebrow.

Ikkaku flushed red. "Hey! It's not like I paid, y'know, special attention to it or anything! The way I see it, you gotta be blind to miss something that blatantly obvious, you feel?"

Aizen cleared his throat. "Excellently said, Madarame-san. And if I may, speaking as someone who has a Ph.D in literature—"

Everyone groaned. Aizen Sosuke, while undeniably a genius actor with a compelling stage presence and a voice to die for, had the single unfortunate habit of deconstructing all his stage play scripts and then regaling whoever happened to be near enough with his observation-cum-predictions. (It was a holdover from his Ph.D days.) He'd been bugging everyone in the cast with his so-called 'predictions' for the last few chapters of the manga, which might have been tolerable had he not a) been proven wrong every week and b) tried to cover up his wrongness by nodding sagely, taking off his glasses, slicking his hair back and saying 'no, you don't understand, this is all a part of my analysis' instead of just admitting to his fallibility.

"Your Ph.D in literature is worth shit, Sosuke, you couldn't have predicted this ending," Hitsugaya said tiredly, nursing a glass of whiskey. Nobody said anything. He might have been short enough to pass for a teenager, but Hitsugaya was an adult, veteran actor who had the most years of experience on stage out of them all and no-one was going to begrudge him a glass of the strong stuff on the night when the source material for their production went to shit. "Spare us the lecture and let us wallow in peace." He raised the glass for a toast and everyone followed suit.

When they'd all thrown back their alcohol, Hisagi gestured to the bundle of chopsticks on the table.

"Well, I suppose we gotta draw them straws sometime soon. Might as well get it over with now."

Everyone grimaced, and reached for a chopstick. There was a brief lull in the conversation while they all checked their own draw.

"You're fuckin kidding!" came the exclamation from Ichigo, and a matching noise of despair from Rukia.

Rangiku grinned heartily and knocked back another drink. "Well, s'pose it's fitting. You two are the main characters, after all. Guess you guys are gonna have to upload the requisite 'we read and loved the last chapter' pictures to twitter as the cast representatives."

Ichigo ignored his tumbler and reached for the entire bottle of alcohol instead. "Give me that. I'm gonna need to be a helluva lot drunker than this to feign any sort of enthusiasm for this shitstorm."

"Awww, they actually did it! They put the pictures up!"

"Man, you'd think that Ichigo could have worn a happier face, no?"

"Don't be like that, Shuuhei, how would you feel if your character was completely railroaded like that? Smart move, obscuring half his face with that magazine."

"I see Rukia-chan did the same thing, too, but at least she just looks surprised, not distraught."

"Oh, stop nitpicking, you two. Well, anyway, that's let the rest of the cast off the hook. C'mon, we should go to sleep. It won't do to be hungover for our last performance tomorrow."

"Tch. I don't see why we even bother, seeing as how the creator doesn't seem to give two shits about this story."

Rangiku tsk'ed. "Silly Shiro-chan, that's why we need to be on our game more than ever! The poor fans of this manga don't have anything but us, now. We've got to remind them of the glory days. It's up to us to remind everyone what Fabric Softener was really about."

They'd been a bit worried about ticket sales and turnout in light of the atrocity that was the last chapter, but luckily, when the lights darkened onstage for their final performance, they saw that the theatres was as packed as ever. It seemed it took more than one or two shoddily-written chapters to turn fans away from a franchise they'd invested in for the past fifteen years. The usual excited atmosphere of the performance remained undiminished.

Ichigo was glad. Awful though the ending might be, he was still really attached to his character Ichiroku and Fabric Softener as a whole. And, yeah, he thought Ichiroku should have ended up with Hikari, and so did Rukia and the rest of the cast and everyone in the universe ever, but…fuck it. Death of the Author was a legitimate concept. He was just gonna ignore the fuck out of the last chapter. Fabric Softener had left him with too many precious memories for him to let this one thing ruin his enjoyment of it.

He looked by his side, and met Rukia's eyes in silent, mutual understanding. He grabbed her hand, and she squeezed it gently, once. As usual, she was warm, and strong, and Ichigo felt himself growing more confident just by standing beside her. The music swelled, and he got ready for his entrance.

"Break a leg," she whispered, and he smiled at her.

"You too."

And then it was his cue.

The performance passed by in a blur. Ichigo couldn't remember if he did well or terribly; the only thing he could feel was the pure adrenaline rush of being on stage, of performing. Everything melted away, and it was just him and the character he was portraying; Ichigo and Ichiroku, one and the same. And always opposite him, Hikari blending into Rukia, Rukia blending into Hikari, both of them his ray of light—in-character and out of it. The woman who stopped his rain. The woman who changed his world.

He reached to the end of the performance, and made it through two curtain calls and several thank-you speeches before he finally thought fuck it.

Standing beside him (as she always was), Rukia was halfway through her own tearful thank-you speech when she turned to include him in it. "—and of course, I can't forget my very own Ichiroku, the black sun to Hikari's white moon, my very dear colleague and friend, Kurosaki Ichigo—"

Without warning, he pulled her into a hug; she made a surprised noise at the back of her throat before allowing herself to melt into his embrace. Distantly, he heard the audience going absolutely nuts, and thought: you think that's the best part? I'll raise you one better.

The hug was all too brief before Rukia pulled out of his arms and continued her speech. "—thank you, I couldn't imagine anyone better as Ichiroku—"

"—you too, Rukia. I can't imagine anyone else as my Hikari," he interrupted, without regard to her 'hey moron, what are you doing' face. He ploughed on. "And neither can Ichiroku, I'm sure. You were the best partner I could have hoped for these past few months. Hikari, you know how I feel. Will you marry me?"

He knelt on the ground before her and heard the audience implode behind him.

Rukia looked at him in utter shock for a few moments, before shaking her head in exasperation and throwing her arms down. Next to her, Ichigo saw Byakuya try (and fail) to contain his amusement, and Rangiku outright catcalling and whooping and egging him on. The audience behind him had been screaming for a solid minute now. Rukia shook her head at him.

"Bakamono, Ichiroku," she said, fondly, "What am I going to do with you?"

"Say yes," he suggested, cheekily, and earned a hit upside the head for his effort. The audience screamed harder.

"Yes, you idiot," Rukia conceded, and yelped in surprise as he stood up and took her with him, spinning her around several times in a hug. He set her down gently, and leaned in closer; the audience were liable to collectively combust in a matter of seconds.

"Ichigo, what—" Rukia whispered, but Ichigo shook his head a tiny fraction.

"We're giving them their happy ending," he breathed, "The ending they deserved. All of them. The fans. The musical cast. Ichiroku and Hikari. Us. It's up to us."

Rukia's eyes were very wide; Ichigo swore he saw his whole world reflected back at him in their depths. She was starlight and moonshine and the gravity of the sun; unavoidable, inexplicable, inescapable. She was everything, and he was simply falling into her orbit, natural as breathing.

"Well then," she murmured, "I've always been a sucker for happy endings."

She reached up, he leaned down, and they met in a collision of stars.

"… So, we're dating now, right?"

"… Asshole, didn't you propose to me? Aren't we at the very least engaged?"

"….Rukia, you know I only did that in character—"

"I'm kidding, bakamono. You're so easy to rile up, honestly—"

"—but next time, I'll do it for real. With a ring."

"—you do that, Ichi—wait, what?"

Rukia looked up from the magazine she was perusing, but Ichigo was already breaking into a run, smug grin firmly in place.

"What did you just say? Hey, come back here! You better mean that, asshole—!"