Chapter 17: Chapter 17




Hichigo was fucking furious.

Ichigo could feel his Hollow-counterpart slamming around in his head demanding vengeance and retribution and – he couldn't even disagree.

With his arms wrapped around her, he could feel the tell-tale tremors creeping up and down her spine; shaking her bones beneath the weight of his. Tightening his hold and mentally chanting that Rukia needed him – Inoue didn't deserve any of his attention – he bowed his head, apologetic murmurs soothingly uttered like a lullaby pressed against her skin.

It was his own fault.

Damn whatever it was Rukia said about him hurting Inoue's feelings; hers was more important in his mind and always had been. He should have just taken the initiative and cut the legs out from under Inoue like he should have a long time ago.

Hell, he'd even used some of Ishida's pointed statements of "you're a good friend, Inoue" and "you did well, friend" and friendfriendfriend for the past three months, but it turned out that no matter how smart Inoue was, it turned out that she was also adept at being pointedly ignorant.

Ichigo had no idea what Inoue had even said to upset Rukia, only that whatever it was cut deep enough that beyond the tremors, Rukia had no response, and hadn't spoken in the time it had taken them to leave the kitchen and a clearly bereaved Inoue behind.

The last he didn't care for, even as Hichigo snarled.

Aimlessly, they walked – Ichigo trying to ease the restlessness pulling in his veins – unused adrenaline from a fight that wouldn't come. Before, they went full-circle around the neighbourhood and climbed the roof instead of walking through the front door.

Numbly, Rukia seemed to respond to that, and out in the open air, he caught her big deep breath out.

Sitting behind her, arms wrapped tight around her shoulders and on the knees she drew up around her chest, he rested his chin on her crown.

"Whatever she said," he finally settled on, "she's wrong, about all of it."

"She isn't," Rukia whispered.

Impossibly his arms and legs circled her in tighter as if to pull her right into his chest – protected by his ribcage, kept constant by his heart, defended by his soul and sword, and avenged by the monster rumbling within with decrees to protect the queen.

With a set jaw, Ichigo asked, "What did she tell you?"

She shook her head, hair barely swaying with the action.

Still, Rukia defends her; protects her, and for what? Ichigo wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled. Why did the selfless people always throw themselves down for others who wouldn't do the same?

"Inoue," she finally said, "she can give you what I can't."

Happiness, he wanted to spit – bitter and angry and you can't leave me and expect me to go to her, you can't leave me and expect that I'll choose her instead of chasing you down – you don't know me as well as you thought if that's what you expect me to do.

"You deserve a good life." Already, she was pulling away, managing to only get as far as an arms width before his ankles crossed and she was stuck within the circle of his body. Undeterred, she continued, "Without the fighting and the risk of injury or death. You deserve that. I should never have – Ichigo, I'm sorry."

He wanted to scream and rage and –

"You, your family – you've all gone through so much already, and every day that I'm here I just – I'm delaying the inevitable, or maybe-maybe I'm that walking cruel reminder that in the end – no matter what becomes of you in this life, you'll always be a shinigami – you'll only have blood and war and battle to look forward to. And you-you don't deserve that."

"Shut up."

"You shut up," she retorted, and though her words were shaky and raw, she too seemed angry. "You don't get it, do you? Everything you've been through – the sacrifices, the losses, the pain – you're already going to get enough of that when you die. It won't stop! Your human life – it wasn't supposed to be like this! You were supposed to be safe and happy!"

"And you think I'm not?" Ichigo challenged, and when she could only snarl back, he swallowed the caustic follow-up he had because, "I'm not fighting you, that's the last thing I want to do. But you're wrong if you think I'm not safe and happy right now."

She stilled, however, marginally, and he pushed on. "Yeah, we're having this conversation on a roof and I could fall and crack my head open like an egg, but that doesn't change the fact that without you – I protected people long before you came along, but now I actually have the power to keep them safe. That was you; you did that."

"Ichigo – the cost of that…"

"It was worth it. You think I was happy before you jumped through my window when I was fifteen? Or those seventeen months when I couldn't see you, let alone sense you -"

"It was the best I could do for you, Ichigo," she protested, shaking her head and still not getting it. "Hollows and ghosts and shinigami, in this life, they weren't meant to be your problem."

"And how happy was I when they weren't? It was shit, just by the way. If it didn't make Yuzu cry or Karin hate me, I might have actually tried to kill myself just to get it back, just to get you back."

"Ichigo -"

"If it meant I could fight alongside you, be there next to you, or hell, just know that you're there and I can see you, I would have done it."

"Don't say such foolish things, Ichigo, please…You have so much more to live for."

"And how does that negate what I could die for?" When she only stared at him with those same large violet eyes that drowned him and saved him on a daily basis, he reminded quietly, "I risk my life for the people I care about, even before you. After you, when I can actually protect them instead of just putting myself in danger? Why wouldn't I do the same? Especially when the girl I love insists on pulling the same shit on me because apparently, we've got similar complexes."

Rukia huffed out a laugh, and he reached over, brushing his knuckles against the apple of her cheek.

She murmured still, "You have your whole afterlife to be a shinigami…"

"If I agreed with you, would you stay with me?"

She looked down. "There's no reason for me to do that."

"You've got every reason to do that."

"Ichigo -"

"You told me you died when you were a baby, that all you ever knew was the afterlife – the Rukongai and then the Gotei 13. You deserve a good life too without the war and battle and blood, you deserve to know what it feels like to get to be human."

When she huffed that little laugh again, her smile tentative at her cheeks, he met her lips in the middle and murmured, "Being a fully-fledged – actual to god – shinigami, it can wait. I agree. I want to graduate, I want to practice; I want to know what it's like to live with my girlfriend and go on dates and celebrate anniversaries and debate about whether or not her family actually wants me to go in there and massacre them all."

Again, that little laugh, and yeah, I could live off that sound forever.

He added, "I want to see Karin and Yuzu graduate high school and maybe university too. Maybe see Tatsuki at the Olympics, and Chad finally pursue music as seriously as he deserves to, and Ishida with his fashion line with all his issues resolved with his dad. And maybe, see my sisters get married; I'll deal with the conflicting emotions about that later, the point is: I do have a lot of human things I still want to do, but that doesn't mean I can't have those things with you."

"Ichigo, I don't belong here…"

"You belong with me, you belong with my family, you belong right here. That's enough, isn't it?"

She swallowed with difficulty, and he worried that it wasn't, until she was rubbing her eyes furiously and protesting, "Stop it, you're making me cry."

He chuckled, beckoning her closer until she was snuggled up against his chest, right where he liked her.

"We already know there's life after death, and there's probably reincarnation and shit too, and in all those lifetimes, I want them with you." Here's my soul, weigh it and find me worthy.

"We'll probably have centuries together in Soul Society," she reminded.

"That seems long enough to reach a conclusion about family massacres, how do you think they'll take this?" he mused, and now that he was saying it, what did they think of this? Rukia shook her head and said, "Nii-sama, he's…happy for me. He's already started arrangements about me taking a sabbatical while I'm here in the living world with you, though he hasn't said as much, Renji saw the paperwork and couldn't keep his mouth shut…"

His lips quirked. "Are you…are you okay with that?"

She shrugged, offering with a small smile, "I've been a shinigami my whole life, and I…I like being here with you, experiencing the life I never got to live. It's not something I ever thought I could get – or even deserved."

"Stop that, you deserve everything – everything I can offer you in this life, and the next, you deserve it."

Pulling at the collar of the ugly Christmas sweater he snagged before going outside, she pressed her lips against his, and any protests she may have had about what she could give him in return were answered just like that: This. This is what I want.

"I admit; I'm surprised you did this…"

"Really?" he asked with a raised brow as they approached the front door – having to return and get whatever rest they could before the festivities truly started.

"I thought you were going to burst a blood vessel down there," she said, looking down and away from him again – embarrassed by being caught so vulnerable. Ichigo squeezed her hand in his.

"I was going to," he admitted, "but if I fight for you, I can't embrace you, and you needed that more."

Letting her take the lead, framing the front door decked in holly and silver bells, Rukia turned to him – eyeing him as she finally stood at eye-level thanks to the step. "Who are you and what've you done to my knuckleheaded fool?"

He opened his mouth to reply, smirk in place when the door opened, and Inoue declared, "Kurosaki-kun, I was so worried, it's freezing outside, you should come in!"

Resisting the urge to snap back in reply because what are you still doing here? He noticed Rukia's stiffening stance, and then suddenly, as if hit with a bright idea, she chirped in agreement, "Yes, Ichigo, we probably should. Oh, look, mistletoe!"

Without waiting for a second to pass, she pulled him in and though he wanted to laugh, she pressed her lips against his. Hichigo was howling in the back of his mind, and he smirked in kind.

Ichigo could practically feel Inoue going completely rigid and then –

"Ah, Rukia-chan, I-I don't think Kurosaki-kun likes that!"

In answer, just as Rukia was about to pull away, he wound his arms around her, swiped his tongue into the warm cavern of her mouth and he grinned at the tightening of her hands beneath his sweater, just above his ass. Taking only a moment, Ichigo detangled himself just enough to give Inoue the finger.

That was a hazard of love he could deal with – giving absolutely zero fucks about who knows it.

Merry fucking Christmas.


This fic is also on ao3 under the same name (pen name and story title), there's also an offline version you can download on .com

Thanks for reading!