Notes:

"Yukiko" literally means "snow child"

Rukia's zanpakutou, "sodenoshirayuki", literally means "sleeve's white snow"

Just something I thought all of you needed to know before you read this.

Writing this was an emotional ride for me. May it be an emotional ride for you as well. Please read and enjoy my work. Thank you!


Fallen


He had grown out his hair a little and combed it back neatly, apart from a stray fringe that had fallen from the rest and was obscuring part of his left eye. His face was cleanly shaven, except for a tiny stubble under his chin, which served to emphasize his strong jaw. With his pale blue button-down shirt paired with simple black pants, he could easily be passed as a salaryman. For the years she had not seen him, he had grown into a man, a full-fledged man. He was no longer some 18-year-old teenager, who resembled any other street punk, with his bright hair, tight t-shirts and low hanging jeans.

She stood at the glass door, wordlessly, as she watched him conversed with a lady who was about his age. From their gestures, she could tell the familiarity that they shared with each other. She watched how she touched his arm, in a way that was a little more affectionate than what she would have preferred. And she watched how he responded to her words with an easy smile on his face. And she watched how he removed his stethoscope from his neck while he leaned in swiftly to peck her near the corner of her mouth, surprising her. And she watched how he laughed as the woman playfully jabbed him at his sides.

And then she watched how his eyes shifted to the glass door. And she watched how he froze momentarily. And she watched how his eyes widened, and how his lips parted seemingly to speak, and how his expression changed from that face of laughter to that of pure shock.

And then, she could watch no longer. She started to run.

She did not understand why she ran.

She could have just put on a show, with her well-practiced smile and friendly wave. She could have gone into the clinic, greeted him and then introduced herself as an old classmate of his. She could then casually mention how long it had been, ask about his family and his work, while he would be smart enough to play along with her charade. Finally, she could excuse herself by pretending she had something on and that she did not wish to disturb him any further. She would end off with a polite bow to the lady, telling her what a pleasure it was to meet her and that she looked forward to meeting both of them again some time later. And then quietly, she would leave.

But she could not. Because she could not pretend that she was just an ordinary ex-classmate dropping by to pay a visit. Because she could not pretend that things between them did not run a little deeper than that. Because she could not pretend that she had parted from their shared history and that the feelings of the past no longer lingered on. Perhaps it was denial. Or cowardice. Or even terror. It did not matter. Not anymore, anyway.

She should not have returned.

"Rukia!"

She could only keep running, though she felt her legs were ready to give way. She could only keep running, because that was all that she could do. She could only keep running, even if there was no where for her to go. So she kept running. Till a strong grip stopped her by the arm, spinning her around so hard, she lost balance, and would have fallen, if not for the hand that steadfastly held on to her.

"Rukia…"

"Please let go." In spite of her efforts to remain composed, she could hear her voice cracking involuntarily, making her words sound more like a pitiable plea than a scornfully, over-polite demand.

"Rukia, you…"

"Please let go of me."

"I'm not…"

"I SAID LET GO!" As she yelled at him and when their eyes connected for a tenth of a second, she saw that he saw, in that tenth of a second, the things she did not want him to see. For that tenth of a second, he saw the anguish that she suffered for a wound that would not heal; for that tenth of a second, he saw the anger that she directed at him because she needed someone to blame; for that tenth of a second, he saw the degradation that she felt for allowing herself to be governed by useless emotions.

She should not have returned.

"I'm not going to let go. Not till you tell me why you're here."

His equanimity infuriated her; it made her feel like a child, when in comparison, he should be the child here. The years had changed him perhaps, the years when she was not watching, he had changed.

"No reason."

"You could do better than that, Rukia."

"There's no reason. I just felt like visiting old friends."

"And this is how you do that? Run away?"

"Shut up."

"Then say the truth."

She remained silent. She could feel his steady gaze boring through her, seeing through the layers that she had protected herself with, seeing the "her" that only he had ever been allowed to see. Her vision continued to fixate on the cement ground, trying to push away the anger and humiliation, wanting his hand to release her so that she could escape from his penetrative eyes and pretend that she had never came.

But his hand held on, still as strong, still as large, and she remembered his hand well. There were times when they fought, times when things got close to being violent, but most times he would back off to cool off. But there were also times when he would seize her by the arm so tightly, it hurt. And this was just like one of those times.

"SAY THE TRUTH!" And just like one of those times, he lashed out harshly at her, just like he always would, when he got really mad at her. And just like one of those times, he shook her fiercely by the arm, forcing her to talk. The years might had changed him a little, might had slowed his temper a little, but some things never seemed to change.

"WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY? THAT I CAME FOR YOU? IS THAT IT? YOU WANT ME TO SAY I CAME FOR YOU? THAT I CAME FOR KUROSAKI ICHIGO?"

And just like one of those times, he let go abruptly. He would always let go, like letting go of a pot that was much too hot for comfort. And like he had just been slapped, he would let go, with a broken look in his eyes. It was a broken look mixed with resentment, regret and resignation. It was disdainful that she would sink so low as to resort to such immature means, by uttering such hurtful words just because she could not find anything else to say. Especially when she knew that he hated it when she called his full name in such a manner. Especially when she knew that he would not respond to such spiteful acts. And especially when she knew that his eyes would just meet her taunting glare more in sorrow than in anger.

And just like one of those times, she lowered her eyes, wishing she could unsay those words that resulted from such despicably abject cowardice. Such contemptible callous words were as much a slap to his face, as it was a backhanded whip at her own self, leaving nothing but an acrid, repugnant aftertaste in her mouth.

She should not have returned.

"Rukia…"

"I'm sorry I came. I'm leaving now." She turned her back on him, walking away.

"You left."

She halted at those words.

"You left without a word."

Leaving him was a judgment that she had made on her own. Two years of arguments, fights and aggression. But it was also two years of fanatical love, a smoldering passion that burnt more ferociously than any flame. Two years of white-hot intensity, a detonation that obliterated everything in their path. It was two years of heaven, living in a paradise that never allowed their feet to touch the ground.

And after those two years, everything between them remained unchanged, with the exception of the fact that he was going off to college. He had a new path to pursue and she realized she did not fit into that path. He had a future and she could not become part of that future. It had never seemed clearer before, and at last, she understood that fairytales always needed to end somehow. And so she left.

Why then, why had she returned?

She had yet to figure it out herself.

"Well, I made the right decision to leave, didn't I?" Her words were full of bitterness, bitterness that she made no effort to conceal.

"What?"

"You're happy now."

"What?"

"What do you mean by "what"?"

"What? You're not making…"

"That woman."

His eyes averted away from her accusatory glare. "Oh…"

"What's her name?"

"…Yukiko…"

"What kind of person is she?" Her tone was cold, nearly interrogatory.

Ichigo looked uncomfortable as he searched for words. "Nice… demure…"

"The total opposite of me, huh?"

"Rukia…" His face crumpled into an aggrieved helplessness at his inability to find the right response.

"So, how did you two meet?"

"Work. Rukia, I…"

Rukia cut him off. "When?"

"What?"

"How long you'd been together?"

"Just. A few weeks. I don't know." The frustration was obviously getting to him.

"Where was your first date?"

"Rukia…"

"When was your first kiss?"

"Stop..."

"Have you screwed her yet?"

"Stop this, Rukia."

"ANSWER ME!"

"Stop…"

"I SAID ANSWER ME!"

"WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS, RUKIA? WHY ARE YOU ASKING ALL THESE DAMN QUESTIONS!"

"Did you make love with her on Valentine's Day, in your room, after giving her a heart-shaped box filled with chocolates? Did you kiss her at the beach, with the salt water in her hair and the sand on your lips? Did you ride the Ferris wheel with her and made some ridiculous wish at the highest point of its spin? Or brought her to the park, where you two will share an ice-cream cone that was melting much too fast under the scorching sun? Or made a mess out of the kitchen trying to bake some stupid chocolate fudge cake? Or… or…" She started to choke at her own words. She did not want to cry. She no longer wanted to cry. She was past that. She should have been way past that, a long time ago.

He tried to hold her, but she viciously pushed him away. "DON'T TOUCH ME!"

"Don't make it sound like it was my fault, Rukia."

"It's not! How could it be your fault! I left! I was the one who left without a word. I was the one who held you back from everything. I was the one who forced you to face death over and over again! I was the one who stole away your normal life. It was, ALL. MYFAULT!"

"You left me for seven years, Rukia. SEVEN YEARS! What did you want me to do!"

"Damn you!" Rukia retorted with an enraged shove at his chest.

"What did you want me to do! What DO you want me to do!"

"NOTHING! THERE WAS NOT A DAMN THING YOU COULD HAVE DONE!"

He attempted to take hold of her shoulder, but she slapped his hand away.

"Stop being unreasonable, Rukia."

"I know I'm unreasonable. I'm always the unreasonable one, aren't I? Always bossing you around, making you do this and that even when you do not want to do them. Making you help me with all sorts of things because I'm always so oblivious. Making you give way to me even if I'm obviously in the wrong. I'm the unreasonable one who selfishly took everything away from you. I'm the unreasonable one who demanded you to love me although both of us know nothing is going to come out from it. I'm the unreasonable one who got caught up in it all and couldn't let go!"

She roughly brushed her tears away, frustrated that the tears refused to stop.

Why had she returned?

"Rukia…"

"STOP CALLING MY NAME! Stop saying my name like you pity me. Pity me for being unable to move on from a relationship that was doomed from the start. I don't need your pity. I don't need your worthless sympathy!"

"Why did you come back, Rukia?"

"I DON'T KNOW!"

"Why did you come back…" Ichigo fell to his knees as he reached out for her, his hand pulling her into his arms and burying his face into her chest, "after I thought I've finally given up on you?"

Rukia did not withdraw from his touch. Because she saw the tears in his eyes. Because she heard that stifled agony in his shuddering voice. Because she felt that trepidation in his trembling body. Her arms moved to wrap around him, pushing him tighter against her body. Never had she seen that stoical nature of his shatter so completely into such defeated desperation, stripped stark-naked of all defenses, like a man fallen from grace. In the eyes of another, it might have even seemed shameful, but in her eyes, there was no shame to be found in him.

"I could not find you. No one would or could help me. No one. I didn't know how to find you. I waited, and waited, and waited... it was the only thing left for me to do. Everyone forgot about you. It was like you never even existed. And those who remembered you, Dad, Chad, Inoue… They all told me I had to stop waiting. I didn't want to stop waiting… but… seven years, Rukia. How do I keep waiting when I don't even know if you're ever going to return? How do I keep waiting for someone who doesn't even seem to exist to the rest of the world? How do I keep waiting when all hope have left me, leaving me with nothing to hold on to?"

The anger and humiliation that she felt in the beginning vanished. She could only hold on to that shaking child in her arms, who was crying like she had never seen him cry before, and begging for her to never let go. She thought she had granted him freedom, but the only thing she had given him was an unintentional torment. All those years of unexplained absence, he had suffered in silence. He had suffered alone for so many years.

"I love you, Rukia. I love you more than you'll ever know. I love you so much I thought I could die when you disappeared. I love you so much, that the only thing I could do was to keep living, so that I can meet you without shame when I die."

"Then keep living, Ichigo." She brushed his hair away from his face.

"Rukia… I love you…"

"I know." Rukia cupped his face and lowered her head, their lips meeting in a deep, quivering kiss. She lifted her head away from him, a wan smile spreading across her somber face. "I love you too, Ichigo. But isn't it too late?"

Confusion flickered across his soft brown eyes.

"Rather than saying it's too late, perhaps it would be more apt to say that it was never meant to be, right from the beginning." She paused and closed her eyes, taking in a quavering breath and willing herself to speak the words that she did not wish to say. "You don't need me anymore. So go back to your normal life, Ichigo. There is a normal woman, who is waiting for you. A normal woman, who loves you. A normal woman who could give you everything I know I will never be able to give. So go back to your normal life, Ichigo. And leave the past behind. Forget me."

She leaned down and kissed his forehead tenderly. And as she raised her head, she watched how a single tear fell from her eye onto his lashes and then rolled down his cheek, merging with the tears that were already upon his face, while he continued to stare at her in disbelief, unable to accept what she had just said.

She pushed his hands away from her body, detaching him from her, reluctantly forcing herself to depart from the warmth that she knew she would miss desperately.

Why had she returned?

She still had not found the answer. Perhaps she wanted to return to that paradise of theirs seven years ago. But she understood that they could not go back and they could not start anew. Nothing could make up for the years they had lost, and nothing could make up for the future they would never have. So she knew that she would never return to him again.

She could never return to him again.

"Goodbye, Ichigo. Please don't follow me."

And his hands fell by his sides as he watched her leave, allowing her words to slowly sink in, and then finally understanding why she had forsaken him without a word seven years ago. And because he finally understood, it was the very reason why, he could no longer find the strength in his own legs, to stand up and pull her back into his arms.

The finality of her dolent goodbye. The irrevocability of his inevitable loss. The death of their forbidden love.

It was the punishment, for the sin, of loving someone too much.

And the sky began to weep.


- End -


Post-Notes:
Rukia failed to see the link between Yukiko and her. I hope all of you did (after I quite explicitly pointed it out from the beginning...) Ichigo never did move on after all.

If theyare OOC, I can't help it. It's been many years since the current manga arc. Things would change. But I hope no one will hate the OOCness.

I really hope all of you liked it. Thank you so much for taking time to read it. :)

- Gives out tissue to anyone who needs it -

- And some chocolate ice-cream as well -