Disclaimer : Bleach and all song titles and lyrics belong to their respective owners
Warning : plottwists o.O (oh yes, this is the chapter where the mindfucking hits you full force)
Note : Three months. Over three months - I KNOW. And I'm sorry. I've told a few people who've asked what's happening with the fics (update-wise), and here's the general gist: no, I have not given up on Candy Cane, Chi Chikai, or Snow Berry (Drama Life, for anybody who liked that one, is at an effective dead end). Yes, I will update eventually. When? No idea. I know you're probably pissed when I pop out crack oneshots after I tell you all that I have no time to write, but the real problem is that I don't have the time and energy at this point to sit down and really focus and give the longer fics the attention they deserve. If you want to know the full extent of my workload, click on my homepage link. The top post explains it all in full detail so you can understand what I'm mucking through here.
Honestly, I don't mean to neglect these and I really want to finish them, but priorities are priorities.
Dedication : Every single person who's been putting up with me xD;; I love you all.

Candy Cane : 14 : Ask for Answers


Give up...this fight... There are no second chances.
This time...I might... To ask the sea for answers.
These bonds are shackle free...wrapped in lust and lunacy.
Tiny touch of jealousy... These bonds are shackle free.
Get through...this night... There are no second chances.
This time...I might... To ask the sea for answers.
These bonds are shackle free... These bonds are shackle free...

When they got back into Ichigo's room via open window, Ichigo immediately released himself from Renji and flopped on top of his covers, laying on his side, facing the wall, his knees drawn up just slightly. After a moment, Renji sat down on the edge of the bed and settled a gentle hand on the boy's arm. Ichigo didn't push him away, but he didn't welcome it, either. He wasn't at all mad at Renji, but that didn't stop him from being torn between wanting to wrap himself up in the other man's arms, and wanting to ask him for some time alone.

Actually, being mad at Renji would have made the choice much easier.

The redhead decided for him and laid down with him, settling his body flush against the other's, his arms wrapped loosely around him. "How're you feeling?" he asked softly.

"Dizzy. Tired. Sick," Ichigo said in monotone.

"'M sorry 'bout bringing her up…" he added, quieter.

"Had to think about it sooner or later…"

Renji sighed and nuzzled into the orange hair. "But still…"

"It doesn't matter now, Renji. I killed the fucker – I avenged her death…" His voice faltered as the unclear nightmare attempted to resurface again. "There's nothing else anybody can do…" he added, his voice just a bit weaker than before.

Renji frowned, picking up on the change. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," he said reflexively. He sighed. "There's just something weird bothering me and I've got no idea what the fuck it's about. It's probably just from stress or something – nothing really to worry about."

"Just as long as it stops…"

Ichigo turned over and buried his face against Renji's shoulder. "I'll be fine, Renji. As long as you're here, everything will be fine," he repeated softly.

"Will you be okay when I have to go back to Soul Society?" Renji asked, half-joking.

Ichigo chuckled. "I didn't mean here here. I just meant…"

"I know what you meant, Ichigo," he said calmly before kissing the top of Ichigo's head. "Go to sleep. I won't leave without you knowing."


After a four-hour nap, a fight with Isshin, dinner brought up by Karin, and a less-than-happy "see you later," Ichigo found himself still not quite alone – Shirosaki was pacing inside of Ichigo's head, making sure the boy could feel his presence.

"Why're you so annoying?" Ichigo sighed as he stared up at the ceiling from his lazy position on his bed.

"Same to you, king," the Hollow retorted, clearly just trying to start something.

Ichigo frowned and slipped into the inner world where he found the Hollow standing nearby, arms crossed over his chest, looking miffed. "What is your problem now?"

Without answering, Shirosaki stepped towards him and placed his hand on Ichigo's chest. Ichigo's breathing hitched as the uneasy feeling coursed through him, this time accompanied by the images of his short and forgotten nightmare. "The air gets weird here when you're lost and confused," Shirosaki explained before Ichigo could question him. "I'd take the rain over that – at least the feeling's solid."

After a few breaths to calm himself, Ichigo found his voice. "What…does it mean?"

"The dream? Nothing – it's just a nightmare. Your mind's still fucked up, remember?"

He sighed, accepting the answer. "You can stop touching me now," he said, pushing Shirosaki's hand away from his chest. Before he realized it, he was flat on his back with his Hollow pinning him down.

"And if I don't want to?" he replied, enunciating his words clearly. He hid his amusement as he felt the attitude shift the way he'd expected it to – he was an expert on gauging Ichigo's exact emotion based on the weather of the inner world.

What he didn't expect, though, was Ichigo forcefully flipping him, completely reversing their positions. "You don't have a choice in the matter," Ichigo snapped, glaring.

Shirosaki smirked. "Aa? So you're in control now? That's fine – I don't mind bein' on the bottom," he said smoothly.

"Don't get ideas."

"Heh – you even said it yourself, Ichii—" his smirk grew as he felt Ichigo's fingernails dig into his skin for that, "I am you, which makes this nothing more than a little self-indulgence. Admit it, king – you want this. And I'm willing to give it to you any way you want it," he cooed.

"I don't want you," Ichigo said firmly. "And what the fuck is your problem – one day you're helping me up, the next, you're shoving me down. What's the fucking deal?"

Shiro eyed him for a moment before answering. "I exist as your opposite, Ichigo. When you fall too far down, I have to bring you up. When you get too high and mighty, I have to pull you down. During the war, you found the balance between us needed in order to fight effectively with my power. Now, though, you're all over the fucking map. I bet you can't even hold the mask for more than five seconds anymore."

"I don't need the fucking mask! I don't need your power, and I don't need that sort of balance. I understand that I can't throw you away or lock you back up, but isn't there some other balance we can just agree on? I like being happy. Ground me again when I get too full of myself, yeah, but leave me alone when I'm just…content. You ruin a lot of things."

"That's what I've been doing, Ichigo, but this isn't a simple up and down – your emotions go forwards and backwards and sideways, too. I keep having to shove you away from the edge and even though it seems like I'm just shitting on your parade, I'm not. You haven't completely gone off the deep end, so I've been doing my duty. And if you'll notice, I haven't bugged you since that morning – and that was you bugging me. You were fine that whole time. But now that Renji's gone and you were running in circles trying to figure out that stupid nightmare, I had to do something so this place is somewhat pleasant."

"Then why this? Why put me in this position?"

"Technically, you put yourself in this position…"

"You know what I fucking mean, bastard," Ichigo growled.

"I had to make sure. You're happy when he's around, but you were happy when Rukia was around, too – happy doesn't tell me anything. Your reactions to me trying to get you to cheat, however, speak volumes. You got pissed at me for thinking that you would really consider that meaningless. You got pissed because you're loyal. If you had gotten sad, it would've been because you would've known you were cheating on him and yet wanting it anyway. You really don't want it from anybody else other than him – that's all I had to make sure of."

"Why?"

"Oh fuck, Ichigo, are you dense? If your relationship was unstable, you would've been unstable. I would've gotten you out of it before it drove you off the deep end."

Ichigo snorted softly. "Can I go now?"

"Yeah – git outta here before you annoy me enough to earn an ass-kicking."

Ichigo disappeared without hesitation. He came back to his senses still staring up at the ceiling. He glanced over at his clock – 8:53 – sighed, and rolled over, touching his knees and forehead against the wall. Sleeping wasn't going to come easy.


Renji had spent the last five or six hours simply waiting for the most part. He filled out the paperwork (the only paperwork he'd ever actually wanted to do) and then was forced to sit on his hands the rest of the time while Yama-jii considered it and got everything set up. When Nanao came out with the communicator in one hand and the manila folder in the other, Renji had to force himself from jumping on her out of sheer joy.

"Honestly, Abarai, did you really have to do this this late at night?" she sighed.

"I made a promise," Renji replied quickly, waving his hand dismissively.

Nanao shook her head, knowing better than to question it. "Alright, well, just call the communicator when you're ready – somebody will be standing by to open up a gate for him."

Renji took the communicator from her hand. "Do I get twenty-four hours?"

"Only twenty since you bothered him with this so late."

Renji chuckled as he got to his feet. "Typical…"

"How long do you honestly think it'll take?"

"If I'm lucky, only a few hours at the most."

She nodded. "You're free to—" Renji dashed out past her, "—go?" She sighed. "Men…"

Renji ran like the hounds of hell were at his heels. He used the main gate to get through back to Karakura and immediately set off for Ichigo's house again.

Halfway there, he stopped dead in his tracks at the edge of a building, sensing a familiar reiatsu. Initiative told him to confront it. Recent experience told him to be cautious. He went with the latter, hoping it was just some figment of his imagination. He moved again, silently, pulling in his reiatsu as best as he could while still trying to lock onto the reiatsu that should've belonged to his dead friend.

"Renji!" the voice called, unmistakably hers.

Reluctantly, Renji dropped to the ground. "Is it…really you?" he asked, disbelief clear in his voice.

"Of course it's me, silly! Who else could it be?" she said happily, throwing her small body around him in a bear hug, laughing.

Instinctively, Renji hugged her back, keeping her from pulling him down with her weight. "R-Rukia…? Holy fuck – how the fuck are you alive?!"

"Aizen didn't kill me – he just made it look like he did so he could fight Ichigo at his full power," Rukia explained.

"But…that doesn't make sense – the illusion would've broken as soon as Ichigo killed him…"

"This is Aizen we're talking about, Renji. He was strong enough for his power to last even after his death, but only for a time. When the illusion broke, a few of the rogue Arankar picked me up and healed me. And now I'm finally back!"

Renji, as uneasy as he was about her story, smiled and gave her a real hug. "Oh my God, Rukia…" he breathed, fighting back tears.


Ichigo followed the reiatsu, uneasy and confused. He recognized the reiatsu, but the Hollow medallion hadn't gone off, meaning that… He growled and sighed at himself. He couldn't stand it. And besides, he needed to do something. Sleep wasn't being a friend tonight.

What he saw stopped him dead in his tracks. Rukia was laughing and hugging Renji, who was doing the same thing back. "Rukia?!"

Renji reacted first, setting Rukia down in order to embrace his lover. "She didn't die, Ichigo – she's alright and she's back with us!"

"Is it…really Rukia?" Ichigo asked, disbelieving, as Renji let him go.

"Of course it's me, boke!" Rukia snapped, smacking him upside the head.

"Ow! Ya little shit!" Ichigo swung at her half-heartedly.

Renji laughed and ruffled Rukia's hair. "Oh my God, Rukia…I still can't believe this."

"It's real, I swear to you. I'm alive and well!" She threw her arms around Renji's neck again. "You remember what you said that day, Renji?"

"Huh?"

"You told me not to leave you. And I won't, Renji. I won't ever leave you again," she said, nuzzling into his neck.

"R-Rukia…" Renji glanced at Ichigo, who looked like he was having an internal battle with himself – or his other self.

"Yeah—okay," Ichigo said tersely, "I'll just leave you two alone." He turned on his heel and started walking away.

"Ichigo – wait!" Renji tried to pry Rukia from his neck, but the girl wasn't having any of it.

"He's trying to give us time to catch up, Renji! Let him go."

Ichigo had stopped and was watching the two, still wondering what the fuck was up with this situation. At Renji's panicked hesitation, Ichigo felt something inside of himself snap. "What the fuck is wrong with you?!" he yelled at him.

Renji went cold, seeing the look in Ichigo's eyes. One more step and the boy wouldn't be above physically attacking him outright. The only problem was that he couldn't find the words to say to bring Ichigo away from the edge. FuckfuckFUCK.

"Come on, Ichigo," Rukia said. "You had to have known what was between me and Renji. We've been friends for more than twice as long as you've even been alive!"

"FUCK YOU!" Ichigo finally lashed out and launched a Getsuga almost upon pure reflex.

Before Renji could react properly, the black crescent was deflected by Rukia's pure white zanpakutou. The girl stood in between both boys, facing Ichigo in a ready position. The redhead wasn't seeing her, though – he was seeing Ichigo with his blade pointed straight at both of them.

"Really, Ichigo. Attacking your own friends? Get a hold of yourself!" Rukia said, though she still wasn't backing down.

Ichigo snorted. "Neither of you are my friends. Rukia is dead. I don't know who the fuck you are. And unless Renji somehow redeems his ass in the next nanosecond, he's going to be my ex."

Rukia dropped her guard with a confused expression. "Ex? As in…ex-boyfriend?"

The boy bit the inside of his lip to keep himself from making a smart-ass remark. One glance to the redhead told him all he needed to know – Renji was on guard at least, with a hand on the hilt of his zanpakutou. It was good enough.

"Then I suppose you won't mind this…" Rukia continued. Suddenly, she was on the far side of Renji, crouched down with the white ribbon encircling her.

Recognizing the position, Renji jumped up and away, landing a few feet above the ground in front of her. "What the hell're you doing?!"

She looked up at him with a smirk. "How naïve…"

Renji's breath hitched as he realized he was frozen in place. In a split second, the feeling was compounded with ice, barely giving Renji enough time to force it off before it tightened too far, causing the shattering shards to cut through his skin. The sound of the ice breaking was echoed across from him as Ichigo, who'd found himself in the same state, forced the ice from himself as well. They both went to high ground, Rukia following.

In the pause, Ichigo retaliated, pulling his mask down and firing off another Getsuga.

Rukia whipped around and blocked the attack before retaliating with her own, though hers was kido. "Bakudo 61, Rikujou Kourou!"

"BANKAI!" Renji yelled a moment before lashing out with Zabimaru.

Rukia dodged the attack and called out another kidou attack, only hadou this time, causing an explosion that Renji was just barely able to escape but not without injury.

Ichigo finally broke the bakudo around him. "BANKAI!"

"Let me at it, Ichigo!"

The boy growled at the voice from inside his head but pulled the mask down anyway, letting his eyes turn black and gold before pushing it aside. "Clear out, Renji!"

The redhead didn't need to be told twice. He disengaged his bankai and got himself out of Ichigo's trajectory range just before Ichigo let his full power loose. The black crescent took up the whole sky.

Ichigo disengaged the mask, panting from the exertion. "Fuck…"

Renji landed behind him. "Geeze, think you got her?"

"It. Not her. It," Ichigo replied resolutely. He growled a bit. "Espada…"

When the black energy finally dissipated. Rukia was still standing, looking haggard and bleeding. "Heh. So you finally figured it out, Ichigo?"

"Only you fucking Espada can withstand that!"

"It's not one of the original ten, though – Rukia took care of the only shape shifter," Renji said.

"And you don't think Aizen-sama would replace a shape shifter with another shape shifter? If Aaroniro hadn't been so cocky, Rukia would have died right there! You fucking shinigami are so damn sentimental – stupid!"

"Then why haven't we seen you until now? Why didn't Aizen use you in the war?"

Rukia smirked and flicked her wrist. A black rip opened up behind her. "Don't you get it? I wasn't created until after the war." And with those words, she disappeared into the pitch-black mouth.

Ichigo was frozen, wide-eyed, and trembling.

"Ichigo… Your bankai," Renji said gently, knowing Ichigo was probably still pissed, and now obviously disturbed and shaken.

The shinigami substitute took a deep breath and closed his eyes, calming himself down as he let go of his bankai. After a pause, he reattached Zangetsu to his back and turned on his heel, heading back to his house.

"Ichii—"

"Talk later, Renji," Ichigo snapped, his voice tired.

Renji gave up and followed the boy, keeping a few feet behind. Ichigo's reiatsu was a mix of hurt, pain, anger, fear, and confusion – just being near him made Renji feel even more helpless than before.


- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Song Title & Lyrics: Placebo "Ask for Answers"
Word Count: 2840
Total: 30857