Alternate Ending:

Return (to Everyday Insanity)

-Fool.- Sode no Shirayuki's voice cut through the darkness like steel.

Rukia blinked and sat up. "I'm... alive?" she asked incredulously, patting herself in search of her wounds.

Standing next to her, Sode no Shirayuki snorted. -Of course not,- she snapped. -Did I not tell you that the wound was fatal?-

Rukia adjusted her position to sit cross-legged, hands folded in her lap, and looked up at her sword's manifestation. "So that was you."

-Of course it was.- Sode no Shirayuki's tone was now condescending. -I am the one who would know that. What I do not understand is why you behaved in such a manner. You let him kill you.- Before Rukia could protest, Sode no Shirayuki went on. -You put no effort into either your kidou or my attack. You had no killing intent. You purposely used attacks designed for containment. In addition, you know full well that you could have escaped at any time if you did not wish to fight. No, I do not want to hear your excuses,- she added when Rukia opened her mouth. -Did you think that this was some sort of retribution for what happened to Shiba Kaien?- Furious now, she whipped around and knocked Rukia back to the ground.

Leaning over the startled Shinigami, she hissed, -Do you not realize that your death is a worse blow to that boy than his own?-

- - - - - -

Orihime awoke, terrified, from a nightmare and sat straight up in bed. For a moment, she wasn't sure what had woken her. Then she registered the resounding banging. Someone... was at the door? This late?

Normally, Orihime would not have answered the door at such an hour, but her nightmare had unsettled her, and whoever it was sounded frantic from the way they were slamming the door. So she stood and, pulling her nightgown into place around her, opened the door. When she saw who it was, she blinked.


Though confused by his presence, she was glad to see him. Not just because she was always glad to see him, but also because she was relieved to see that he was all right. In her nightmare, he had been overcome by that monster with a Hollow's mask and had killed-


Orihime's eyes widened and her hands flew to her mouth as she saw what Ichigo was clutching to his chest.

It was Rukia. Her head was tipped back over Ichigo's arm, eyes blank and staring. Dark blood dripped in a steady stream from wounds Orihime couldn't see. For some reason, the girl's skin was frosted over. In fact, she was covered in ice, only unfrozen where the blood was melting it away. But what frightened Orihime the most was how motionless her friend was. It was difficult to associate this limp body with the fiery Rukia, but it was very clearly her.

And she was very clearly dead.

White with horror, Orihime ripped her eyes away from the body to fasten on Ichigo's face. His expression was set in stone, but his eyes were tormented, and Orihime knew: he had done it.

- - - - - -

Ichigo hated himself.

It replayed, over and over again, in his head.

Her hand was cold on his face, again and again. Her eyes stared sightlessly up at him, apologetic, and terror coursed through him at that remorse.

"Sorry, Ichigo." And then she was gone.

Why had she apologized? Why?

She'd been on the ground, dying by his hand, and she'd apologized, of all things!

After minutes wasted screaming desperately at her- to move, to speak, to do something- he'd realized that his breath was fogging in front of his face. It was a warm night, but within a foot of Rukia's body the air was freezing. A thin film of ice was forming over her skin. Her body seemed to be generating the cold itself. What was going on? Did it mean- did it mean that there was hope?

Because of her vibrant personality, Rukia had never seemed as small as she was. But she was like a rag doll in his arms as he ran, tiny and motionless, limbs flopping limply, eyes glassy. He had to do something. He had to do something.

Anything to save her. Anything to save her.

She had to live. She had to wake up.

- - - - - -

The look on Ichigo's face was he leaned as close as possible to Rukia while Orihime worked frightened her. There was little expression, but she could tell from the way the corners of his mouth tucked in, the way he hardly seemed to breathe, that he was terrified, and that he was killing himself on the inside.

What had really happened? What had he really done?

He only moved when Rukia's heart began beating again, a flutter of butterfly wings under Orihime's fingers, and a first gasping breath fought its way through her body. Only then did Ichigo's expression twitch, relax slightly. After that, he seemed to breathe more.

Orihime was grateful to Rukia's Zanpakutou- she wasn't sure what its name was- for keeping its weilder from fully dying. Though she hadn't recognized it earlier, now that she thought about it, Orihime remembered what she had heard about the technique in Soul Society. It was an ice Zanpakutou's last attempt to save its partner's life. By freezing the Shinigami's soul- their body- it stalled brain death and soul deterioration, so that there was time for a healer to arrive. Of course, it took an incredibly powerful healing technique to revive a dead soul, but there was no way after brain death or deterioration. That death was the limit.

Orihime used all of her remaining energy to heal Rukia's various wounds enough that they wouldn't become fatal- again- and told Ichigo where to find fresh bandages before she passed out.

- - - - - -

Consciousness returned to Rukia gradually, measured by an increasing amount of pain. When she felt that she was going to scream from it, she decided that she was alive. Then she wondered why. Despite what Sode no Shirayuki had insisted before the darkness had pulled Rukia back under, she didn't deserve to live. She didn't even know if Ichigo had been destroyed by the Hollow. Though Rukia was not one to cry, the thought, on top of everything else, made tears spring up behind her still-closed eyes. Eventually they overflowed and streaked sideways across her cheeks. She bit her lip to try to calm herself down. Too much emotion was weakness, she reminded herself sternly. Emotion was a weakness.

It didn't work.

Well, Orihime was probably the one who'd saved her, and she didn't want to upset-


Rukia choked on her thoughts. Was that-? Her eyes flew opena and she jerked herself upright, colliding heads with Ichigo, who had been leaning over her worriedly, and reopening at least one of her wounds in the process. Neither of these did anything for the pain, and she began coughing as red flared on white bandage.

"Shit..." Ichigo muttered, hunching over and holding his nose. When he heard Rukia coughing, he straightened up immediately, looking anxious. "Rukia, you moron! What are you doing?! Lie back down!" Despite his sharp tone, his hands were gentle when he pushed her back down.

The coughing subsided after a moment, and Rukia glared up at him, so relieved that she was angry.

"Geez. Are you okay, Rukia?"

For some reason, that set her off.

"Fool!" she snapped, but quietly, because talking too loudly would hurt. "Of course I'm fine! You are the concern!"

"Me?"Now he was angry, too. Just because. "I'm not the one who died, moron!"

"I've told you a thousand times! Wounds are one's own-"

"Shut up already!"


They scowled fiercely at each other for a moment, and then Rukia gave up because scowling made her head hurt.

- - - - - -

Because Orihime, who had recovered by the time Rukia woke up, did not see this very normal argument, she was worried about Ichigo for some time afterward. This was probably because he was still sulking by the time Orihime came in from buying more bandages, and only told her that Rukia was awake before going to sit in the kitchen, where he began banging his head on the table. Orihime wasn't sure why.

However, her worries were alleviated when, twenty minutes later, Renji (of all people) barged in, in the middle of two conflicting fits: one of rage, and one of panic. Apparently, Rukia's now annoyingly ever-present Hell Butterfly had recorded the entire event, all unnoticed, and then skipped off to Soul Society to show everyone.

Predictably, Renji's entrance turned into a screaming match with Ichigo, and Rukia eventually shouted at them from the other room to shut up before subsiding into another coughing fit, during which both males panicked. They continued to do so even after the coughing stopped, so, deciding to pit them against each other (which was easy) so they'd leave her alone, screamed (carefully), "Okay, how about this? YOU tried to execute me, and YOU just tried to kill me with your own hands! Go fight about it! SOMEWHERE ELSE!" before flopping back over and pulling the covers over her head.


Everything was going back to normal.

...Or as normal as it ever got around there.

((-cacklesnort- Yes, I just "cacklesnorted". Deal with it. Anyway, I couldn't resist the normalcy in there... Eeek. I can't be serious for more than ten minutes at a time.))