Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, its characters, etc. etc.

How I Love, Jyuushirou

By: Tyson Granger

Part 3: How I Accept the Inevitable

"War is Hell."

It is a quote that I heard quite often with regards to battles that took place in the real world during my time with Ichigo and his friends, and as I remembered the nights I had done battle with hollows and especially Kaien's fateful night, I couldn't help but agree. War meant blood and pain, destruction and loss. Nothing good ever came about as a result of a war, or at least, the losses were always guaranteed to outnumber the gains. However I never quite understood the breadth of that statement until I invaded Hueco Mundo alongside Ichigo and did battle with the Arrancar that possessed the soul Kaien Shiba.

To fight head-to-head with that wretched being that wore his face, wielded his zanpaktou, and spoke as if I had failed him on the night of his death was perhaps the most difficult thing I would ever experience in my entire life. Harder than concealing the love I held for my captain by far…even harder than watching my former lieutenant die…being forced to drive my blade into the hollow shell that had owned his soul was enough to shatter my iron determination. When I left to follow the orange-haired substitute shinigami, there were no words or actions that could have shaken my resolve to see both he and Orihime back to their world alive. I would fight to my last breath to save them, and to finish the war with Aizen…I never questioned that until I stared down the Ninth Espada.

Then I truly understood that war was Hell. And throughout the war with Aizen there would be several more incidents that would test my will and the will of those who fought against him. In the history of Soul Society there had never been such a desperate battle, but with the combined might of Soul Society, Ichigo Kurosaki, and those who followed him, victory came at long last. And the end that both he and I had been both longing for and desperately wanting to avoid came and went. Of course we had both been aware that the end for the two of us would come eventually, but that didn't make our parting any easier.

It would be several decades before we met again, and on that day we parted we said our farewells with tears in our eyes. Well, perhaps I had been the only one crying, but that's just how Ichigo was. Nevertheless, we went our separate ways with our heads held high, knowing that what we had was something special and altogether different from the love many thought we shared. Ours was a bond of friendship and understanding, and the love shared between kindred spirits a world away. What it wasn't was a bond of lovers.

No matter how strong the deception, I couldn't hide from the truth my heart had hidden for the better part of a century. When I returned to Soul Society, it was all I could do to keep it hidden from him. The joy of seeing his face on a regular basis again…the pain we had shared upon his learning of my battle with the Ninth Espada…it felt as if they might burst out from my chest at any moment. That or I might lose my self-control and simply tackle him into the tightest embrace I could and never release him.

And for the life of me I couldn't understand why things changed so suddenly. Before it had been so easy to deny him (hadn't it?), or to deceive myself into believing my feelings for him weren't nearly as intense as I now knew them to be. But as I walked into his home in the 13th Division for the first time after the war had ended and our eyes met…I could see the joy written plainly on his pale face…as plainly as if they had been written in black ink on his forehead. And before I could say a word the sick man crushed me to his chest with more strength than a dying man should. We stood there for some time, he and I…and as the minutes passed while we stood entwined, I could feel for the first time the soft patter of his teardrops falling lightly on my covered shoulder.

He cried, and I knew he loved me. It was that simple…that easy. How then, could I continue to deny what I felt for my beloved captain? My mind was clear, the men I thought I loved were gone, and I knew he loved me. I smiled, I think, and then I did what I had waited my whole life to do. I drew back from his chest, twined my fingers around the back of his neck, and I kissed him. And when our lips met there was no awkward pause or acclimating ourselves to one another…no sense that what we were doing could be wrong on so many levels by the laws of our home. I kissed him as a lover would, strongly and deeply, as if we had been doing it for years.

And though we stumbled once as we made our way towards his futon with our lips sill pressed against together, it was a moment that was altogether perfect. It was a release decades in the making…brought about by an understanding that after all we had suffered through his illness, the death of our friend, and the war against Aizen, that there was not another moment to be wasted on hesitation and doubt. My lips belonged on his and this was right. That thought was the only one I needed to lie with him in this clandestine romance.

Time passed slowly as we kissed, close together on a mat made for one, and with each expansion and contraction of my wildly beating heart I could feel the burden that I carried leaving me through my every pore. Or maybe it was just the sweat, which glistened on my skin from our shared heat and the intense nature of our current engagement. I never asked him why he didn't stop me, and he never asked me why I kissed him. There were no reasonable answers to questions like those…only guesses, impossible to fathom, at what clouded thoughts drifted through my mind before I took a deep breath and plunged at last into the unknown.

In the morning there would be questions. Not because we slept together…because we did not…but because we knew that ours was a relationship that tested boundaries and transcended common law. I was young and he was dying. Our happy ending was still far off, no matter how far we had come since I first met my ailing "taichou". As the sun rose on the new day and we lay together on his small mat, talking…touching…kissing one another as I had always dreamed we would…I gripped his hand a little more tightly knowing that when my brother found out he would almost certainly tell me to let go.

Feeling my unease, my captain placed his arm lightly over my shoulder, muffling a cough into the light blue arm of his robe. Thankfully his spasms had waited until our passion had subsided before they kicked in, though I have little doubt it was our extensive "duel" that likely brought about this round of hacking. I felt instantly sorry, but he only smiled in me in that way only he could and assured me he had never felt better. If you didn't know him, you'd say he was crazy…he was pale, his eyes were surrounded by rings of black, and his coughs were getting disturbingly wet the more they came and went…but the glimmer in his dark brown eye was proof enough to support his wild claim. Seeing him like this made me feel silly for worrying about what the future might bring, and I laughed a little in spite of myself.

"Rukia, what's so funny?" the ill captain of the 13th asked, his pale lips quirking into a playful smile. His back was to the window and the golden glow of the rising sun framed his body in a way that made him shine. I never knew how beautiful a man could be until this moment. His smirk went a little crooked and his eyes danced with mirth. He really couldn't have been anymore ridiculous. "You were looking down all of a sudden, but then you perked up and had the most peculiar look on your face."

My cheeks lit up, a pink blush adding a hot tint to the skin on my face. However I wasn't the least bit uncomfortable under his scrutinizing gaze. I opened my mouth and closed it quickly…okay, maybe a little. Nevertheless, I recovered valiantly, not about to let this man have the final laugh. Flashing him a brilliant smile, I touched his cheek tenderly and planted a small kiss on his soft lips.

"This is just how I love, Jyuushirou," I whispered, easing him back onto the mat beneath him. Our eyes locked as I held my lips inches above his face, resisting the urge to kiss him silly, and his eyelids drifted half-closed, giving him a dreamy, peaceful expression. And somehow, I knew we'd always be together. It was that easy…that simple. "Better get used to it."