All In Your Head ― Epilogue

--:--Two Months Later--:--

"All right, that's enough for the day, pack it in."

"Yes Vice-Captain Kuchiki." A chorus of voices answered Rukia's order. She smiled. She loved the new recruits. They were so...obedient. Then they got a few months of familiarity in with the division and it all ended. Rukia decided to cherish it while it lasted.

"Let's head back." She pulled her pack on over her shoulders and led the way back to the thirteenth division, her subordinates chatting behind her.

"Hey Vice-Captain." One of the girls in the back spoke up. Rukia rolled her.

"Didn't I say you don't have to call me that?"

The girl blushed as if she had just been chastised. "R-Rukia-dono, then." She stuttered out. "I was just wondering if it's true what everyone says about you knowing that Shinigami representative personally ― you know, Kurosaki?"

"Of course she does stupid." Another person said. "D-Don't you, Rukia-dono?"

Rukia sighed. She loved new recruits. But at the same time they were really annoying.

--

"Gotcha!" Matsumoto Rangiku jumped Rukia the second she left the thirteenth division for the day. "Come on Rukia-san, you're going drinking with us."

"Who decided that?" Rukia asked, pretending to be annoyed as Matsumoto dragged her down the street, Hinamori Momo following behind, laughing.

"We did!" Matsumoto cooed. Hinamori shot her a look. "Well, I did. That is, of course, unless you have plans..."

Rukia rolled her eyes, knowing what Matsumoto was implying. "I'll have plans the same night Momo-san makes some."

Hinamori blushed and stuck her tongue out at Rukia. "Who would I make plans exactly, Rukia-san?"

"Captain Hitsugaya." Matsumoto spoke at the same time as Rukia. Hinamori turned, if it was possible, an even darker shade of red.

"Hang on a sec, how did this turn on me?!"

Matsumoto and Rukia laughed as Momo puzzled over how badly this had turned on her. She'd been hoping to make fun of Rukia all night.

Rukia took the lead and turned to walk backwards so she could still talk to Hinamori and Matsumoto. They chatted aimlessly for awhile.

"Well, well, speak of the devil," Matsumoto said suddenly, "and the devil shall appear."

Rukia looked over her shoulder. Standing just a few feet away were Ichigo, Renji, and Hitsugaya, all three of whom seemed to be arguing.

"I don't care if you're getting bored on Abarai's division. You're not hanging out on mine!" Hitsugaya said as they approached. Rukia turned her head back and kept walking. Maybe Matsumoto would be merciful...

"Maybe he could go to the thirteenth division." Matsumoto said as they passed the small group. "I'm sure Rukia-san would love that―"

Rukia jarred to a halt, fuming. She stooped down and grabbed a small pebble, chucking it as hard as she could at Matsumoto's head. There was a dull thunk as the little rock made contact. Matsumoto blinked in surprise.

"Aw Rukia-san, you're mean." She whined, sounding hurt.

"You obviously have no idea how mean she can really get." Ichigo said conversationally. Rukia responded to this by whirling around and punching the orange-haired man in the head. "You suck, Rukia."

"Thank you Ichigo."

A normal person might never know that only a couple months earlier, these same two people hadn't even been able to look each other in the eye. But then, a normal person also wouldn't know that the six people currently present were involved in a war.

"So how come you don't want to stay with Renji-kun anymore, Kurosaki-kun?" Hinamori asked curiously as the three guys fell into step with the three girls. Ichigo rolled his eyes.

"The real question is why would I? His division is boring."

Ichigo had spent the last two months drifting between divisions. There was currently no rank open in Soul Society that was high enough of him (which was, of course, captain. Vice-Captain at the very least). He'd spent the last two weeks in Renji's division. Apparently, though, he had finally gotten bored.

"I'd love to have you in our division." Matsumoto said honestly. "It would spice things up a little."

"Forget it." Hitsugaya said, crossing his arms and frowning. "I have enough to worry about without adding what Kurosaki might do to the place. If Ukitake wants him, he can have him."

"I wouldn't do anything bad." Ichigo said, pouting a little.

"Don't I get a choice in this?" Rukia added, frowning. She didn't really want Ichigo in her division, either, though for completely different reasons.

"You're just the vice-captain. In the long run it is Ukitake's decision―"

"Why don't you want Kurosaki-kun hanging around anyway, Rukia-san?" Matsumoto asked, elbowing Rukia in the side. The raven-haired Shinigami scowled.

"Don't make it sound so mean Matsumoto-san―"

"Oh forget it." Ichigo sighed, disgusted. "I'll stay at Renji's division...for now."

Rukia bit her lip, feeling a little bad now. "I guess...Captain Ukitake wouldn't mind―"

"You're putty, Rukia-san." Matsumoto said, patting Rukia's head consolingly. Rukia scowled and knocked the older woman's hand away.

"I think I'll take a rain check." Ichigo looked over his shoulder at Rukia. She was turning down the street that led to her small house. "See you later."

She had barely disappeared around the corner before Ichigo snapped. "See ya."

And he took off after her. Matsumoto shook her head as she watched Ichigo's retreating back.

"They're so in love."

"No kidding." Hitsugaya, Renji, and Hinamori all said at the same time.

"Mind if I walk with you?" Rukia looked around; Ichigo was walking next to her.

"Even if I said no, you'd come anyway. Why waste my breath?"

"You catch on fast." Ichigo smirked. Rukia didn't say anything, but turned her gaze forward again. The orange-haired man sighed. "Look, Rukia, I've been thinking―"

"Great, you discovered you do, in fact, have a mind."

"I always had one. It's just been...lost."

He meant it as a joke. He should have known better.

"Lost. Right. Wonder who's fault that is."

And she sped up, obviously hoping to lose him now. Ichigo sighed. Stupid, stupid Ichigo.

"Wait." He jogged to catch up with her, grabbing her by the shoulder and stopping her from walking away. "I didn't mean it like...that. Stop being so serious all the time, Rukia, I was only kidding."

"Glad it's such a joke."

"Rukia―"

"Just get on with it. What were you thinking about?"

Ichigo blinked. Oh. Right. That was how this had started. "Well, I was thinking...we never really did get a chance to talk, did we?"

"Sure we did."

Ichigo knew she was thinking about the first time they'd talked, right after he had been released from the hospital. "I don't consider that a real conversation."

Rukia sighed. He wasn't going to give up. "Fine." She said, turning and starting up the walkway to her house. "You're not going to give this up, apparently, so…"

She let him in silently.

"So…" She said after a minute. "Talk."

Ichigo groaned. "You're putting this off on me?"

"You're the one who wanted a conversation." Damn. She had him there. Ichigo sighed.

"I just…" He shook his head. In what way could he say this that wouldn't make him sound like a complete and hopeless loser? "It's not your fault."

The words came out rushed, forced. He was trying to make it as painless as possible. But Rukia still made sense of it. "It's―"

"Not your fault." He repeated in a slower voice. "What happened after the war, these last fifteen years…none of it is your fault."

"What are you―"

"Hinamori told me." Ichigo cut Rukia off. "She told me that you've been beating yourself up for the last fifteen years, you've been blaming yourself ― don't get mad at her, Renji told me the same thing. The point is, Rukia, it's not your fault, any of it. It's mine."

Rukia didn't mean for her laugh to sound hysterical. But it must have, because Ichigo was instantly alarmed by it. "Your fault?" She said, her voice just on the edge of hysteria. "You expect me to believe that? Last time I checked, you weren't hauled out of Urahara's shouting, 'my fault, all my fault!'!" Ichigo winced. "So nice try Ichigo, but no go for you this time around. Skip on back to whoever told you to talk to me, and tell them not to bother anymore."

"No one told me to come here, Rukia." Ichigo said quietly. She wasn't listening anymore though.

"I tried telling myself that, you know." She went on. "In the first few months, I tried blaming it on you. If you hadn't been so stubborn, hadn't insisted on fighting, if you had just died the night I met you like you were meant to…" Her voice drifted for a moment, but then she was back full force. "I tried blaming it on others too. Aizen, the Arrancar, Soul Society, all of 'em, I tried blaming everyone. In the first year I think I blamed everyone from your next-door neighbor to Inoue―" Ichigo couldn't make any sense of that one, "but in the end, it wasn't any of them you were screaming about. It was me."

Now Ichigo was worried. He wondered how long Rukia had kept all this inside. "For the first five years I actually went and saw you. Not during the day, of course, not when anyone would have seen me, not when you might be awake. No, at night, late at night. I'd be in the real world for one reason or another, I'd make sure to finish up real early and slip in to see you. But even in your sleep you muttered. 'Her fault, her fault,' you always said. I'd stand there at night and listen to you mutter, I'd take my beating ― because I knew I deserved it.

"When Orihime-san started working there, I stopped going every time I was in the real world. I never knew when she was working, and I didn't want to risk running into her ― I knew you were on her route, I didn't need her walking in while I was just standing there, listening to you mutter in your sleep. There were certain days though where I'd be passing, and I'd see her leave for the night, that I'd go up and see you. Even then, you still muttered. I don't think you ever stopped muttering, to be honest.

It wasn't just you either. Everyone blamed me. Ishida especially, I think, but then again he blames all the problems of the world on Shinigami―" Ichigo opened his mouth to protest this, but then realized that interrupting Rukia at this point could be dangerous. "Karin-chan, I always knew she would, and I think Chad did too, a little, though he never actually came out and said it ― he never said much. They all blamed me, it wasn't just you. So who else's fault could it be?"

She stopped talking for a split second to take a breath. Ichigo was too shocked to try and intervene now.

"Of course, there were people here that tried to make it better. 'It was inevitable,' they'd say, 'he was trusted with the world, anyone would snap under that kind of pressure.'.

"But who put that burden on your shoulder? Who gave you her Shinigami powers and forced you to temporarily take her place, who was it you came to this God forsaken place to rescue, who was it you got stronger for, achieved Bankai for, tried to kill every Shinigami for? The answer's all the same ― me. I'm the reason you're everything you were ― everything you are­―"

Her voice cracked. Ichigo couldn't take it anymore. He did the first thing that seemed sensible ― he stepped forward and reached out, taking Rukia into his arms and pulling her close to his body. The action shocked away any other words she might have had. "Ichi…go…?"

"I'm going to say this again, you idiot." He muttered, holding her tighter. "It's not your fault. Every reason you just listed was fabricated in your mind, twisted to make you look bad. I accepted your powers, your responsibility because I wanted to. I came here to rescue you, I trained and got stronger, and I fought the Shinigami here because I wanted to. You didn't make me take your powers, you didn't make me take up your job, and you certainly didn't make me come here and rescue you ― in fact, unless my memory went with my mind, if I remember correctly you tried to make me go home." Rukia was shaking under his grip now. "I can't account for the last fifteen years. And I'm sorry if I hurt you, but please, just believe me ― it wasn't you. It was never you."

They stood for a moment in silence, Ichigo still holding Rukia. Then a pair of small, shaking hands reached themselves up and gripped Ichigo's robe. Surprised, the orange-haired man looked down. Rukia had buried her face in his chest, and he knew, without having to see her face, that she was crying.

"Never blame yourself." He muttered, holding her tighter yet.

"Can't help it." She muttered, her voice thick but controlled. "It's what I do. Ask Renji, he'll tell you."

"Oh trust me, I know." Ichigo smiled a little despite himself. "But It's a habit of yours I'm going to break, Rukia, I swear. Because no matter how many times you blame yourself…I'll never blame you."


Author's Note: The End! Or is it…

Title: Inner Conflict

Rating: T

Pairing(s): IchiRuki, HitsuHina

Summary: ―All In Your Head Sequel― With a new war comes new problems. Two very different people struggle against the feelings that threaten to overwhelm them, while the ones they love try desperately to save them ―IchiRuki, HitsuHina―

The sequel will be up sometime after June 17, which is when school ends for me. So be on the look out for it, kay?

ForeverSam's Sappy Moment: Thank you to everybody who's stuck through me with this story and all it's ups and downs. You've all been great! This list includes (but is certainly not limited to):

―Zapenbits

―XxDoctorxX (who isn't with me as of late, but who will always be a treasured friend no matter what she says)

―XxtomoyoXchan93xX

―SuperRukia

―Conterra-san

And so, so many more. These five are just the ones who motivate me the most, because no matter how bad the chapter got, they were always there saying it was fine, don't worry, update soon. And I'm grateful for that ― and for all of you who take the time to review. Thank you all so much.

And so, for the last time in this story, this is Sam, signing off. Review please! ―Sam