Dedicated to the ever lovely and beautiful and all around awesome nostalgic-maiden, who is an amazing editor and an even better friend. I love how I can talk to you so easily and for so long that I wonder why our teachers never separated us in the past and present or whatever, and how we always seem to be have the same thoughts over same topics. I find it amazing how you never get bored of my one track mind, and how I never hesitate in asking for your help or opinion, because I know you'll be honest, and do your best to help. I wish we could talk even more than we do, because sometimes it seems like school work is taking over our fangirling-time.
That being said, I apologize for any spelling mistakes or what not. I wanted this to be a surprise for nostalgic-maiden, so I couldn't just get her to look it over!
Kudos if you catch the not-so-subtle attack towards Tristan and Iseult. The version I read, anyway.
Enjoy reading, and please review!
Out of Reach
Rukia didn't think that she always loved him.
Because if nothing else, then Kuchiki Rukia was a level headed thinker. Sure, she may lose her temper from time to time, and occasionally act like the age she looked, but that didn't make her rationality any duller.
So no. Ichigo didn't make her fall in love with him the first moment they met.
How could he? He was too hotheaded and stubborn - too much like her - and just so full of, "I know what I'm doing, so just shut the hell up, shorty." He was young, he was rude and brash and nothing at all like the type of person she'd ever consider even liking.
But then again, he was strong - in both mind and body. He had morals that he'd never turn his back on. He loved his family and would die to protect his little sisters. He helped small children move on to the next world when they were lost in between the two.
He was the definition of a 'good guy' at heart.
He may not have been on the outside at the very beginning, but he was born with the kind of spirit that was full of so much empathy, that he'd share everyone's pain but never look down upon it.
He became her friend.
From a certain point onwards - certainly after the whole escapade in Soul Society and maybe even before - Rukia admired him. She respected him. She helped him train, she snapped him back to his senses, she hit him, she smiled at him, she saw him for who he was - Kurosaki Ichigo.
She became his friend.
But then something changed.
And she saw him as something more.
"Words cannot begin to describe how horrible these pictures are," said Ichigo, leaning down and plucking the drawing out from under her fingers. He tilted his head to the side. "What's this supposed to be? A dog?"
"A teddy bear, you moron," retorted Rukia, before shoving him out of the way and grabbing the picture. She stuck her tongue out. "And it's hell of a lot better than whatever you could come up with."
Ichigo rolled his eyes before scoffing. "Please. I could draw a better teddy bear in my sleep."
"No, you'd be too busy snoring and keeping me up," smirked Rukia. "Your hands might shake from the awful sounds vibrating through your body."
Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Ichigo headed towards the door. "Don't be getting your life mixed up with mine, Rukia. I swear the closet door still rattles in the middle of the night."
"I don't sleep, you retard!"
"Whatever," he said waving as he walked out, "Don't be late for school."
"What?" Cursing, Rukia got off from his bed and zoomed towards the bathroom. But not before stopping by Ichigo and giving him a solid punch on the arm.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Ichigo gaped, rubbing at the offended body part. "You're such a psychopath, I swear to God. I feel unsafe living in the same house as you never mind the same room-"
"That was for not telling me I was late for school. Fool."
"But you don't even go to school," he said, looking confused. "Not really, at any rate. And it's not like the others are going to go-"
"It's the principle of the matter."
Ichigo blinked down at her and Rukia glared back at him, daring him to contradict her. But Ichigo just shook his head and maybe smiled a little.
It was nice. Seeing a smile on a face that was always so filled with tension and worry and agitation and so many other things.
"Don't be late," he called out as he left, ruffling her hair as he did so.
Rukia glared and patted down her hair, wondering why her heart rate had suddenly gone up like that, at the realization that his hand stayed at her hair for a split second longer than it needed to.
It was a crush, and she could ignore it.
It wasn't like she never liked men before. Kaien-dono was the perfect example. He was brilliant. Funny and brave and powerful. But if she could repress her feelings for such a perfect man, why couldn't she do the same for someone so... not perfect?
Someone like Ichigo?
Of course she could.
What she couldn't ignore, however, was that she feared for his life far too much. She knew that he was strong - she knew too well, watching him surpass her skills which took years to acquire in just mere months - but she still couldn't stop the hammering of her heart when he recklessly dove headfirst into a Hollow attack.
She couldn't ignore how her skin burned when he touched her. It was like the fire that brushed against her skin that fateful day so long ago, when she was about to die for a treason she did not commit. Except it was different. Because Ichigo's fire was hot and cold and something she craved yet hated and a whole lot of other contradictions that made absolutely no sense - except for the fact that they made such total and complete sense that it drove her insane.
She couldn't ignore the warmth in her body when he patted her on the shoulder, or the fact that spending time with him had become the best part of her day, and how she could smile at the thought of him, without it seeming out of place.
She couldn't ignore how he touched her far too much, her face, her hands, her hair, or how he looked at her with such smoldering intensity that she thought that the outer layer of her skin may catch on fire, and how he'd say her name as though it should have been the first thing he ever said and would definitely be the last.
No, she couldn't ignore that.
But she could ignore her crush, because Ichigo wasn't perfect, and it couldn't possibly be anything more.
For the longest time, Rukia felt as though she was overwhelmed by Ichigo.
She could feel his stare. She could hear his silence. She could practically see his touch radiating from every part of her, wanting him to want her, knowing that he wanted her, and not doing anything about it at all. Sometimes she thought that her want for him would never have been this strong - this mind consuming - if she didn't know that he wanted her with the exact same - if not more - ferocity that she wanted him.
So she should have been expecting something like this to happen.
It was a normal day. The sun was in the sky.
They had gone and gotten ice cream, for crying out loud.
That was as normal as things could get.
But when he had done it - when he had said it - all Rukia could do was stare at him in incredulity, and wonder if she was dreaming some twisted version of her dream slash nightmare.
"I'm in love with you," he said, looking at her straight in the eye, because if Ichigo was the type of person who ran from his emotions - which he wasn't - once they caught up to him, he embraced them wholeheartedly.
I'm in love with you.
Rukia couldn't speak.
Because this was not how it was supposed to go. This was not how it was meant to go. This was not how it should have been going.
But if Ichigo was Ichigo, then Rukia was certainly Rukia. And she reacted the way that Kuchiki Rukia would act in a situation like this.
"Don't be foolish, Ichigo," she said, opening the eyes that she hadn't even realized had closed. "Don't say these things to offhandedly."
"I know I'm in love with you," Ichigo repeated. "This isn't the thing up for debate."
I know I'm in love with you.
Rukia raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms - if only to hide her shaking hands which were vibrating so much that she could feel them banging against her ribs and racing with her heart.
"And I know that you're being naive, Ichigo. Human emotions are complicated and are not to be taken lightly. They cause war and death and destruction-"
"And love," he interrupted quietly. "And happiness."
"Yes," she agreed. "That as well."
His eyes were boring into hers so intensely that Rukia wanted to look away. Except there was some kind of an invisible force between them, however, and Rukia could not look away from his straight mouth and frowning eyes.
"I wanted to tell you that I'm in love with you," he said again, finally, after a moment of silence that stretched on for what seemed like all of time.
"Then I'm sorry to say that I'm sorry, Ichigo," she said, turning around and facing away from him, towards the grassy field of the park where children with black hair and brown eyes were playing. "But I do not feel the same way."
And Rukia didn't need to be looking at Ichigo to know that he did not agree.
I love you too.
There were rules in set for a reason.
Once you died, you were supposed to stay in Soul Society. Even having shinigami in the living world was something that was on the fringes of unbalancing the Great Balance. But humans needed protecting from Hollows, and thus shinigami were created.
It was still unnatural though.
Because the dead were just that - dead. They were practically a different species of people. Souls were practically impenetrable. It was hard, after all, to die twice.
But humans - they had bodies. They were not a manifestation of pure being. They had flesh and blood and they had a weakness to their emotions.
Souls were not like that. They had already lived. They knew the consequences of acting human, especially when they'd been given an opportunity to start over. They were stronger, in both mind and spirit.
Contact was minimal between the two sides. It only ever happened when a shinigami was helping a soul move on to the next world, or if someone with exceptional spiritual energy managed to catch a glimpse of them.
Thus, relationships were unheard of.
It was forbidden.
It was not spoken of.
Because there was an eternal chasm between one side and the other. Once you left the land of the living, there was no going back. There was no way a person could ever truly be integrated back into that world.
And if you were living, then you would have to give up the very thing that defined you as such to reach the other side - your life.
People could be together in life.
People could find each other even in death.
But for one to be in one and the other to be of the other, it was impossible. Because even if love could survive life, and then death, it could not survive both at the same time.
"I want to know why," said Ichigo. "Why we can't be together."
"Because I'm dead, and destined to live in a heaven that's more corrupted than hell is supposed to be," replied Rukia, having prepared this answer long ago. She wrapped her arms more tightly around herself. "And you are human, with a life ahead of you in a society where people are what they are supposed to be."
"The distance between the living and the dead isn't as large as you seem to think it is," said Ichigo, eyes narrowed in thought. "I'm here right now. You come to the living world all the time."
"Because we're playing around with the Great Balance," cut in Rukia sharply. "Shinigami are playing a dangerous game going between the worlds. What if something were to happen to our butterflies? We'd be stuck in an abyss of nothingness for all of eternity."
"But we're both right here, right now." Rukia felt Ichigo's forefinger on her temple, tracing down the line of her cheek. "Tell me that you're not feeling me right now."
"I can," she said, voice quiet and controlled because she liked what she was feeling and she wanted more, so much more.
He lifted his hand. "What more can we possibly need?"
"Everything," she said. "You have to accept, Ichigo, that I will never feel the same way as you do."
She will always love him, yes, but she'd never agree with his human emotions, wishes, hopes, dreams - because at the end of the day they were nothing but a a burden, something that would fill her with a crushing sense of despair once she realized they were not in her reach.
"That's a lie, and we both know it," he said fiercely, turning her around by her shoulders. "Look at me Rukia. I'm serious. I want this. I know you want this. And we can have it, and no one will be able to do anything."
"How can you possibly assume you know everything about me," she began slowly, opening her eyes and looking at him, "when you're not respecting my wishes right now and leaving me be?"
"Because that's what you're saying, not what you're feeling."
"I believe that I'm a better judge of that, Ichigo," she said, even though she was questioning that very statement right then.
Ichigo was quiet for a long moment.
"What would there have to be," he said at last, "for us to have the slightest chance?"
Rukia's eyes began to sting in such a way that she was proud that she was in control of her emotions, because otherwise her face would now be wet with tears of shame and want and everything else in between.
"Nothing," she said, because that was the whole truth. "Because I'd have to be alive."
She wondered if she should continue. "Or you'd have to be dead."
She wanted to be selfless, and let him go.
But months go by and then a year, and then two, and time seems to move far too quickly for Rukia as she sees everything about Ichigo grow and change and become wiser, stronger, kinder and everything else.
One thing that doesn't change is the way he looks at her.
When he thoughts that she's wasn't looking.
When he knew that she was looking.
She knew that she'd have to be the stronger one, the more responsible one, and just move on.
Except that she couldn't. Not when he looked at her like that, and she wondered why she was still giving him reasons on why they could never be instead of trying to convince him that she didn't want it to be.
Maybe it was because it would be the biggest lie she's ever say. Maybe it was because he'd know that she wasn't telling the truth, and that she wanted him so much that it physically hurt every time she had to say no.
But because she couldn't say no - never seriously, no matter how hard she tried - it gave him hope and it made her hate herself for giving it to him.
He was looking at her with absolute seriousness, absolute sincerity as he stood there, one drop of blood sliding down from the crown of his head.
"I'm never going to give up on you," he said, and Rukia thought that she had never seen a more stunning man in her life, with the dirt on his face and the tear in his uniform, and eyes so intense that it made her head feel dizzy as she looked back at him.
"Why not?" she countered, voice fighting to stay cool and steady because right now she was everything but.
"Because people fall in love lots of times before they find the one person they won't fall out of love with," he said, and Rukia wondered how he could just say something like that, never mind how honest Ichigo was. "And even if for some far out reason I didn't want you, I simply never can."
Her heart was pounding. Not because of what he said with such truthfulness it would have been enough for any other girl to succumb, but because the way he looked at her wanted to make her do the same anyway, even if he had not spoken the word.
She wanted to cry. She wanted to laugh. She wanted to say that she loved him too.
And Rukia hated having to be the strong one.
"Maybe when you'll decide to grow up," she said, clenching her fist so tightly that it turned her knuckles white as she wondered why it had to be them that was fated to have such pain and so little of a chance in happiness, "you'll realize that the things that you think you feel, what you want to believe is nothing but some illusion there to give you hope."
"I have all the hope I need," he said without missing a beat. "We're meant to be together. And that's all I need to know."
Rukia didn't answer, and she had a feeling of dread in her heart that that caused his hope to grow.
And that was when it started.
Ichigo was reckless by nature, going headfirst into trouble. He was the, act first, talk later type of guy, who just did what he was supposed to without really thinking about it, so no one really noticed when it started to happen.
But Rukia did.
Things had quieted down somewhat, with no epic plots of world domination. And life was back to normal, as far as duties were concerned.
Ichigo was still a substitute shinigami, but nonetheless, Karakura Town was her section of the living world.
At first, it could've been an accident. Rukia knew that her heart had nearly stopped from the shock that it experienced when Ichigo rushed into the middle of the street and pushed aside a little girl from being hit by the truck.
The truck stopped in time, inches away from Ichigo's body.
Rukia thought that she was the only one who saw the disappointment in his eyes at walking away - from an escapade that could've very well killed him - with only a few scrapes on his arms.
And then there was a Hollow attack. An unexpectedly powerful one, but nothing they could not handle. But an attack sent towards Inoue, and Ichigo was blocking the path of the cero with his own body, instead of his sword.
But at the last moment, a golden triangular shield appeared between the energy and Ichigo, and the attack was diverted.
Ichigo jumped into action and killed it. But Rukia saw the desperation in his eyes, the stubbornness, and wondered how it was possible to love someone so much that it hurt her every time she saw it.
And after that, it became obvious on what he was doing.
Running into a burning building, diving into an icy cold pond. To save the person stuck inside, people said. To save the drowning child, people said.
Kurosaki Ichigo was a hero, people said.
Kurosaki Ichigo wants to die, Rukia heard.
For the first time in years, she slapped him across the face.
"Stop doing this, Ichigo," she said, eyes narrow and voice commanding as she stared at him straight in the eyes. "You being dead won't exactly help anybody, much less your pathetic self."
Ichigo didn't answer as he wiped the blood from his mouth, but rather kept on looking at her intently, gaze not wavering.
You know why I'm doing this.
"You can't be so weak about this, Ichigo," she said hoping her voice wasn't shaking as much as her heart was hammering. "I expected better from you. I still expect better from you. But every time you do something like this you let me down more and more."
He didn't answer.
I expected better from you too.
"There are other girls," said Rukia fiercely, because if she couldn't convince him, then she surely couldn't convince herself. "So many other girls want you. So stop it. You're making it harder on both of us and ruining this friendship."
This was never a friendship.
Ichigo said nothing with his mouth, but Rukia heard it all anyway.
Because he was Ichigo and she was Rukia, and Rukia knew that they were connected in such a strange and deep way that it would not make sense if she didn't know what he was thinking.
Ichigo was Ichigo.
He could tell her everything without saying anything.
"There are other girls," she repeated. "Stop living in the past and get moving with your life. We're of different levels of existence. I'm dead. You're living. Find someone who's alive and can give you what you want."
All he had to do was look at her.
With his furrowed eyebrows and tightly set jaw, his eyes told her, but what I want is you.
And even though Rukia hated herself for it, it made her love him even more.
She could feel it spread inside her. The sheer magnitude of what he felt combined with the equally strong force inside her was overwhelming her heart, so much so that she thought that it may have cracked from the intensity and fallen to pieces.
Rukia closed her eyes and didn't look back as she walked away.
There was one main reason two such drastically different races of existence could not be together.
And strangely, it was something that was not based on something such as right and wrong. It was a rule made to actually help the people involved to not get involved and cause everyone else misery.
That was why.
Because one thing Rukia realized about dying at an early age, was that her time in Soul Society would be infinitely longer than an old woman who had died in the real world. Because once one enters Soul Society, they would 'die' again, and rejoin the living world.
It was a cycle.
Dying young and having such exceptional spiritual energy, she would age much more slowly. Even now, she looked sixteen at the oldest, even though years had passed by from when she looked fifteen.
Ichigo was twenty-two.
And as long as he was alive, his soul would reflect the age of his body. When he died - of old age or sickness, because he was not careless or stupid enough to die of anything else, she used to think - then he would enter Soul Society at that age.
But it wasn't his appearance that was the issue. Ichigo could look twenty, forty, sixty, but he would still be Ichigo, and Rukia would still want him, and would not care of what people would say, seeing someone who looked as young as she did with someone who looked as old as Ichigo would be.
No. That wasn't the problem.
It was what would happen after.
They would get ten years, twenty years, a hundred years. But in terms of eternity, that was equivalent to a minute that passed and the day was still left to live out.
Ichigo would leave Soul Society first, when it would be his turn to go back to the world of the living. His soul could be reborn almost anywhere, and it would be next to impossible to find him.
But say that she found him, against all odds. He would no longer know her. He would not remember her. He'd grow up in a different environment, and not fall in love with her a second time.
But he'd still be Ichigo, and her heart would be lost to him.
Except that his wouldn't be lost to her, and Rukia would have to survive on memories, because she couldn't possibly survive without a heart, as she wouldn't have his and she definitely wouldn't have her own.
So was she being selfish by trying to stop herself from feeling the pain?
Or was she being selfless or sacrificing her own happiness?
She didn't know the answer anymore.
She didn't think she ever did.
Then one day, Yuzu almost lost her life.
Because Rukia was there, but not as a human. And Yuzu never did get the ability to see spirits. But there she was, looking at Rukia with wonder and question, and Rukia could do nothing but try and smile at her reassuringly.
It was a horrible situation.
But one good thing came out of it.
"You finally came to your senses," said Rukia, pride leaking into her voice as despair leaked into her heart. "You realize now where you're needed more."
Ichigo didn't look at her, but rather out the window as he dragged his fingers gently through the sleeping Yuzu's hair.
"I have to protect them," he said, finally, still not looking at her. "It doesn't matter how old they are, and how strong they are. I'm the big brother. They'll always come first for me because it's my duty to protect them."
Rukia smiled, a quirk of her lips.
But she also cried, the stinging sensation at the back of her eyes that somehow could not compare to the ache that spread through her chest.
"I was being selfish. I get it now. Karin and Yuzu come first. Not what I want. Because they're my little sisters, and they deserve better than what I've been doing lately." He looked down at Yuzu's face. "Heh. I'm glad that I didn't die all those times. Because if I did then I wouldn't have been here to save Yuzu. I can't be selfish like that again."
No, Rukia wanted to say. It was her that was being selfish. Reprimanding him for his recklessness yet somewhere deep down hoping that he'd succeed and finally - finally - all of this could end - because he could die, but she could not do anything to be alive.
Ichigo was not selfish.
He braved against the elite of Soul Society to save her. He fought her brother, her best friend, he risked his life. And after that, he ventured into a world which was the home for monsters out of a nightmare, to save one of his closest friends from almost certain death.
"You're not selfish," she compromises into saying. "You're just human."
This time Ichigo does smile. "I knew you'd say something like that.
And then he finally looks at her, straight in the eye as always, his face serious. "We're going to be together, Rukia. And it doesn't matter how or when, but this is something. It's something that's meant to happen."
And Rukia frowns - and Ichigo goes back to staring out the window - because he is stubborn to a fault, and so is the hope that still exists in her heart.
They no longer bicker, because it hurts Rukia to look at Ichigo.
They no longer joke around, because it hurts her to hear his voice.
Their friendship was gone - was it ever there? - and the bond that they had with each other that was so deep and inexplicable was straining, but refusing break because Ichigo held on, and Rukia could not bring herself to let go.
But it was ripping them apart.
And Rukia - why did it always, always have to be her? - was the one who had to cut the rope that bound them together but at the same time, tore them to pieces.
Because there was a chance that maybe at least one of them could put their life back together without the other one crushing it over and over again every time their eyes met.
She goes to her captain and asks to be stationed in another place.
Ukitake-taichou doesn't understand. But she knows that he's fond of her, and when he agrees to her request, she doesn't know whether to be thankful he did, or be furious that he hadn't refused.
And she never saw Ichigo.
Seconds pass, minutes pass, hours pass, days pass, weeks pass, months pass, years pass.
Rukia keeps her memories.
She comes to the conclusion that she has two hearts. One belongs to everyone she loves - two of the biggest pieces of that heart go to her brother and Renji. But the rest of it is divided to Inoue, her first female friend, to Ukitake-taichou, the captain who guided her, and to Kaien-dono, who was everything she ever idolized.
But then comes her second heart.
That heart is bigger than her first one, yet it belongs only Ichigo. Because what she feels for him cannot be shared with anyone, yet no matter how big the heart is, it cannot hold in all the love she feels.
Her first heart may keep her alive as a soul - but she knew she needed the second heart to live.
She doesn't try to move on with her life. She was now one of the five shinigami patrolling Kyoto, and it kept her busy. The city was big, had a lot of people, and was different from Karakura Town in every possible way.
But sometimes she'd catch a glimpse of a head of orange hair of a foreigner, and heart would start to pound, but she never followed, because there was an off chance that it could be him.
Renji doesn't say anything whenever they meet up. He doesn't understand, he believes that she is wrong, but he is her best friend, and he'll support her decision, because he knows that even if he doesn't she'll do it anyway, and she would fall apart without him keeping her together.
Her brother looks at her impassively as always whenever she returns to her home, but Rukia can't help but feel that there is an underlying feeling of disappointment in his gaze. She's not an exceptional shinigami, but Rukia thought that her nii-sama believed that at least she had spirit.
But now she proved him wrong. And he had every right to be disappointed. Because her brother was willing to sacrifice his nobility, his duty, and he went against the laws of society to be with the woman he loved, even when she never loved him back with anything near the same intensity.
He kept his dead wife's dream alive by taking her in.
But Rukia - she had it. She had the love of the man she wanted. Her brother was disappointed because he had done everything to be with his love, and there she was, doing nothing.
Did that mean that she didn't love Ichigo enough?
That couldn't possibly be true. Rukia knew that what she felt for Ichigo was incomparable. She loved him so much that she thought her heart did not have room to contain all of it. She'd die for him, but she wouldn't, if that was what he wanted.
She would die for him. If she could, she would live for him. She'd be happy if it made him happy, even if he was sad. But she'd be sad that he was sad, but be try to be happy to make him happy which would lead to her being happy for real.
And he loved her too, which was just as strong.
Everything she'd do for him, he'd do for her ten folds.
Maybe it was because they loved each other so much, that it was too much for them to handle. Maybe it scared them that they felt so strongly for the other - except that it didn't scare her, and it certainly didn't scare him.
Maybe it was because they loved each other to such epic proportions that their love was doomed to fail.
They had been through everything together. They had saved each other's lives. They had built a bond that was so deep and real and true that it was almost unreal. Something that could only have been made had there been a potion which captured the true essence of love and they had both unwittingly drank it.
But they hadn't, and what they had they made themselves. It was their own lives, their own hearts, their own happiness that were in stake, and not something that some drink was making them feel.
The barrier between them was far too great to overcome, however, and something would have to give.
Rukia doesn't try to move on.
Ichigo was right - you fall in love until you find someone who you can't fall out of love with.
And it breaks her heart a thousand times over that he is still thinking the same thing.
And then one day, something did give.
But not in the way she expected - nothing that shredded her already torn soul into tinier pieces, leaving her with nothing, not even herself. It was something entirely different, something that was the exact opposite.
She didn't know how, or when, or anything. She didn't even know that it was him, until she overheard a random shinigami saying something that caught her breath and stopped her steps and she could do nothing but move.
Refuses to perform the Soul Burial ritual.
Swung out a killer zanpakutou when they tried to force it.
Defeating even a captain.
He was waiting for someone to come and get him.
Rukia's breathing was erratic and her heart was full of hope. Because it seemed like fate had finally dealt out a hand of cards that weren't random, but rather all royals of the same suit of spades.
He was waiting for someone to come and get him.
He was still waiting for her.
There was nothing between them anymore except for her.
Rukia rushed to the living world - to Karakura, which was her home, which had always been her home, with her friends and family and Ichigo - her mind whizzing with information she needed to not know but she knew anyway.
Ichigo had died the way he would have wanted to - protecting his family, and fighting for their safety.
Souls could do nothing about human evils. So Ichigo did not go headfirst into trouble as a shinigami. But a human body could also nothing against bullets, a tiny piece of moving metal with enough velocity to pierce through skin and lodge itself into a heart.
His body was still near his home.
But she found his soul first.
He was dressed in black and looking out to the city where he had lived for the last twenty-seven years of his life. The sun was missing from the sky and instead there were stars and a large shining moon, and if angels existed, Ichigo looked exactly like one.
"You came for me," he said, not turning to face her. Maybe he was looking at his old house, and thinking of her and how she used to live in his closet.
"Of course, I did," she replied, heart pounding as she struggled to keep her voice steady. "Apparently none of the other idiots had the stuff needed to drag your sorry ass out of here."
Ichigo didn't say anything for a while.
"I want to think that I did my duty to this world," he said, when he finally started to talk. "This time I didn't die because I wanted to. I didn't want to leave them behind. But if I died being a big brother, if I died being a good son, then I think I was meant to die right now."
"When someone dies, that's when they're supposed to die," she said, because she thought she finally got it. "There are a certain amount of things we're meant to do in this world before moving on. Help people, know people, teach people."
"A lot of things were meant to happen," she continued, because she was sorry, she was happy, she was everything, and she hoped that he understood everything she was trying to say. "We can't change what was meant to happen."
"No one can cut the string of fate between two people, Rukia." He finally turned around and looked down at her from his even taller height. Like always, he was looking at her straight in the eye. "Because fate can't be broken."
After what seemed like a hundred lifetimes of silence, she managed to answer.
"Fate can't be broken," she repeated, unsheathing her sword with shaky fingers. Ichigo closed his eyes and knelt down before her, and she could feel the warmth of his hand through her uniform as he reached forwards and wrapped his fingers around the sleeve of her haori.
Rukia didn't think she ever saw him looking so peaceful in his entire life, his eyebrows relaxed and cheeks no longer tight with tension. She thought that he may even have been smiling, in that rather infuriating, "I know something you don't know," kind of way.
"We are meant to be together, Rukia," he said, just as the hilt of her zanpakutou made contact with his forehead. "That's all I ever needed to know."
And as his form turned into the ever familiar sight of a black butterfly and landed on her shoulder, Rukia smiled, and let just one drop of all the things she'd been repressing for a decade trickle down her cheek.