Title: Finding Life
Fandom: Bleach
Character/Pairing: IchiRuki
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Bleach / Mine

Summary: Finding death can be easy. It's far harder to find life when death is what you'd rather seek.

They said he'd died with a smile on his face. Not one of the twisted smirks he tended to favour, lips drawn back in an almost-sneer while brow furrowed to express so many things beneath the abject scorn or disdain that laced his features. Not even one of the little grins that he directed at the children who made their way through his office, the kindness that rested in his eyes never quite making it down to the rest of his face. His was a scary face, he'd once been told, and nothing had ever really changed that. Not even the years that had passed between now and those days so long ago. No, it was a different smile that characterized the final set of his features, one tinged with a gentleness and sincereness of feeling that only one person had ever seen, and it was a smile held only for her.

Time had aged him, drawn faint lines into features that still held a whisper of the boy he'd once been, but the one thing that time had been unable to touch, unable to taint and weather was the spirit that dwelt behind brown eyes. It was that spirit which had carried him so far, sent him winging to the edges of worlds to protect that which he held dear. And it was the loss of that spirit that they mourned in the small hospital room, gathered around the empty husk of one who had risked all, and risked all for them

It had seemed a cruel irony to so many, that someone so young, so hopeful, so filled with potential and fire and the sheer indomitable will to live as he had been struck down so soon. How sad, how disheartening, to see a life that had only just begun ended in a flicker of candlelight. But to those who knew the truth... it was anything but. Those who dewlt on the outside couldn't see, couldn't understand. They saw only the outward shapes and hues, the facets that he showed on the surface, never giving rise to question what lay beneath.

They noticed his eyes at times, the faraway look that would glaze over amber-brown irises when he gazed at the setting sun, or the heavy weight that seemed to surge up from somewhere deep within as a simple butterfly would flitter past. The snow captivated him too, and even those he worked with had never been able to glean the fascination the young pediatrician had for a simple column of ice as it dripped off of the edge of the roof into a long spire of crystalline water.

None of them understood, knew the past, the depth of the world he and she had traversed, the things which had passed both spoken and unspoken between them. Never knew the real reason why he always took juiceboxes to lunch, why he had a special sort of backwards fondness for rabbits, or why the middle of winter depressed him so. Only a select few knew why he kept a frankly awful drawing of a bunny and a bear framed on the wall of his office.

It was an enigma, the same way his attitude so often was to those around him. He was an anomaly, somehow managing to remain cool and collected, distant and yet close to everyone. But through it all, there was a zeal for life that set him apart. They didn't know that she gave him that. Just as they didn't know that she was the reason for every step he took, every choice he made. A part of his life for such a short time, yet enough to inexorably alter and shape the flow that would guide the rest of it.

A romantic might have called her his soulmate, his perfect half, the love of his life. And perhaps that was what she had been. But beyond that, she had been so much more. That was, after all, the reason why he'd kept on living. Because she'd wanted him to.

There had been no goodbyes spoken, no emotional farewells. Nothing to hint at the depth of feeling which had churned just beneath the surface of every breath they'd taken, every glance and touch and word they'd shared. Reason and want were enemies, and reason was the victor. Two lives, two worlds. It hadn't mattered that he knew, and she knew, and they both knew what they wanted, what they yearned for. He would go on, she would not, it was as simple as reality.

But simple often meant pain. And it had been a painful midwinter's night when she'd vanished soundlessly into the depths, disappearing from his life as seamlessly as she'd entered it. He had known, in the same way he'd somehow always known that day would come, and it was only those who knew him most who caught the hollow emptiness that rested beside the determination in his eyes. Live. That was why she'd left, why she'd vanished from his world. It didn't matter what he wanted, what she wanted, the choice was laid out before him. He had a life to live, and for that choice, she would leave him behind.

And so he'd lived. Pushed forward, tried to move on, knowing that while living and walking the daily path of life was a certainty, it was just as certain that moving on was an impossibility. It would always be her. Always and never, at least not the way anyone would have expected.

Through the days and months and years, striding forward with a shining sense of purpose, the knowledge that she had sacrificed dreams -- his as well as hers -- to give him this life hanging as a shining beacon in his mind. Whether he wanted to live or not was inconsequential. He would live, because that was what she'd wanted.

And when the road turned, began nearing it's end, that never changed. And as he had fought before, fought for her, for their friends and their world, he fought the disease, the steadily-creeping menace that took over his lungs with malevolent force. But the spirit, the will that had dominated so many, pushed above and beyond so many obstacles already, held no sway over this foe.

She was watching that day. As if she knew, and perhaps in some way she did know, had always known when it would be. And at that final hour, when the sun was setting and the night sliding swiftly forward, she stole into the room to stand beside the others he loved. Some saw her, most didn't. But they knew. Knew by the way his eyes changed, expression softening as a faint hint of warmth curved the corners of his lips. And even though they couldn't see her face, couldn't tell the way her own expression shifted to match his, they knew.

Only those who knew, those who understood, could see the way a small hand reached for his, tugging him away from the now-empty shell that rested there, the way the years melted away as the spirit they had loved sat up and followed, the emptiness finally finding it's surcease. Not in life, but strangely enough in death.