Epilogue ― A New Beginning

:―:―:―Seven Months Later―:―:―:―

"Heeeey." Souken leaned towards Kaien, who looked around in interest. "Who's that lady with Renji?"

Kaien suppressed a snicker as he choked out, "His girlfriend."

That did it. The two of them fell over, laughing their heads off at their private joke. They were only eight and nine years old, after all. Girlfriends were still a funny subject to them.

"What are you two laughing about?" Rukia had knelt down beside their heads, watching them with an amused smile.

"Renji." They said at the same time, throwing each other grins.

"Yeah, he's easy to laugh at, isn't it?"

"I heard that Rukia!" The crimson-haired man called across the yard, invoking more laughter Kaien and Souken. Rukia just shook her head, still smiling, as she stood up and walked over to where Renji and Rangiku were standing, talking to Ichigo and Orihime.

It was Kaien's birthday. Of course, Rukia hadn't been able to resist the attraction of giving him a party, something she hadn't been around to do for his other birthdays. So Ichigo had let her completely take over party planning, with some help from Orihime, of course. He had been surprised to find they didn't do half bad. At one point he had heard Orihime planning for a homemade cake, but apparently Rukia had vetoed the idea. Personally, he was glad. He'd made the mistake of letting Orihime make Kaien's first birthday cake, something he would never do again.

"So where are Emi and Tatsuki?" Rukia asked Orihime as she walked up next to Ichigo, who slinked an arm around her waist.

"They'll be here soon, I'm sure. Emi has a tendency to always be running late―"

A sudden scream issued across the yard, drawing the attention of all the adults. Emi had snuck up behind Kaien and tackled him when he wasn't looking. Now they were both on the ground, Kaien pinned under Emi. Tatsuki was standing above them, laughing.

"That kid's exactly like her mother!" Ichigo groaned as he watched Kaien struggle out form underneath his friend. They glared at each other for a minute and then he dove forward, going down with Emi as the two wrestled.

"And Kaien's exactly like his father." Renji said with a smirk as he watched the two nine-year-olds fight. Tatsuki was still laughing, laughing too hard to be bothered with intervening.

It had been just over a year since Ichigo and Rukia had returned from the Soul Society together. As predicted, Rukia's return had stirred up a hell of a lot of commotion. But they'd adjusted, like always.

Ichigo smiled now as he thought about this, and looked down at the ring that glittered on Rukia's right finger. She gave him a glance.

"Like what you see?"

"More than you'll ever know." He teased, leaning down and kissing her. Across the yard they heard Souken and Kaien pretending to gag. Ichigo smirked as he looked up. Rukia suddenly got a very bad feeling.

"Oh Ichigo, don't―"

"Don't worry, I won't hurt them." And with that he took off across the yard, attempting to catch the offending boys, who squealed in protest as they jumped and ran. Emi laughed as she egged the fight on.

"Get 'em Ichigo, get 'em!"

Renji, Rukia, Rangiku, and Orihime were all cracking up.

"…Happy birthday dear Kaien, happy birthday to you."

Kaien looked down at his cake, grinning. It was chocolate with strawberry frosting, his favorite. "Come on Kai, make a wish!" Emi insisted, trying to rush him along.

"Gimme a break Emi, I have to think―"

"Think later, make a wish now!"

"Leave him alone Emi." Souken scolded their impatient friend. Emi rolled her eyes. Kaien stared at his cake. What was he supposed to wish for? For as long as he could remember, his only wish was that his mother would come home. But as he looked up, his eyes scanning the crowd around him, locking onto the violet eyes that resembled his, he realized that wish had come true. So…what was left?

"Kaaaaaieeeen!" Emi groaned impatiently. Kaien glared at her, then realized what to wish for. He took a deep breath and blew out the candles on his cake. Everyone clapped, and Emi muttered, "Finally."

"Hope you get what you wished for." Orihime chirped as she started cutting pieces of the cake and handing them out. Kaien raised an eyebrow as she put down a plate in front of him, then took the plate, stood up, walked over to Emi, and promptly dropped it, cake first, on her head. Emi shrieked and stared at him in shock.

"Well, Aunt Orihime wanted me to get my wish."

Emi growled under her breath and grabbed the cake off her head, throwing it at Kaien, who ducked. It flew past him, right into Ichigo's shocked face. Ichigo blinked and sputtered while Rukia and Renji roared with laughter. Rangiku Orihime, Uryu, and Tatsuki (the only other adults present) all just stared.

"Oh so that's how it is." Ichigo grumbled as he grabbed a piece of cake. Rukia and Renji stopped laughing at once, and the former said, in a threatening voice,

"You wouldn't."

He threw the cake. Rukia ducked. Renji didn't; it nailed him in the face.

"Oh you're gonna pay for that…"

No one went home clean. As Rukia and Ichigo (both covered in cake) waved goodbye to their cake-covered guests, they looked around their yard. It looked like a cake factory had exploded.

"Oh well." Rukia sighed as she started back inside. "Have fun cleaning, Ichigo."

"W-W-W-What?! Me?!"

Kaien giggled as he started following his mom. "I don't think so!" Ichigo said at once, grabbing his son by the collar of his shirt and dragging him back. "You're helping."

"You'd make me do this on my birthday?" Kaien asked in disbelief, giving Ichigo his 'look.' The look he knew his father couldn't resist.

"Agh…no, I guess not. Go inside and get cleaned up." Kaien grinned and ran into the house, past Rukia who called after him,

"Clothes off and in the wash, don't just throw them on the floor!" Then she went over to Ichigo. "You're such a softy."

"Not my fault he looks like you." Ichigo grumbled as he started scooping bits of cake into the trash. Rukia sighed as she got on the ground and started helping as well.

"Well…it was anything if not exciting."

Ichigo snorted. "Exciting, right. I can't believe Kaien did that…though the look on Emi's face was priceless…"

Rukia laughed. "Yours was better. Wish I'd thought to grab the camera."

"I'm sure you do."

They cleaned up everything they could manage to. The rest, they decided, the rain could wash away.

Once they were inside, cleaned up, and in fresh clothes, they dropped onto the couch. Kaien was in his room, marveling at all the new stuff he'd gotten. They sat in silence for a few minutes, and finally Rukia said, "You know what today is, right?"

Ichigo nodded. He did. They'd had Kaien's birthday party today, but his actual birthday had been a little over a week ago. And today…well, today was the anniversary of the day Ichigo and Kaien came back from Soul Society nine years earlier. Alone.

Ichigo and Rukia lapsed back into silence. What was one supposed to say about something like this?

Ichigo reached over and rested his hand over Rukia's. She looked up, smiling, and laid down on the couch, resting her head on his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, and they stayed there, enjoying each other's company, just like they always had.

"Hey, Mom, Dad, look what this toy can do!" Kaien bounded downstairs, destroying the tranquility. The two parents exchanged smiles as they sat up and listened to Kaien go on about his toy. It didn't matter that one moment had been broken. They had the rest of their lives ahead of them, millions of moments, thousands more that could be broken by their son. It didn't matter anymore. Rukia was home, they were together, they were a family.

Just like they were always meant to be.

The End

Author's Note: /sigh/ Well, that's the end. What do you guys think? I know it's not the best thing ever, but it's been a real trip, and I've loved every minute of it. It's been almost a year since I first posted my 'one-shot' What Happened Last Night. I never thought it would come to this. But I'm not complaining. You guys have all been amazing, and I love each and every one of you. You're encouraging words/death threats have been a real motivation to me, and I hope that you'll stick with me through the mini-hiatus I'm taking from writing so I can finish up school. Once summer starts I'll be back full-force, promise. Until then, adios! ― Sam