I don't own Bleach.

Previously …

"I – Ichigo," Rukia cried, leaning into her sister. She clutched onto her jacket. Hisana stroked her hair like she used to when she was little.

Hisana said something into Rukia's ear … something that sounded like good news. But Rukia couldn't hear and she didn't want to … she didn't care. Ichigo was going to die because of her, just like Kaien. Ichigo was never going to see another day and Rukia would.

And it was all her fault.

Her eyes closed and she welcomed the darkness, hoping it would take her wherever Ichigo was. Whether that was heaven or hell, life or death, she didn't care. Everything was over now. She didn't care what happened to her. She just …

She just didn't want to be alone anymore.

Not now when Ichigo was dead and Kaien was dead. Not when she would have to go back to jail. Not now, not ever … she couldn't live with that much guilt again.

Her train of thought stopped as she sunk into the deep depths of unconsciousness.

Two weeks later —

Black is a color of mourning. White is a color of purity. Yellow is the color of waiting.

Rukia felt as if she was experiencing all of these colors, all of these feelings, waiting next to his bedside for him to finally wake up. She had held his hand and slept next to him. She ran her fingers through his hair and stared at his closed eyes for three weeks now.

Three weeks — and he still hadn't woken up. Three weeks she had been hospital food, wearing pajama bottoms and big t-shirts, and staring at his shut eyes. She hardly sleep, and, if she did, she hardly managed to keep her eyes closed for fear that he would wake up while she was gone.

It was ridiculous … because he hadn't woken up. Did that mean he wasn't going to wake up at all? Did that mean she would be alone in this world again? She had to leave soon … and she didn't want to go without him, not without Ichigo.

The door opened and someone walked inside but she didn't look up. Instead, she squeezed his hand again and, again, she was disappointed to not feel it squeeze back. Dropping her eyes to the floor, she tried yet again not to let her tears fall.

"Rukia, honey," she heard a familiar voice say. Glancing up, she saw her sister set a bowl of soup on the nightstand next to Ichigo's bed. "Come on, you need to eat. You haven't for the past two days."

Had it been that long? She wondered. It didn't seem to be minutes since the last time she had to leave Ichigo to eat. It seemed so unnecessary. Why should she eat, or continue to live, if he wasn't? He had saved her life with the cost of his own.

She lost her appetite again just by thinking about it.

"I'm not hungry," she said quietly.

Hisana sighed and took a seat next to Rukia. She touched her belly, which had finally started to grow out a bit. She rubbed it absentmindedly and said, "He wouldn't want you to be starving yourself over him." Rukia's eyes never left his face.

"He's not here to tell me that," she replied hopelessly, feeling her insides turn to mush and then be sucked away by a black hole, replacing it with nothingness.

"But you know that's exactly what he'd say," her sister countered. "You knew him well enough. You know that's exactly what he'd say. You were in the same cell with him for over five months! You know him, Rukia. Better than I do, better than his own father does … better than – than, just, anyone. Don't play stupid, Rukia. You know he wouldn't have wanted this."

Rukia felt her heart break at her sister's words. Not only was everything she saying exactly true, but it was all in past tense. Like Ichigo was really dead already … like he was already gone.

"Wouldn't want this," she whispered quietly. "Not he wouldn't have wanted this … just wouldn't want this. Don't act like he's already gone. He's still here." She squeezed his hand again — and again no response. Her heart broke a little more.

Hisana stood up quickly and walked over to the door. Rukia watched as she gripped the handle clutching it so hard her knuckles turned white. She looked back, her eyes ablaze. "Rukia," she said, anger definitely residing in her voice. "You have five days until you leave forever and I'll never see you again. I've waited almost three years."

Tears were in her eyes when Rukia finally looked up to meet them. "We've been waiting five years to get you out of that hellhole that was bestowed onto you. And when we finally get you back, you have to leave … and this time I won't see you again … ever. Ever, not until we meet in heaven, if there is one."

She sighed. "You won't see — or even meet — your niece, Rukia. You'll leave and you're sitting here with a hopeless case! I knew Ichigo … he was a good guy, he really was. But he wouldn't want you wasting your time sitting there, staring off into space.

"We still need you, Rukia."

And then the door opened, slammed shut, and she was gone.

So, there was this river. It was familiar, but he couldn't exactly recognize it. And there was this woman with long strawberry-blonde hair, sitting there quietly. He didn't quite remember her, but he felt like he should.

"Hello?" he called out, taking a step forward. The sun shined from above, making her hair glisten when she turned her head slightly. He still could not see her face. He kept walking toward her until he was standing over her shoulder.

"Sit down with me," she said, her voice sounding like that of an angel's. He did as he was asked, wanting to please this mystery woman somehow. "I've waited a long time to talk to you, Ichigo."

When he finally looked at her, he gasped. She looked like him kind of. Different eyes but same nose; she had the same color hair, he finally realized and she looked at him with the most loving, golden eyes he had ever seen. It was her …

It was his mother.

"Mom," he whispered quietly.

She smiled softly and took his head. She rested her head on his shoulder and looked back out to the river, a faraway look evident in her eyes. "I've missed you, Ichigo, my son," she said quietly. He was about to respond but she went on before he could say anything. "I wanted to thank you for everything you did on my behalf and I want to say that I'm proud you found someone that you love."

He smiled softly. "Where are we?" he asked. "I – I don't remember much. Just running and the trees and Rukia … and then pain; lots and lots of pain. Then darkness. Endless darkness. And then I was here, just like that. Weird, huh?"

She laughed lightly. "We're next to the river we walked by together to get to your old dojo school. Remember, Ichigo? You used to tell me about all the things you did; that you even beat Tatsuki … once. I loved it when you told me those stories. It made me feel so special."

He nodded. "I missed you too, Mom."

For a long while they sat in silence. Ichigo could feel the sun on his back — the warmth made him sleepy with pleasure. The river was calming as it rushed to the ocean. He felt his mother lean into him, resting her head on his shoulder.

He felt content right now and he could stay here forever. The sun shining, the river rushing, and he and his mother sitting, watching it all.

"But we can't stay like this," she said quietly.

It was then that Ichigo felt despair … unthinkable despair. He didn't want to leave even though he knew there was somewhere else, with someone else, that he needed to be. He just wanted to stay here with his mother forever. That was all he wanted …

"Rukia needs you, sweetheart," she explained gently. She lifted her head. She placed both hands on each side of his face and whispered, "You can't stay here … right now, you're in a coma. Rukia has been sitting by your bedside for nearly two weeks. You need to go back to her."

He shook his head slightly. "B-but Mom …" he started to protest.

"She needs you," she said again. "Listen. Beyond the river and beyond the sun and beyond the silence, can you hear her calling out to you? Can you?"

He listened deep and hard, wondering what his mother could be talking about. They had just been sitting in silence and he hadn't heard Rukia speak at all. He didn't even know she was here or could be here. He shook his head slightly and then froze when he heard it …

"Ichigo, please come back to me," the voice cried. "You've been gone a long time and I have to leave soon. Hisana doesn't think you'll make it, I don't think anyone doesbut I do, Ichigo. I know you can get through this. You justyou have to prove everyone else wrong. Can you do that?"

She paused and he could almost see her milky white skin and raven black hair. He could almost feel her hand on his left palm, squeezing it ever so often. He could almost see her eyes staring down upon him with such grief, such hopelessness that he wanted to reach out and comfort her.

"Come back to me," she whispered and he could swear he saw the tears running down her cheeks and onto his bed where they disappeared into the sheets.

"I – I," he tried to call out, but his voice wouldn't work.

There was a shimmer of light and he saw his mother again. Rukia's voice was gone and he could no longer feel her hand or see her at all. "I heard her," he whispered quietly. "I – I heard her, Mom."

His mother smiled softly. "Then you need to go," she said. "Go to her. We will meet again long after your father has come back to me, alright?"

He nodded and felt like his meeting with his mother was coming to an end. There was just something he felt that he need to ask. "Mom," he said as her form started to shimmer. "Did you blame me for your death? I mean, I went to jail because I blamed myself but did you —"

Her finger stopped him from speaking. "I would never blame you for what happened to me," she said strongly. "I felt extreme guilt — even now — at the thought that my little boy would think that I thought that. I would never ever blame you. It was those men … you were just a child.

"There was nothing you could have done."

When she pulled her finger away from his lips, she saw they were wet. Ichigo could feel the weakness, the emotion casting his face like a mold. He was crying, tears of sadness and regret and total relief falling down his cheeks. His mother smiled sadly.

"I love you," she said simply.

"I love you too, Mom."

And she was gone, and everything went black again.

Everything became white very fast. At one moment, he was lying in eternal darkness and the next he was blinking and then looking up at very bright light As his eyes adjusted, he saw that the walls surrounding him were a light blue and there were paintings of boats and oceans hanging on the walls.

It heart to move his eyes too fast so he moved the slowly, slowly around the room. The constant beep beep beep reached his ears right away and quickly got annoying … until he looked over and saw that it as a machine, telling him that his heart was beating.

Then, it quickly became his friend.

He groaned at the pain resting in his chest and arms and legs, his head, neck, and back. He turned his head over again and saw a window … it must be late at night, because it was black outside. Moonlight was streaming in the room and across his bed.

It was then that he saw a hand. It was milky colored and small. It was holding his own hand and he could feel the warmth that it radiated. He saw her hair sprawled out by his thigh … she was sleeping. He had to wake her up, because now he was awake.

She had been waiting for him to wake up. Isn't that what his mother had told him? That she had waited for several days until he could finally open his eyes?

He couldn't speak so he moved his fingers just a bit. Her head immediately snapped up at his touch and she looked at him curiously and then her eyes shined a bit. It took him a moment to realize they were tears.

"Ichigo …" she whispered. Her voice cracked when she said his name. "I – I …"

"… Princess," he managed. He lifted the corners of his mouth into what he called the best smile. She did the same and he could swear that it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. "Oh thank God," she said and her tears finally spilled over.

Ichigo nodded slightly and closed his eyes again, feeling suddenly very tired even though he hadn't done much. As the sunk deeper into the blackness he felt something warm press up against his side. Opening his eyes slowly he saw Rukia curl up next to him.

Amber met violet and she looked at him as if she could see the very center of his soul. He didn't feel uncomfortable though — in fact, he felt warm and safe and happy under her gaze. Her eyes made him feel like, no matter what happened in the future, they'd always have each other.

"No matter what," she whispered, as if she knew what he was thinking.

He smiled slightly and nodded once. She leaned in and kissed his shoulder that was covered with the hospital gown he was wearing. She closed her eyes, and, very gently, leaned into him. Carefully, he wrapped his arm — though it hurt like hell — around her shoulder.

No matter what, he thought.

And, as he watched the moonlight running across the sheets and over Rukia's cheeks and sleeping eyes, he knew … no matter what, they'd always be together. Nothing else mattered; nothing ever did.

Five days later —

"I'll miss you," her sister said quietly, hugging her as tightly as she could possibly manage. They were at the airport, off to somewhere Rukia did not know, nor her sister.

"We'll see each other again," Rukia promised, though she knew it wasn't true.

After Ichigo had woken up that first time, five days ago, he had began healing quickly. By the second day awake, he was up and moving. The doctors said his determination to walk and live again were incredible; no one had been up that fast after taking a bullet to the chest.

But Ichigo had done it.

During that time, Rukia had spent most of her time with her sister. Catching up about the past two years they had lived without each other. She saw Byakuya once or twice but, for the most part, he had stayed at the office where he worked.

Then, after five days, Ms. Yoruichi Shihōin had come to the hospital with bad news. She said that it was time for Ichigo and Rukia to leave and move to wherever in the world that the Witness Protection Unit was placing them. They didn't know where they were going and no one else knew either.

"Goodbye, Son," Isshin Kurosaki said with tears in his eyes; this time with real sadness. He felt as if he had just finally gotten his son back and now he was already leaving again … but this time for good. "I'll miss you … Ichigo."

Ichigo smiled sadly and hugged his father hard. With two slaps on the back, they parted. Ichigo moved onto his little sisters. Yuzu was standing there, tears running down her pale cheeks. Karin had her arms crossed and she was looking the other direction.

"Bye, Sis," he whispered, hugging Yuzu. He could immediately feel her tears running through his t-shirt and onto his bare skin. He felt so awful for leaving her behind, mostly because he never even got to know her. Grabbing a note from his pocket, he slipped it into hers.

"Be careful," he whispered. "That's for you to contact me bye. Okay?"

She nodded, tears still falling without mercy. He kissed the top of her head and then moved onto his next sister, Karin. "You shouldn't have to go, Ichigo," she said. "It's so stupid. Why couldn't they just leave you alone?"

She still wasn't facing him. "I did something that offended them and it puts their business in danger," he explained. "It's the best way to keep us safe."

She jerked back like she had been tugged from behind. "But … but," she whispered, her eyes filling up with unwanted tears. "You … you shouldn't have to go! It wasn't … it wasn't your fault." She cried out and leaned into him. Immediately, he wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her into his chest.

He kissed her hair and whispered, "Yuzu has my email. It's not like I'll be gone forever. Just … you won't see me. But I'll still be around. Count on it. Okay? I love you, Yuzu."

"I love you too, Ichi," she cried, nodding.

There was a sudden booming, "Okay! Time to leave! Plane's boarding! Let's go, let's go!" A woman with long, purple hair pulled back into a ponytail suddenly appeared next to the parting family. Her name was Yoruichi and she was the woman who was taking them to their new lives.

Ichigo and Rukia looked at each other and sighed at the same moment.

He walked over to her and took her hand. They looked back at their family, who — minus Byakuya, of course — had red eyes from crying and sad, depressed looks. Hisana was rubbing her growing belly, Isshin was holding both of his daughters in half-hugs. Said daughters were sniffling and rubbing their noses.

"Ready?" the Ms. Yoruichi said.

The two former convicts passed a glance at one another, fear and sadness etching their features. At the same moment, they nodded and looked back.

"I'm ready," Rukia whispered, squeezing Ichigo's hand.

"Me too," he added, squeezing her hand back. She looked like the needed the reassurance.

They were led away from their family who smiled bravely and waved until they were up the stairs, out of sight, and out of their lives forever. Rukia and Ichigo bowed their heads at the loss of the life here … now they were going somewhere unfamiliar … somewhere new, scary.

"We'll be okay," he said quietly, only loud enough so she could hear.

Looking up into his eyes, she could see that — even though there was despair and fear gripping his golden irises — there was hope too. A hope of a new life and a new start … and they were go through it all as the both of them, together.

"Yeah," she whispered quietly, and they entered the long hallway that would take them to the plane, which would take them to an unknown place, which would be where they spent the rest of their lives.

They had to do it. They had to be strong. They had to be strong, together.

Not only had Ichigo saved her, freed her from prison, but he had also saved her, freed her from herself and her guilt. He had made her believe in herself. In a way, they gave each other freedom, even though they weren't technically free.

Freedom, she thought, looking up at Ichigo, is such a strange thing. It something everyone strives for and yet, everyone has it. They just have to find it first.

Up above, two people watched Rukia and Ichigo go off on a plane to a destination that was unknown to the both of them. And they smiled for their bravery, their wiliness, their love, and for the freedom they had given each other.

A/N: And so concludes, "Free Me."

Alright guys, so this is the last chapter. I just want to thank, again, all of my reviewers being so freaking awesome and reviewing. This story is actually one of my most popular and I'm very happy of that fact. Thank you so much readers and reviewers!

And I'm sad to say that this is going to be my last Bleach fanfiction for quite awhile. As you know, I'm very busy with school, newspaper, and band. I don't have much time for writing and I want to put out a decent story that I'm actually able to think through before I'm a month or two late. I'm might write something this summer but who knows? Everything changes.

Again, if there are any Twilight fans, I have a story up! There are only about seven chapters, so please, please check it out! It's in my profile. *grins*

Thanks so much you guys! I really appreciate everything! Please review! See you guys later!