Breathe Your Life into Me

I don't own Bleach!

Chapter fifteen

The brilliant sun shone, casting its rays of light illuminating the town below. The wind of October whistled as it blew past an unsuspecting passerby. Voices of children could be heard from the distance as they laughed while playing with the snow.

Rukia walked down the road with a serene smile on her face. She headed towards the one place that changed her life the most. She felt the presence of her orange haired companion and her smile stretched into a grin.

Closing her eyes, she sighed in contentment as she felt him wrap his arm around her, giving her the courage and love that she desired for the longest time. She opened her violet eyes to glance at his mature face.

She memorized his peaceful features and kept them at heart for the future. Her eyes took her to his pale lips and she relished in the memory of them being pressed to her own pair. She remembered the feeling of his warmth seeping into her very core, engulfing her in a blanket of security and safety.

He had to have noticed her staring at him for he turned his face to look at her with a small smirk. Rukia's cheeks turned a hue of red when she realized that she was caught with her hand in the cookie jar. However, she didn't dare break eye-contact with him for fear of losing him.

His beautiful hazel eyes were simply too breath-taking for her to be able to stop looking at them. She just noticed that amidst the brilliant swirl of hazel hid freckles of amber shining whenever the sun hit the right angle.

She opted to break the silence that seemed so insistent to envelope them, when a cool finger touched her mouth and her orange-haired companion simply smiled at her with a twinkle in his eyes. Rukia felt something in her heart clench at the motion and she obeyed his unspoken order.

Not realizing that in her daze she reached her desired destination, she felt a small tug from her companion. She turned to him with a questioning stare. He simply answered her with a tilt of his head. She followed his line of sight and her breath hitched in her throat when she felt his arm unwrap itself from around her.

She wanted to object but something in her prevented her from voicing out her objections.

"Ichigo…" she wanted to whisper but for the life of her, she couldn't make her voice work and the name simply stuck in her throat.

She saw him nod his head at her as if he had heard her calling his name. He started moving away from her when she tried to reach him.

"You have to let me go, Rukia." Ichigo's voice came no more than a whisper but it felt to Rukia as if he had screamed his plea to her.

She couldn't bear tearing her eyes from him and tried to protest when he suddenly stood before her and hugged her like there was no tomorrow. At that single moment, she felt her heart shatter to thousands of sharp pieces. Her eyes widened briefly before shuttering close in resignation. Hugging back just as fiercely, she mumbled into his shirt a silent promise of devotion, "I will always love you, Ichigo."

She felt him kissing the top of her head before the wind carried his own promise of love to her. Memories came rushing back to her with a jolt and she couldn't help but let herself whisked by them.

"What do you mean, 'you're still bound to it'?" Rukia asked incredulously, still not quite believing the former Espada. It was still hard to trust him after all the things that he had done in the past but she was still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"It's just as you heard me, woman. Don't make me repeat myself," Grimmjow growled lowly as he made himself comfortable on the cold floor.

Rukia huffed in annoyance. She could feel a vein throbbing in her forehead. She was not in the mood to play miss-nice-shinigami at the moment.

"Then do you know how to break it?" she asked, trying to hide the eagerness from her voice.

Grimmjow spared her a brief glance before scoffing at her and mumbling something incoherent under his breath. Rukia's eyes narrowed at his antiques and she resisted the urge to go and slap the back of his head. He was being such an ass at a very bad time and this was definitely not the time to be Mr. Yes-I'm-an-asshole-and-I-only-care-about-number-one.

"Well…?" she asked again, hoping beyond hope that he would be of some use to her. She chanced a look at Ichigo and her brows creased in a worried frown. He looked paler than usual and he was sweating a lot. Not to mention, his breaths were coming in short gasps.

She bit her lower lip before turning to look back at the proud Espada. She noticed his staring at her with an unreadable glint in his azure eyes before he turned his head away.

Grimmjow sighed in annoyance before finally making up his mind to help them. That way, he would also help himself get rid of these nasty bounds. He only succeeded in moving most of them before he ran out of reiatsu to take out the rest.

"Yeah, I know a way. But it's gonna take a helluva lot of reiatsu to do this right," he said in a gruff voice.

Rukia's eyes practically shone with undeniable hope with a hint of gratitude in them. She waited for him eagerly to start explaining the drill of things so that they could start working on it as soon as possible. After all, with the way things were looking the sooner the better.

A muffled groan came from next to Ichigo and Rukia saw that her red-haired childhood friend was starting to come to it.

"Renji!" she practically screamed his name as she rushed to his side and helped him sit up.

Renji rubbed the sore spot on his head as he blinked stars out of his vision. "Rukia?" he questioned when his eyes widened as the past events came rushing back to him.

"Relax, Renji. He's gone for now," she assured him and felt him visibly relax.

Renji rubbed a sore spot on the back of his head and looked around the place. He could make a few holes in the walls but nothing remarkable as to give him hope of breaking out of this cold cell.

"Mah, we have to be prepared next time. We can't simply be his punching bags whenever he wants," said Renji as he gritted his teeth in frustration at their latest humiliation.

Rukia bowed her head and stood up when she heard Grimmjow scoff.

"Talk about your ass being a punching bag not mine, Pineapple."

"What did you say?" Renji hissed and started to stand when Rukia held her hand out in a silent command for him to stay still. He gritted his teeth but complied without further complaint.

"Yeah, keep your dog in leash, woman. You don't want him running off and doing anything stupid," Grimmjow mocked with a taunting smirk.

Rukia's eyes hardened and she took a deep calming breath before she spoke, "This is not the time to fight. But since you mentioned a leash, I'm more than willing to put one on you, kitty."

A smirk.

A raise of the head.

The blow hit the mark.

The Kuchiki attitude never failing and always coming in handy.

Renji snickered behind her at the dumbfounded expression written all over the former Espada's face. After a few moments, surprise turned into anger and a warning growl erupted from deep within Grimmjow's chest.

Rukia stood tall and proud, facing him without any fear. Sure, she needed his help to free Ichigo but he was taking things too far. Humiliating her and her friend too which according to the Kuchiki standards was not acceptable at all.

The staring contest went on for a few tense moments before Grimmjow averted his eyes with a muttered, "Whatever." He wasn't up to another fight and didn't feel like ruining the only chance he had of getting out of this reeking hell hole.

He would never admit to it but he too needed some help and those shinigami just happened to be around. He wanted to be free and to kick that arrogant wanna-be Espada's ass to Hell and back.

Rukia felt a little of the bent up tension residing in her chest lessen a little and let out a sigh of relief. At least, things were going their way for a change. She knew that she was no match for an angry Espada even if his reiatsu was depleted. So, when he showed no sign of attacking her, she felt that she could breathe a little easier.

She smiled at Grimmjow and motioned for him to start talking about that method of his. He pointedly ignored her at first and Rukia furrowed her brows in worry. Maybe, he changed his mind and he didn't want to help them? Or maybe, he was only bluffing and there was no method whatsoever? She fervently prayed that, that was not the case and that he was taking his sweet time in organizing his thoughts or doing whatever he was doing.

Hope started draining out of her fast when she saw no sign of willingness to speak. Her eyes started welling up unconsciously and she averted her eyes to stare at Ichigo's pale face. She took the first step when she heard him speaking, "This is not gonna be a piece of cake for you, shinigami." He directed his speech to her.

Her head snapped to look at him and her eyes filled up with relief when she heard continuing.

"These things, you can't just take them off with a switch. The host's body has to be in a near death-state for them to loosen up a little and that's where you come," said Grimmjow, his tone of voice eerily calm and even.

Rukia frowned at the prospect of having to wait until Ichigo was completely drained and almost dead.

"Are you trying to tell me that Ichigo must be within an inch of his life to get them off?" Rukia replied uncertainly.

"That's exactly what I'm saying. Then you and your little friend over there will shoot one of your petty spells at them and take them off." He motioned at Renji with his hand, "Of course, there's no guarantee that Kurosaki over there will survive."

"You twisted son of bitch!" Renji yelled and attempted to attack the blue-haired Arrancar when he noticed Rukia's state.

Rukia felt nauseated at the mere idea of letting Ichigo reach such a dangerous ledge. She put a hand on her forehead and sucked in shuddering breaths. She felt suffocated in this place; almost as if all the air in there had been sucked away and none was left for her to breathe in.

"Rukia…" Renji said worriedly, forgetting all about attacking the arrogant Arrancar for a minute, and took hold of her shoulders gently in an attempt to keep her grounded. "Don't worry, we'll find another way," he assured her. He didn't know if he would be able to find something else but he'd be damned if he had to watch Rukia in that heartbreaking state or to see Ichigo on the brink of death again.

"Do what you want. But, there's no other way." Grimmjow waved them off. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.

"Renji…there is no other way." She looked at him, eyes full with unshed tears but also with determination. And he knew at that moment that Rukia was going to go through with this, that she trusted that arrogant bastard enough to take his word.

He nodded feebly and stepped back. His hands fell to his sides and formed fists of desperation.

" We'll do it," she admonished.

A maniac grin split Grimmjow's lips and his eyes glinted in an unreadable emotion that made Rukia's heart skip a beat in fear. But, she held her ground and stood by her decision.

For some reason, she felt as if she had just made a deal with the devil himself.

"Let's start with draining sleeping beauty over there to speed up the process, shall we?" Grimmjow stood and started walking towards Ichigo's weak form when Rukia stopped him.

"Wait, how do I know that you're not trying to trick us?" she asked haughtily.

"That's where the fun part is: You don't," he leered in her face. He raised his eyebrows and dared her to say anything else.

She looked hesitantly between Ichigo and him before relenting and nodding slowly.

His grin got bigger if that was even possible and he marched towards the unsuspecting orange-haired shinigami.

He reached Ichigo's side and grabbed the front of his black robes and hissed, "Nice to see you again, Kurosaki. Now, if you don't mind, I'll be taking your reiatsu." He gripped the side of his head none-too-gently and immediately black waves of reiatsu started flowing. Ichigo groaned softly but his eyes remained close. Rukia fisted her hands to keep herself from jumping at the Arrancar.

"All done," Grimmjow drawled as he let go of the too-pale shinigami and stared in awe at his hands. He could practically feel the power pumping through his veins, replenishing his lost reiatsu. Savoring the feeling, he closed his eyes as he focused on a spot between his shoulder blades and felt the reiatsu-sucking-threads break under the onslaught of offensive reiatsu.

He breathed in relief and re-opened his eyes just in time to see the woman and red haired fellow scrambling to help Kurosaki.

Rukia touched Ichigo's forehead and willed him to just open his eyes and look at her. She prayed that she didn't make the wrong decision and kil-No! She did NOT kill him. Anything but to go down that road…

She turned to see Grimmjow flexing his arms and creased her eyebrows. Didn't he say that he was bound…? Well, that did not look 'bounded' to her with the way he was moving freely, much freely.

Grimmjow caught her eyes just in time to shoot her a menacing smirk, when Rukia realized that he lied to her.

"You said that this was the only way!" she yelled.

He arched his eyebrows in amusement before replying, "Well, I lied."

Rukia felt her blood run cold at that, rage bubbled in her chest and she lashed out at him without thinking through her actions. "You fucking asshole! You manipulated me! You fucking let me basically hand over Ichigo on a silver platter for you, you sick son-of-a-bitch!" Red rage blinded her and all too quickly she found herself unsheathing her sword and attacking head first with no strategy in mind.

Fortunately, Renji was able to come out as level-minded and effectively held Rukia back by her waist and disarmed her. All the while, Grimmjow stood smirking with an amused look covering his face. Renji gritted his teeth as he tried to calm down his raged friend and talk logic into her head. It wouldn't do them any good if she got herself hurt fighting a sneaking unworthy liar.

"Rukia! We can still help him! Get a grip of yourself!" He shook her shoulders frantically. He felt her crumple in his hands as rage filled curses and lashing arms turned into sorrowful sobs and clinging hands.

"I killed him, Renji. I killed him. It's my entire fault," she cried helplessly.

He squeezed her shoulders trying to comfort her and gently coaxed her to look at her lover's form. "You did not kill him. He's still alive. See, he's still breathing. He's strong, Rukia, he'll never die from something like this," he whispered softly.

Grimmjow watched the whole thing and clicked his tongue. "Sure I lied. But I didn't say that this one won't work, now did I?" he continued offhandedly, "if I were you, I'd take all the reiatsu in those twigs before they dry off."

Rukia turned surprised eyes at him before hastily doing what he said. In a matter of few minutes, Renji and Rukia were able to gather all the still usable twigs and transfer the reiatsu in them back to Ichigo. All they had to do now was to wait for him to open his eyes. It didn't take long for him to abide by their wishes and to stir out of sleepless slumber.

Ichigo sat up with a jolt stared unseeingly ahead before he finally registered where he was. "Ichigo…"Rukia whispered her voice quivering with fear. She hugged him tightly for fear of this not being real. She felt a huge weight lifting off her chest.

Ichigo was a bit surprised but hugged her just as tightly and kissed the top of her head. "Rukia, it's so great to see you again." He smiled softly.

Renji stood back to give them some privacy and watched the previous Espada with wariness.

After what seemed like ages but was in reality a few minutes, they finally broke apart. They couldn't seem to get enough of each other. Ichigo kissed Rukia softly, savoring the sweet taste of her on his lips before reluctantly breaking the kiss.

She smiled at him, genuinely happy for what seemed like the first time in a very long time. "You're a big huge idiot, you know that?" she asked lightly with a smile.

Ichigo blinked innocently before rubbing the back of his head. "C'mon, that what you say to someone who came to rescue you?"

She shook her head and smacked him lightly on the shoulder. "What a great rescue you managed to pull off."

He smiled sheepishly and said, "Thanks for the help."

Rukia smiled back. "Thanks for coming."

"Ok, guys, we're all happy now. Can we start moving any time today?" Renji clapped his hands and grinned at his two friends.

Ichigo looked up at his friend sheepishly and started to stand when he felt a clap against his back. "Glad you're back on your feet, man. Don't wanna have to carry your dead ass back again," Renji joked.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Ichigo replied with a smile.

A lone silent tear escaped its prison and created a road for itself across white milky skin. Rukia clenched her teeth in preparation to the memory she knew would come next. She brushed her sign of weakness hastily and adjusted her coat against the sudden bite of cold.

In all honesty, she never believed that, that day would have come so soon. Not after she had finally found peace with Kaien's death.

It hurt. It hurt so much that she barely knew what to do with this kind of heartache. A stroll down memory path had her at the life-altering point.

"Kurosaki Ichigo. I see those ants helped you escape. I knew I shouldn't have left you with them, such persisting insects," Miedo's voice thundered from an unknown point in Los Noches.

A sudden feeling of dread rushed up Ichigo's spine and just as easily panic for Rukia's safety followed. His immediate reaction was to make sure that she was by his side and was relieved to feel her hand seeking his. He grasped it squeezing it reassuringly.

"And you Grimmjow, never thought you to be such a little traitor to want to join forces with these filthy shinigami," he mocked the former Espada, spitting the last part haughtily, "Then again, I wouldn't have expected more from you."

Said Espada bared his teeth and a deep growl rumbled deep in his chest at the impudence of one asshole with an ego the size of this hell hole. "Why don't you skip this shit and show yourself already?" Grimmjow snarled in retaliation.

"Behind you, traitor."

Grimmjow's eyes widened momentarily before he was tossed through the room with the swipe of Miedo's hand. He didn't even have the time to comprehend what happened as he crashed back first against the wall denting it slightly. He gasped for the stolen air as he felt his lungs burning with need.

Miedo looked back at Ichigo and smirked at him before disappearing one more time to appear behind the raven haired shinigami. She gasped for air as Miedo held her by the neck and steadily applied pressure wounding her larynx.

One minute Rukia was by Ichigo's side and the next she was gone.

"Rukia!" Ichigo shouted at the top of his lungs as he raced to save the love of his life. He registered at the back of his mind that Renji was also running to save the petite shinigami from the clutches of this ruthless Arrancar. His mind replayed the tragedies of his life like a broken record and that strengthened his will to save the only dear person left in this world.

Not like this. Not like this. Not like this. Nononono! I'm not gonna lose her too. Not her! He chanted over and over as he saw her movements slowing little by little.

"Best way to destroy the enemy is by destroying his heart first," Miedo taunted.

"Guran rei sero."

A huge blast of sphere-like shape of flaming blue hit its mark. A cloud of dust formed around the collision point between the powerful wave of reiatsu and the arrogant Arrancar. Ichigo flash stepped to see Rukia hunched over coughing with Miedo nowhere in sight.

He carried her bridal style and flash stepped away from the gaping crater in the floor that the blast created.

"Don't ever think that you've won just 'cuz ya got a hit on me," Grimmjow sneered.

Miedo dusted himself off carefully as if he got the time of his life. "I have both yours and Kurosaki's reiatsu in me. You'll never be able to beat me." Miedo gloated. "Give it up."

Grimmjow scoffed. He spit a mouthful of blood to the side. "Yeah right, and I'm Ulquiorra Cifer. Why don't you give it up? " he retorted easily.

Ichigo shot a look of gratitude at the proud Espada whom pointedly ignored him, before he inspected Rukia's neck.

"Are you ok?" he asked her worriedly as he looked at the swollen red bruises forming around her neck. That would soon turn to a collection of rainbow colors, he noted. He continued to flash step away determined to put as much space between Rukia and Miedo.

When Ichigo was satisfied that he was far enough from the battle going between the two Arrancar, he lowered Rukia down. He noted that Renji was standing a few feet behind him giving them the privacy they needed. He mentally thanked him for his consideration.

"I'm fine, Ichigo. Just a little roughened up," she replied as she pushed herself to her feet. "Now, where's that son of a bitch? I got a score to settle with him."

"Wow, hold it right there. You're not going to settle anything."

"Huh? What do you mean?" She furrowed her eyebrows warily.

"You're going back to Soul Society with Renji." Ichigo raised his eyebrows challenging her to fight him back.

He was not disappointed.

"What? No one's going back with Renji. In fact, no one's gonna go back to Soul Society. We're in this together or did you forget?" Rukia was furious. She didn't know whether to be offended by his suggestion or touched by his concern for her. Eventually, the former won and she couldn't rein in her temper.

"Listen to me; I'm not going to lose you to this. I won't stand by as another person dies because of me. You're going back. End of story." Ichigo said seriously, his eyes bearing a resolve unlike any other.

"I'm not going to lose you either! How is it fair that I have to live with the possibility of never seeing you again? Huh! We're supposed to be in this together. We're supposed to be a team for all that it matters! I told you once that I will not stand behind you; I'll stand beside you-"

Before Rukia could get anything else out, her lips were assaulted by a pair of soft yet demanding ones. Ichigo kissed Rukia for all that it was worth. He tried to convey his chaotic emotions of love, sadness, frustration and despair. He tried to tell her about his darkest fears and worst nightmares as he claimed her lips over and over and marked her as his. He was a mess inside and he knew it but deep down he had always known that this day would come for him and he had made his decision.

Rukia was left in a daze from the cacophony of emotions she was hammered with all at once. She tried to respond back just as heatedly turning the forlorn kiss all the more desperate.

After what seemed like ages but was in reality mere minutes, they separated. However, Ichigo kept a firm arm around her waist and leaned his forehead against hers. Some time along the kiss, tears spilled from Rukia's eyes and she held onto Ichigo as best she could. The minute Ichigo had touched his lips to hers; she realized that this was it. That he had made his decision and that there was no going back for either of them.

"No, Ichigo. Please, don't," she pleaded brokenly.

Ichigo just gave her a small sad smile and kissed her forehead one last time.

"I have to…" he began, uncertain of how he would make her understand.

"No, you don't!"

He sighed heavily as he gently started moving her hands from him. He held both of them in his own warm ones.

"Shush, don't cry," he cooed softly. "Listen Rukia, I need you to listen to me carefully."

Rukia shook her head repeatedly as silent tears turned to hitched breaths and hiccupped sobs.

"No. Listen, I need you to know that no matter what happens I love you. I've always loved you and I always will. You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Rukia. Don't you ever forget that. I need you to promise me that you will live the life I couldn't live. Rukia, hey, you have to at least give me that," he gently cupped her cheeks and wiped the continuous stream of tears.

"Why should I give you anything? I won't let you do this. No!"

Sobs wracked her petite frame and tears clouded her vision. This was not happening. This was just a bad dream, a nightmare, a figment of her sick twisted imagination.

"Hey, can't you give a man a final wish?" Ichigo said jokingly trying to lighten up the mood and lessen the suffocating tension between them. His attempt failed terribly.

She hit his chest repeatedly with her fists until she couldn't anymore. Ichigo embraced her tightly one last time. "Thank you, Rukia," he thanked her, "For everything."

Somewhere in the background, shouts and curses bellowed over the booming sounds of crashing bodies against concert walls. Dust flew from crates in the ground and dents in the walls. Blasts of reiatsu were exchanged between both Arrancar and blood was spilt from various wounds.

With a nod of Ichigo's head, Renji knew that their time was up. Entrusted with the task of taking Rukia back to the safety of Soul Society, Renji was a man on a mission.

"Take good care of her, Renji," Ichigo said as he clasped the hand of the other shinigami and shook it firmly.

"You know I will." Renji pursed his lips. He didn't like this as much as Rukia but he had a job to do and that was to keep Rukia safe against all odds. Even at the cost of his own life.

At first, Rukia didn't make a move to acknowledge her childhood friend until he started ushering her away from the fight, away from Ichigo.

She spun around with a glare unlike any other Ichigo had ever witnessed before and pointed at him with an accusing finger. "You are an asshole! You are a selfish jackass who only thinks of himself and of his own feelings but you know what? I happen to care about your pitiful ass and when you die I have to live with that!"

With every word, she came closer to him before she was grabbed by Renji and tossed over his shoulder with a grim face. "Let me go, Renji or I swear to God I'll fucking kill you! Let me go! Ichigo, if you have the least bit of dignity, come and face me you sick bastard! Ichigo, you coward! Don't you do this! DON'T YOU DO THIS!"

She tried to free herself from the iron grip she was held captive by. She kicked, screamed, insulted, punched even went as far as bit. But still, Renji's grip didn't loosen and his determination didn't waver. If anything, it became stronger and his grip became tighter.

When nothing worked Rukia succumbed to the insistent urge of crying and her attempts ceased to exist. Last thing she registered hearing was the sound of bone-chilling laughter and menacing words.

"You're mine."

Renji hated this. He hated this entire situation. He hated leaving his best friend and rival in the line of fire. He hated seeing his childhood friend crying herself to oblivion. And above all, he hated being the one to see the shell that Rukia would surely become.


Two weeks had passed since then.

Renji managed to bring Rukia back to the safety that the Soul society walls provided. He was silently thanked by her brother, Kuchiki Byakuya even though he knew he didn't deserve any of his gratitude. Though, he tried to avoid answering the questioning looks that Byakuya occasionally shot him.

Where is Kurosaki?

He didn't have the heart to admit that his friend was quite possibly dead.

He was ashamed. Disgusted. He was forced to leave a fellow shinigami, a friend in battle against an impossibly strong enemy. He had tried more than once to get back to Hueco Mundo but was unable to. Security around the passage way to that dreadful place was almost impossible to breach. Yamamoto Genryuusai certainly made sure of that.

Renji walked towards the forth division barricades to check on his long time friend. His feet guided him automatically to her room, passing many of this division's members on the way without actually seeing them.

He stopped at one specific door arguing with himself whether he should wait for another day or just barge in and get this awkward moment over with.

"What did this poor door do to you to deserve such a frightening glare?" Unohana Retsu, captain of the forth division asked with a comforting smile.

"Huh? Oh, Unohana-taichou…I was just… "he trailed off, unsure how to continue. He was so deep in thought he didn't even notice that he was standing in front of Rukia's door room boring holes into said door.

"Give her time, Abarai-fukutaichou. What Kuchiki-san needs right now is a friend and I have a feeling that you will be able to fulfill that role excellently," she said encouragingly before walking away to tend to other business.

He stared after her for awhile pondering over what she said. Shaking his head, he knocked softly on the wooden door waiting for a reply.

Seconds stretched to minutes and still there was no reply. Renji sighed heavily, he expected as much. For the last two weeks since they were back, Rukia had refused to talk to him much less see him or have anything to do with him. He knew that this was the reaction waiting for him and thought he would be able to take her harsh treatment, more like none-existent for lack of better words. However, it still stung and left a painful ache in his heart.

He pushed the door open with a warning that he was coming in regardless of her desires and stood tall next to a chair in the far corner of the room. He tried clearing his throat a couple of times, wanting her to at least look at him, acknowledge him but he got nothing in return, not like he had expected her to have a sudden change in heart.

Still, a man can only hope…

Rukia sat still on the soft bed and stared outside the open window, not quite registering anything around her. Her eyes were distant and her face was a tad too pale to pass for being healthy. She didn't care about anything at the moment, not after she lost the person she loved the most in this world. She gritted her teeth as she remembered the look of pure devastation and hurt flicker in his hazel eyes as she threw insults at him one after the other before the hidden walls were up again.

"Rukia…" Renji began unsure whether he should continue or not. He didn't need to wait any longer when finally the dam was down and the sitting shell that was Kuchiki Rukia broke.

"Don't." It was a silent plea for him not to say anything regarding what happened two weeks prior.

"Rukia, look at me. This, that you're doing? It has to stop. Ichigo wouldn't want you to sit around looking like this dead shell."

"Please, Renji. Stop," she pleaded as she turned eyes welling with unshed tears. She fisted the sheets in her hands as she tried to rein in her erratic heartbeat and uncontrollable sadness and devastation.

For a moment, Renji couldn't help but be taken aback by the intensity of her grief and found himself walking towards her. He hugged her to his chest as he felt her crumble in his arms, sobbing and holding onto him as if for dear life.

He mumbled soothing words of comfort as he took in her grief and shouldered the blame for it.

"W-why? Why d-did he have to b-be so d-difficult? Why does h-he always h-have to sacrifice h-himself?" she managed between hiccups. "I-I hate him. I h-hate him."

Renji rubbed soothing circles on her back. "No you don't. You just love him too much to want to let go."

If it were possible, Rukia cried harder in his arms. It went on for some time until eventually he noticed that she began leaning heavily against him. He took hold of her shoulders and gently lowered her on the bed to rest. She had cried herself to sleep.

When Renji made a move to stand, she grabbed his hand to stop him.

"Renji," she whispered softly, "I'm pregnant."

It was almost inaudible; Renji had to strain his ears in order to make sure he heard her correctly. He felt her grip going lax and took it as his cue to leave.

He stood there dumbfounded for a full minute before he took in a deep breath. He didn't have anything to say. He was too shocked to even be able to form a coherent reply so he simply walked away.

Rukia was brought back to reality as she heard the familiar laughter of one orange-haired shinigami. She smiled brightly as she turned to look at him. "What are you doing, Ichigo?" she called amusedly.

"Nothing!" he yelled back with eyes twinkling with mirth and mischief.

Rukia laughed as she joined him and hugged him tightly.

"Nothing, he says," Renji mimicked jokingly. "He just tried to fry my ass with his half-assed attempts at Kido," he grumbled half-heartedly.

"Watch your language," she warned. "Besides, Ichigo was never good at controlling his reiatsu," she continued while ruffling his hair playfully.

Renji laughed at Ichigo's annoyed face and couldn't help but ruffle his hair too for good measures. That earned him a scowl from orange-haired boy and a grumbled, "Hey! Watch the hair!"

Rukia looked lovingly as the two males in her life bickered about anything and everything. It reminded her so much of the old days that she couldn't help but feel nostalgic.

"Mom, can I ask you something?" Big hazel eyes stared questioningly at her.

She blinked a couple of times. "Sure, what do you have in mind?"

"Why is my last name 'Kurosaki' not 'Kuchiki' like yours?" he asked curiously.

"Well, let's see… it's because your father was a great man and you deserve to have his name," she stated proudly.

"Really?" he asked eagerly.

"Yup, really, he was so strong every hollow feared him!" she chuckled as Ichigo practically radiated admiration and respect.

"Then how come he's not here now?" Ichigo wondered innocently.

"Your father had to fight this really nasty hollow to protect all of us and well, things didn't exactly go as planned…" she trailed off.

"I bet he kicked that hollow's ass and he's just resting before he can come back to us!" he declared enthusiastically with a grin rivaling that of his father's before jumping to hug his mother tightly.

Rukia hugged him back just as tightly one last time before she sent him off to play. "I love you, Ichigo," she told him lovingly.

"I love you too, Mom," the boy replied before hurrying off to practice his Kido.

"He's just like him," Rukia said as she noticed Renji coming up to her.

"Yeah, and just as bad too," Renji said with a smirk.

Rukia punched his arm lightly and rolled her eyes as Renji feigned being hurt.

"I can't believe it's been six years already," she said with a sigh.

The red-haired shinigami nodded his head. "How long are you planning to stay in Karakura?" he asked seriously.

Rukia averted her eyes and her face turned solemn when she finally looked at him. "I want Ichigo to have a normal life. I want him to live his human life, after that, we'll return to Soul Society," she stated, determination blazing in her eyes. Nothing could make her change her mind.

"They're not gonna like that and you know it." He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck tiredly, a habit that he picked up when he came to the living world.

"Well, they're gonna have to deal with it and make sure to tell Ni-sama that as well because I'm not changing my mind and if they come, I'll fight them tooth and nail." She crossed her arms across her chest protectively.

"Mah…no one's gonna come. I'm gonna make sure of that," he assured her.

"Thanks, Renji… for everything."

He smiled in return and turned to watch the orange-haired boy as he failed miserably over and over.

"Hey! Old man, I'm sick of this Kido thing. Let's spar!" Ichigo laughed at the look of irritation on Renji's face before he scurried off, the sound of his laughter the only hint that he was there.

"You little brat! Who are you calling old man?"

Rukia stood watching over her two important people. Things have changed over the past six years and becoming a mother had taught her so many things. She moved into Karakura, into Ichigo's house where she raised their son to be as great as his father. She opened a flower shop in place of the family clinic and started working there as a florist. It helped her to be near her son and had a feeling that Ichigo wouldn't mind her renovating the house a little.

Urahara came by every once and awhile to check on her and give her updates on the status-quo of Soul Society. He was also kind enough to drop a few gifts to little Ichigo and train him a little.

Renji stopped by whenever he had the chance to keep her company and to spoil her son whenever possible.

She sighed contently and looked up at the blue sky. Renji got a new friend and a sparring partner while she got her own Kurosaki Ichigo.

Soul Society was never able to find the bodies of the three fighting in Hueco Mundo. A small part of her held hope that he was still alive. However, she realized that she had to let go and start living her life instead of simply going through the motions.

She sighed in relief as a heavy burden lifted off her chest and looked to the sky one last time with big smile on her face.

"Today's a new day. Watch over us, Ichigo."


The End

Writing this story has been a great adventure for me. It taught me many things and helped me improve my writing style. I had the chance to write angst which is definitely my favorite.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude and thanks to all who have supported me from day one to this moment.

Thank you very much for reading and reviewing!

Take care,

Signing off,