The characters and settings of Bleach belong to the author and his publishers.
There were good days and there were bad days, but the one thing guaranteed to turn a bad day into a good day happened toward the end of it, when Rukia came home. His head swivelled toward the door as soon as it opened, and the tension he never realized he was feeling dropped away as Rukia slammed the door behind her and came into their tiny living room. Ichigo reached for her, but she evaded his arms with the skill of long practice, dropped down to sit at his feet, and drew them into her lap. Unlacing his shoes, she inquired, "So how awful was it?"
"Awful. Totally awful. Awful in every possible way."
Setting the shoes aside, she began to massage his feet. It felt wonderful. "Really? Not really. Surely not everything was awful."
"Everything," Ichigo said, "every damned thing about this entire damned day was awful. At least till now." Ichigo let his head drop onto the back of the sofa with a sigh of deep satisfaction as her fingers found a particularly sensitive spot. "I hate giving exams. Three first-years cried."
"Still making the little ones cry, are you?" Rukia asked, not quite stifling a laugh.
"It isn't funny," he said peevishly. "And you're home pretty late. I was just about to come looking for you."
"You wouldn't have gotten in. They've got the entire building warded against you now. After the last time, Urahara isn't taking any chances."
Ichigo smirked. His day had indeed been dreadful, but it was looking up. Rukia was here, which meant that she had survived another day in Urahara's shop, doing whatever weird things Urahara had her do in there, without injury. Which meant he did not have to rush over to the shop and beat the hell out of Urahara. Enjoyable as that was, he didn't want to have to sit through another of Captain Kuchiki's tedious lectures about controlling his temper and how he would never achieve full acceptance by the shinigami world if he continued to challenge the Head of Real-World Operative Training to a duel every time Rukia came home injured.
Trials for the permanently stationed real-world operatives were in a few weeks, and almost no one escaped those unscathed. Rukia was extraordinarily good, of course, and she was widely considered to be a candidate for perfect scores, at least until Abarai took his exams next year. Evidently Captain Kyouraku was even running a book on it in the Seireitei. But she was still likely to end up hurt. He would have to prepare something extra-special for Urahara to mark the occasion.
But that could wait for tomorrow. Rukia was here now, uninjured, doing something extremely marvelous to his feet, and he was, for the moment, as close to perfectly happy as he had ever been. Ichigo let his eyes drift closed.
"I don't know what I'm going to do after the trials are over," Rukia said cheerfully, her blessed fingers still massaging his insteps. "It's been so long since I've had anything resembling free time."
"Yeah, whose fault is that? You were the one who insisted on completing the coursework in three years rather than four."
She ignored the jibe, as she so often did. "I'll have to find some kind of project," she continued. "If I'm not otherwise occupied Orihime-chan will have me wall-papering the nursery with her."
"You could marry me," Ichigo drawled, without bothering to open his eyes. "That would kill an afternoon."
Rukia wrapped her arms around his legs, her voice quivering with surprise and amusement. "You usually propose with more enthusiasm."
"You usually refuse with more violence."
"I'm not refusing."
His eyes opened; with his gaze fixed upon the ceiling, Ichigo inquired carefully, "What was that?"
Rukia hugged his calves, her mouth quirking upward. "I didn't think your hearing was going, Ichigo," she teased, "but maybe you should go see your father. You can't be too careful, you know—aahhh!"
Rukia shrieked in a manner unworthy of a Kuchiki as Ichigo leapt to his feet, jerked her upright, flung his arms around her, and flash-stepped.
A lurching, sick-making moment later they appeared in Ichigo's old room in the Kurosaki family home. Ichigo dragged her over to a desk and yanked at a drawer so sharply its contents spilled on the floor. "Hmm," he leaned over to shuffle through them, dipping her over backwards in doing so.
"Ichigo!" Rukia protested, pushing at the arm that was doing its best imitation of an iron bar around her waist. He had bent her far over her center of balance, and only his arm held her up. "What are you doing? Why are we—aahhhh!"
He plucked a sheet of paper out of the pile. "That's one of them. There's the other. And where's that—oh, that's right, it's not with this stuff."
"Ichigo," Rukia said, warning clear in her voice, but he wasn't listening; they flash-stepped again, this time to a storage unit across town. Ichigo blasted a hole in the wall.
"People are going to hear that!" Rukia snapped, exasperated.
"No time for keys," Ichigo retorted. Inside the storage unit he found a box, which he up-ended; a bunch of file folders came raining gently down. He fished one out of the stack.
"Aha!" he said, cheerfully. "That's where you got to."
Rukia squirmed to see what it was, but he tightened his grip and shifted her slightly. One more flash-step and they were in a featureless office. It's nicotine-yellow paint, dismal fluorescent lighting and ugly industrial art betrayed it as a government building.
Radiating glee, and still with an iron grip around Rukia's waist, Ichigo slapped one of the documents down on the counter. "This," he said, using his greater height over the hapless clerk to full advantage, "is a completed application for a marriage license. This," another slap on the counter, "is my birth certificate and this," another slap, "is hers. I expect to be married in the next five minutes." He leaned over the counter. "Are we clear?"
The clerk, face to nose with a looming and deeply menacing ex-shinigami, swallowed audibly. "We can't possibly—it's after hours—we'd need a supervisor to sign it—"
"Aren't you a supervisor?"
"Well, well, yes. But there have to be witnesses—"
Rukia reached out and snatched the marriage license from the counter. "How long have you had this?" she demanded, her eyes running down it.
"Seven years, 10 months, and 16 days," Ichigo replied promptly. He gestured to two people in the wide-eyed crowd that had gathered around them. "Come here. Yes, you, lady with the flowered dress. And you too, sir, you with the stupid manga haircut. I'm Kurosaki Ichigo and this is Kuchiki Rukia and you're going to be witnesses to our marriage. Yes ma'am, I know I'm not wearing shoes. Let's pay attention to what's important here. My shoes or lack of shoes is not the issue."
"You've had this since the day—since that day on the hill," Rukia said wonderingly. "You've wanted to marry me since before I left Soul Society! Since you were just a kid!"
"Not that much of a kid," Ichigo explained to the scandalized-looking witnesses. To the clerk he said, "Is there some reason why you aren't working on getting me married?"
With trembling hands the clerk turned to his computer and tapped out a few commands.
"Ichigo! We can't get married now!" Rukia said. "What about my brother? Elder brother will be very unhappy if I get married and he's not invited."
Or informed. That was enough to give Ichigo pause. Captain Kuchiki would indeed be extremely unhappy if Ichigo and Rukia got married without him. With a sigh, he fixed the clerk with the long pointed end of his most ferocious Soul Reaper glare. "Don't move," he commanded, and flash-stepped.
They materialized in the waiting room of the Urahara's shop with a crack.
There were only two people in the waiting room, and one of them was the receptionist. "I need to see Urahara immediately," Ichigo snarled at the girl. She rose trembling and went into the back, returning with two startled ex-shinigami. "Oh, hey Yoroichi," said Ichigo.
"Me and Rukia are getting married. Want to come?"
"Er," said Yoroichi.
"You've got five minutes to decide," Ichigo said. "I've just got to go invite her brother and then we'll be right back. You can meet us at Karakura's town hall."
"Ichigo, I don't think--" started Rukia, but Urahara interrupted.
"You want a gateway, right?" His eyes gleamed under the brim of the hat. "I only wish I could be there to see what Captain Kuchiki says."
"He's not going to say anything," Ichigo said, and flash-stepped through the gateway.
"Ichigo, we can't do this," said Rukia, plucking at his sleeve.
"It will be fine," Ichigo said.
"He's going to be upset," Rukia said, her voice filled with deep unease.
"He's going to be fine."
"We can't just burst in on him," Rukia said, as Ichigo burst into the headquarters of the Sixth. Captain Kuchiki and his lieutenant looked up from an apparently absorbing discussion of paperwork, the latter to stare, the former to frown. Rukia flinched and tried to bow as low as she could from her precarious perch in Ichigo's arms.
Ichigo tightened his grip on the squirming Rukia and addressed his staring in-law-to-be.
"Would you like to see Rukia marry me? If so, we're going right now. You have thirty seconds to decide."
"You can't do that!" Abarai leaped to his feet. "There has to be a real wedding! What about her coworkers and friends?"
"We can do that later," said Ichigo.
Byakuya surveyed him gravely, and gave a slight, approving nod. "We shall have a reception," he said. "I shall plan something suitably celebratory." He looked at Rukia, still dangling from Ichigo's arm, and almost smiled. At least his face lightened just a little bit. "It's much less expensive to do it this way."
"Elder brother!" Rukia said, shocked, and then burst out laughing.
"We're going to the town hall in Karakura," Ichigo instructed the other two men, and then flash-stepped back to the marriage registry office.
When the four of them arrived the little crowd had swelled into a large crowd. "Oh, that must be her family," the woman in the floral dress remarked. "My goodness, what handsome young men."
Rukia was bent over Ichigo's arm, still laughing helplessly. "Her family is here," Ichigo said to the clerk, tugging Rukia upright as he did so. "Marry us. Now."
"Ichigo," Rukia protested, squirming around to face him. "When I said I'd marry you I didn't mean right this minute. What about Ishida and Orihime and Chad? What about my friends from Soul Society? What's the hurry?"
Ichigo tilted her chin up with his free hand, the better to look into her eyes. "I've proposed to you 37 times in the last two years," he said. "Not that I'm counting. Since you finally agreed, I really don't want to waste any more time. You heard your brother—you can have a nice party after and you can invite the whole world, for all I care. As long as I have you the rest of it doesn't matter."
The flowered lady sighed. "How romantic. A happy ending."
"And after the kind of life I've had," Ichigo said, "I damn well deserve a happy ending."
"A happy ending?" Rukia said, surprised. "That's not what this is, you know."
He stilled and looked at her, heart sinking. "It's not?"
"Marriage isn't a happy ending, Ichigo," she said, gorgeously flushed and smiling. "It's a happy beginning."
"That works too," he said, and kissed her. Turning to the clerk, he snarled, "Don't you have something for me to sign yet?"
Trembling, the clerk swivelled the register toward him and presented him with a pen. He scrawled his name and handed it to Rukia, who wrote in an elegant and old-fashioned hand:
Ichigo grinned at the marriage license. Yes. All in all, a very good day.