Inner Conflict — Epilogue
—:—Three Months Later—:—
"Give me a break, you call that soup? Captain Ukitake will like mine much better—"
"In your dreams!"
"In your nightmares!"
Rukia sighed, smiling slightly and covering her ears to block out the argument that the wind carried through the air, up to her office. A recent raid in Hueco Mundo had been successful, in a manner of speaking. They'd managed to rescue a few of the captured Shinigami, including the thirteenth squad's third seat. For the first time nobody was complaining that Kiyone and Sentarou were making too much noise.
"Noisy couple of idiots, aren't they?" Rukia looked over her shoulder at Ichigo, who was sitting on her window sill.
"Ever heard of a door?" She asked, raising an eyebrow. Ichigo shrugged, and she rolled her eyes. "Everyone's too relieved to have Kiyone back to complain about the arguing. That'll probably change after a couple of days, of course, but for now everyone's happy, so why mess it up?"
"Yeah, guess I don't blame you there." Ichigo conceded, jumping off the window sill. "So whatcha doing?"
"Paperwork. You know, that stuff that you read and sign off on because you're the person in charge. Ever heard of it?"
"Yeah. Very over-rated thing if you ask me. Plus Momo loves having work to do, so she doesn't mind taking all the paperwork…"
"Of course she doesn't." Rukia shook her head, signing off on the report and setting it aside, moving on to the next thing in her pile. She took another minute to listen to Kiyone and Sentarou, and smiled. "Music to my ears."
"That's sad." Ichigo informed her. She stuck her tongue out at him. "Oh very mature Rukia."
"You know what? I'm in a good mood. Be quiet."
A smile threatened to pull at Ichigo's lips. He tried to push it back quickly, but Rukia caught him. "I'm sorry, what was that? Was that a smile? Did you just almost smile?"
"Zip it." Ichigo said, his voice gruff. He turned away abruptly. Rukia smiled a tight smile as she stood up, walking casually around to look at Ichigo's face. He, in turn, looked away again.
"Oh come on." Rukia sighed. "It's okay for you to smile, I won't tell anyone. Except you know, maybe Rangiku-san, who will probably tell Captain Hitsugaya, who will pretend not to care except Momo-san will be standing right there, and she'll tell—"
"That's it!" Rukia ducked, laughing, as Ichigo's arm swung out to grab her. She took a few steps backwards, then turned tail to run. But Ichigo was faster, his reach longer. His arms were around her before she'd taken half a step, restraining her. "Gotcha." He said triumphantly, pulling her against his chest. Rukia didn't even bother to struggle. He was stronger than her, and anyways, she was right where she wanted to be.
Momo was ambushed almost the second she stepped foot outside her division building. She felt a bit guilty about leaving the rest of the paperwork, but there was only a little, and anyways Ichigo had taken off early, so why not her too—?
Her thoughts were cut off as someone attacked her from the right. "Momo-san!" Rangiku crooned, wrapping the smaller Shinigami in a bone-crushing hug.
"Ow…" Momo whimpered, feeling as if she were being crushed. "Rangiku-san…"
"Let's go out!" Rangiku was, of course, oblivious. "There's this bar in the third district that just started selling some new concoction, I've been looking for someone to go with me—"
"So that someone can help you get home when you drink yourself into a coma?" Rangiku waved Momo off.
"And then I thought, 'well I haven't seen Momo-san in awhile, she's been working too hard—'"
"Someone has to finish the paperwork. And Captain Kurosaki can't be bothered to pick up a pen—"
"So here I am asking you!" Rangiku finished as if Momo hadn't spoken. The brown-haired girl rolled her eyes, sighing. Sometimes it wasn't even worth speaking.
"I can't, Rangiku-san. Sorry."
"Why not?" Rangiku whined, pretending to be hurt.
"I have plans." Momo regretted the words the second they were out of her mouth. Stupid, stupid Momo, she cursed silently.
"Plans?" Rangiku repeated. Her eyes lit up. "Oooohhh, are you doing something with Captain Hitsugaya? What? Where?"
"Why?" Momo asked suspiciously. Rangiku tried and failed to look innocent.
"Yeah, so you can follow us like a nosy little spy." Momo muttered, looking away. "Forget it Rangiku-san. And you know if you follow us he'll skin you alive. Better stay away."
She Shunpo-ed away before Rangiku could say anything else. The tenth division vice-captain frowned. One of her best friends and her captain were going out on a date. She was entitled to know where.
And she knew just who she could ask.
"You know it'll be here in the morning—"
"Yes, it will be. I will say 'it'll be here in the morning,' leave it, and when I come in tomorrow morning I'll say, 'it'll be here this afternoon,' and leave it. And then I'll come back in the afternoon, I'll say, 'it'll be here later—'"
"I get it." Ichigo cut Rukia off, sighing and leaning back against the edge of the window, watching her do her paperwork.
"Captain Ukitake is sick again, I need to get this stuff done for him. Anyways, if you're so bored, go back to your own division and do something, take some work off poor Momo-san's hands—"
"She's not there." Ichigo shouted in surprise as Rangiku appeared in the window next to him, and he nearly fell off.
"What do you mean she's not there?" He asked when he'd recovered.
"She left a few minutes ago. Which is exactly what I came to talk to you about Rukia-san." Rukia rolled her eyes. She already knew what this was about. "Momo-san is going somewhere with Captain Hitsugaya. Do you know where?"
Rukia didn't look up when she answered. "Nope."
"Yup." Rangiku groaned.
"That's not fair! Why did she tell you but not me?"
"Because she knows I won't try to follow them." Rukia signed off on the last report and set it aside, finally done for the night.
"Fine." Rangiku huffed, offended. "I don't care."
"Yeah you do." Ichigo and Rukia spoke at the same time.
"I dooooo!" Rangiku whined, dropping her head on the window-sill. She recovered after less than a minute. "So Rukia-san, what are you doing tonight?"
"I'm not helping you spy on them."
"No, there's this bar in the third district that's trying some new concoction—"
"And you want someone to come so they can help you home when you drink yourself into a coma?" Rukia guessed.
"Momo-san made that same assumption, you know. It really pains me…anyways, you want to go with me?"
"Can't." Rukia stood up, stretching, and started for the door. "I'm busy."
"Doing what?" Rangiku demanded, obviously outraged.
"Stuff." Rukia left before Rangiku could ask for details. Rangiku blinked and looked over at Ichigo, surprised to see that he had disappeared as well.
"Everybody's so mean." She moaned as she Shunpo-ed away.
Ichigo and Rukia watched from the shadows as Rangiku left. They exchanged devious smiles.
"Thought she'd never leave." Ichigo said, chuckling darkly. Rukia rolled her eyes.
"Quit acting so evil. Come on. I don't want to spend all night here."
"Well you do have a couch…"
Rukia slapped Ichigo as she walked away. He smirked, jogging to keep up with her.
"Hiya." Toushirou looked down at Momo, who was standing to his left, smiling. She hopped up on the railing next to him. They were back at their childhood home once more. It had become a retreat for them. An escape. It was the one place they could go where no one would think to look for them. "How long have you been sitting here for?"
"Just a few minutes. Matsumoto took off early, so I left before she decided to come back."
"Yeah, she's looking for drinking partners, she stopped by to talk to me as I was leaving." Momo smiled, looking up at the sky. The sun was just setting, creating a collage of pink and yellow and orange and light purple through the sky. It was pretty.
"Of course." Toushirou rolled his eyes. "She's a lush, how she ever became a vice-captain—"
"Because when she gets serious, she's good at what she does."
"Too bad she's never serious." Momo giggled.
"That's not very nice."
"I'm not a very nice person, am I?"
"You're nice to me." Momo looked down to see Toushirou's face turn red, as it surely would — he hated having his 'nice' qualities pointed out. And sure enough his face burned, creating an interesting contrast of red and white between his face and hair. Momo bit back another giggle and looked back at the sky.
"You're the only person around worth being nice to." Toushirou muttered finally, recovering himself. It was almost an automatic thing for Momo to reach out, take his hand. Their fingers intertwined.
"Nice." Ichigo said off-handedly. He was watching the sun set. Rukia kept her eyes on the ground. Her good mood was fading with the sun. The day was almost over. And tomorrow they would be back to reality. Cold, harsh reality. Because all good things just had to come to an end?
"Okay." Ichigo sighed, looking down at her. "What's bothering you now?"
"You're a terrible liar."
"Then tell me what's wrong." Rukia didn't answer. Ichigo stopped walking and grabbed her arm, jarring her to a halt as well. She looked back at him, a bit annoyed.
"No." His voice was calm, but final. Their eyes met, and they were silent for a long time.
"One victory." Rukia said finally, yanking her arm free. "In this entire war, we have one victory. And in the long run, it's a victory that won't really matter. We're still at war. We may very well be for the rest of our lives. This isn't something that isn't going to just go away. No matter how much we wish it would."
Ichigo sighed. Yeah. He definitely understood that. "You're right." Rukia was surprise by how easily he agreed. "It is just one victory. But look how happy it made everyone. Kyoraku got his vice-captain back — he's been practically dancing ever since. We got back Ikkaku — still haven't decided if that's good or bad, but whatever — and we got Kiyone, which you know you're happy about." Rukia didn't even bother to try and deny that. "So yeah, maybe it's one small victory. But it's one more than we had a month ago."
He was right. As much as Rukia hated to admit it, he was right. One was better than none. "Anyways, let's not worry about that tonight. Night time or not, tonight is still today. And today everyone's supposed to be happy, which you were, earlier. Be happy again. I like you better when you're happy."
"Yeah, that's not too hypocritical." Rukia poked Ichigo's arm, smirking lightly. His lips twitched into a smile.
Momo leaned her head against Toushirou's shoulder, watching the last of the sun's rays fade from the sky. "It's not over." She said with a sigh. Toushirou knew what she was talking about.
"No." He agreed, leaning in and brushing his lips against Momo's forehead. "Maybe it never will be. Who knows."
"Wish we did." Momo sounded slightly bitter. Toushirou almost smiled.
"Having the ability to see the future would be nice." He agreed, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and drawing her closer to him. "But not exactly possible. Guess we'll just have to settle for living and seeing what happens."
Momo considered that for a minute. As long as Toushirou was there, living with her…
She could handle that.
"Another day over." Rukia said as the sun finished it's descent, and the moon took it's place.
"And a million more to go." Ichigo finished the thought. "Ever wish you could see the future?" He asked after a minute.
"Only every single day." Ichigo chuckled lightly. "I don't like not knowing what's going to happen."
"I think there's a reason we're not supposed to know." Rukia just shrugged. Ichigo smiled, unable to help himself. For the first time in a long — long — time, everything felt…okay. Sure, they were no closer to winning this war then they had been a long, long time ago, and yeah, tomorrow they would be back to the grind of trying to survive as an evil mastermind and self-proclaimed God tried to kill them.
But that was tomorrow. This was today. And today…
Everything was all right.
Author's Note: Have I mentioned how much I suck at endings? XP Anywho…welcome, my friends, to the end of Inner Conflict. And now, as per usual, it's time for the customary…
ForeverSam Sappy Corner: I'd just like to take a moment to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this story, and a very special thanks to those who stuck with it and reviewed even through my awkward 'I have no writing talent' phase (yeah, I know, you're all wondering when that's going to end and when I'm going to produce something worth reading again XD). So thank you all so much. I love you all, and I know I wouldn't be able to keep writing if I didn't have your support.
Whew, bet we're all glad that's over. Anyways, with this story done and Dawn at Dusk in the wind, I'll be spending more time focusing on Heart and Soul, so maybe that story will get a little better, and I've got a couple of original stories that I'd like to focus more on, though whether or not I actually do or not is another story. I'll also be working on my new story — Shadow of the Day — which I still haven't decided if I want to publish yet or not. But here are the deets anyways, for anyone who doesn't read H&S and hasn't already seen it:
Title: Shadow of the Day
Summary: "My world is dark," she murmured. "It's been so long since I saw light, I've forgotten what it looks like. But when I'm with you, I can imagine it."—They are two teens leading very different lives. And yet…"You're my light...Ichigo."[AU, IchiRuki]
If there's anyone out there that would be interested in reading the first chapter, though, I'd be happy to send it to ya. You'd have to have an account so I can PM it, so no anon. reviewers. Anyways if I anyone wants to see it, let me know. If I get enough good feedback…I'll consider putting it up. Now, as a very wise person once said:
"Th-th-th-th-th-th-th-That's all, folks!"
XD Oh, and I'm going to be getting ready for my first year of college. Good thing I'm a good multi-tasker XP Review, please — Sam