Heart and Soul — Epilogue
—:—:—One Year Later—:—:—
Kuchiki Rukia jumped a mile as she was tackled from behind, a pair of tiny arms wrapping themselves loosely around her neck, and a musical giggle sounded right in her ear. "Did I scare ya Momma?" Hisana asked, grinning, as she rested her chin on her mother's shoulder.
"You sure did Hisana," Rukia smiled as she twisted and wrapped her arms around Hisana, pulling the tiny girl forward and letting her settle down in her lap. "I was very, very scared."
"Yay!" Hisana cheered as she bounced up down, pumping her arms in victory. "So why are you sitting out here, Momma?"
"No reason, baby girl," Rukia sighed, resting her chin on her daughter's head. "I was just thinking."
"Nothing much." Rukia turned her eyes to the sky. It was surprisingly clear today, not a single cloud in sight, and the sun was shining brightly. As far as days went, this was a pretty good one. "Did Daddy feed you lunch yet, Hisana?"
"Daddy's sleeeeping, Momma." Hisana informed her mother seriously. "Nanao-san made me lunch though, so it's okay."
Rukia laughed quietly as she shifted, wrapping her arms tightly around Hisana and beginning to stand. Hisana quickly wrapped her arms around her mother's neck, holding on tightly. "How about we go wake Daddy up?" She suggested mischievously.
"Yeah!" Hisana cheered, her amber eyes sparkling. "Lets go wake Daddy up!"
"All right. And remember, this time you have to be quiet, or he's going to hear us coming. Remember last time he heard us coming?" Hisana's eyes widened, and she quickly mimed zipping her lips closed. Rukia laughed, pressing a kiss to Hisana's forehead. "Good girl. Lets go then."
She turned and headed back into the caves, trying very hard to forget about the tiny graves she had been sitting over for the last hour and a half.
Rukia bit her lip to keep from laughing as she walked into the room. He made it so easy when he fell asleep like that, sprawled out over the bed, laying on his back, his mouth hanging open. Rukia looked at Hisana, who had both her tiny hands clapped over her mouth to keep her own giggles in and, with a wink, she walked over to the bed, kneeling down and holding Hisana out, silently counting to three before releasing the girl and letting her fall the short distance…onto her father's stomach.
"What the hell?" Ichigo shouted as his eyes flew open and he bolted up.
"Language Daddy!" Hisana squealed, laughing. Rukia was laughing to hard to reprimand him for his word choice.
"When's she gonna wake up?" A tiny voice asked, breaking through the thick, heavy fog that was dominating Rukia's mind.
"I dunno baby girl," a gruff voice answered. "It probably shouldn't be too much longer, I'm sure…."
Rukia sighed inwardly. She knew those voices of course. It was Hisana and Renji, sitting over her, obviously waiting for her to wake up. How had the two of them gotten mixed up in this?
"Hey Hisa-chan, I think she's waking up…"
"Really?" Hisana squealed excitedly. "Momma, are you waking up? Are you, are you?"
Rukia had to smile at the sound of Hisana's hyper, eager voice. "Momma!" All at once a small yet surprising amount of weight fell down on top of Rukia, and two tiny arms wrapped themselves tightly around her neck.
"Well if she wasn't awake she certainly is now," Renji muttered. As Rukia opened her eyes, she saw him running a hand through his hair. She laughed a bit as she sat up, looping her arms around Hisana to hold her in place.
"Hey there baby girl," she murmured, hugging the girl tightly. Hisana giggled as she nestled comfortably against her mother, resting her head on the woman's shoulder. "I missed you."
"I missed you too Momma," Hisana whispered, sighing contently. Rukia raised her eyes to look at Renji, who was regarding his oldest friend with an even expression — though Rukia knew him enough to see the relief and the muted pain hidden in his obsidian eyes.
Rukia swallowed hard as she looked away, burying her face in the top of Hisana's head. Thank you…Summer, was all she could think to say as she struggled against the tears that threatened to overwhelm her.
"Momma?" Rukia started as Hisana jumped into her lap, looking up at her with concern visible in her amber eyes. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, course I am," Rukia smiled quickly, pushing a few rebellious strands of hair out of her daughter's face.
"Whatcha thinkin' bout?"
Rukia shifted her gaze to Ichigo, who was watching her with the same kind of concern as their daughter.
And for some reason, Rukia couldn't bring herself to smile for him.
He'd been standing there for at least ten minutes. Not that he actually made any kind of sound. And Rukia hadn't looked over her shoulder to actually confirm he was there. It was just a feeling. But Rukia knew she could trust her instincts. Especially when it came to him.
It had been three weeks since Summer had surrendered Rukia's body back to its original owner. Rukia hadn't gotten much sleep in that time; she spent most of her nights sitting up, watching Hisana sleep, sometimes smoothing back the girl's hair, or re-arranging the blankets when it looked like she was too cold. Sometimes she would lay down and cuddle with Hisana. But she almost never slept.
And tonight was no exception. She sat with her back to the door, watching Hisana, every now and then reaching out to play with her hair or fix a blanket.
He was the one who broke the silence.
"Kyoraku-kun told me…what she did," his voice broke halfway through the sentence. Rukia bowed her head, closing her eyes. She really, really didn't want to talk about this. Not now. Maybe not ever. She hadn't decided yet. "Rukia…"
Her hands shook as she pulled away from Hisana, clenching her fingers into fists and gripping the blanket tightly. She'd recently decided she really hated her name. A lot.
The bed sunk a few inches as Ichigo knelt down behind Rukia, both his arms instantly looping around her waist and pulling her against him. "Are you all right?" He asked after a minute. She had to admit, she felt a little better now that he was there. Home. Safe.
It would be okay if she was weak in front of him.
She shook her head slowly, not really trusting her voice. "That was probably a stupid question," Ichigo admitted, reaching a hand up to smooth back a rebellious strand of Rukia's hair. "Wanna talk about it?"
Another head shake, and Ichigo sighed. "Got it. All right."
Rukia wasn't really sure how long they sat there for. At one point Ichigo realized how uncomfortable he was, and readjusted himself so he was sitting on the bed, his legs curled under him; at the same time he pulled Rukia into his lap, securing her against him. Rukia rested her head against his shoulder, closing her eyes and pulling in a deep breath.
"She was so stupid."
Her voice, hoarse from lack of use, must have surprised Ichigo, because he pulled away; Rukia imagined he was looking down at her in shock. "They both were, Summer and…Nanao, or whatever the hell I'm supposed to call her now, I don't even know. They were stupid though, both of them."
"They weren't," Ichigo disagreed quietly, much to Rukia's surprise. "They were just…souls. Just a couple of peace-loving, pacifistic sentient beings who couldn't live with the fact that they were hurting the people they cared about just by being alive. You can't begrudge them that."
"Sure I can," Rukia muttered at once. "Especially Summer, she really made me want to scream. I don't know what she was thinking…"
"You two were sharing a mind. You know exactly what she was thinking."
"But it didn't make any sense!" Rukia cried, pulling away from Ichigo and turning to face him fully. She saw Hisana stir out of the corner of her eye, and winced; she hadn't meant to speak that loud, to disturb the girl.
Ichigo looked between Rukia and Hisana for a minute, and finally sighed, taking Rukia's hand and standing up. They left the room, still hand-in-hand, and made their way silently through the halls of the sleeping caves.
They didn't stop until they were far away from the sleeping areas, hidden away in the back of the area with the rivers and springs they used for bathing and cleaning dishes. "All right," Ichigo said finally, releasing Rukia's hand and turning so they were standing toe-to-toe with one another. "Go ahead and yell. Scream. Be as loud as you want."
Rukia sighed, bowing her head so her hair fell forward, hiding her face from view. "I don't want to yell or scream," she murmured after a moment. "I just…I hate this, I…I hate her, I—"
"If you hated her this wouldn't be bothering you so much," Ichigo interrupted gently. He reached a hand out, tucking his fingers under Rukia's chin and carefully coaxing her head up so their eyes met. Rukia bit her lip, struggling to push back the tears that threatened to surface.
"I just wish…there was another way. I wish there could have been a way for her to not die."
"I get that," Ichigo said at once. Rukia laughed bitterly.
"No you don't, you think I'm crazy." Ichigo blinked, his face reddening a bit as he realized he was caught. "Don't lie to me, I know you too well."
"Right…" Ichigo sighed, rubbing his head. "Okay, maybe I don't get it, per say…but I know one thing for sure: I know you're in pain. And you're not the only one who can read faces by the way, I can tell you're trying not to cry." Rukia cringed. Ichigo was silent as he waited for her response.
"I didn't want this," she whispered finally, closing her eyes for a moment. She felt as if something was pushing on her chest, making it hard for to breathe. She struggled to pull in a breath. "I didn't ask her for this…I didn't want to live at her expense, it isn't fair!"
She shouted that last part; her voice bounced off the cavern walls, and was almost instantly swallowed by the sound of the rushing waters. At the same time, something dissolved within Rukia, allowing a tear she hadn't known existed to escape down her cheek. She reached up to wipe it away, but it was quickly followed by another, and then another. After a moment she gave up, allowing her hand to fall back to her side, and she bowed her head, shaking now.
Ichigo didn't speak as he stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Rukia's tiny, trembling body and holding her tightly.
There was nothing Rukia could do as the last shred of her self-control gave way at last, leading her to tears. And all at once, she was grateful Ichigo was there, holding her, every now and then whispering reassurances to her. She wasn't sure what she would have done if she'd been alone.
"Hisana…why don't you go see what Hinamori-san is up to?" Ichigo said after a minute. Hisana looked between her parents; even her four-year-old mind recognized the dismissal. She jumped up, hugging her mother quickly before running out of the room. Rukia watched the girl go, unwilling to turn and look at Ichigo.
"Is that where you disappeared to?" Ichigo asked after a minute. "Sitting over her grave again?" Rukia didn't answer. "Come on. I know you didn't sleep last night. You've been thinking too much again, haven't you?"
"According to you I always think too much," Rukia muttered, still not looking at him. "Sometimes I don't think I can win with you."
"I'm just worried," Ichigo protested at once. "Cut me some slack, would you?"
Rukia sighed, feeling the tension drain from her body. She wasn't in the mood for an argument. Ichigo recognized the sign of defeat, and scooted forward, wrapping his arms around Rukia's shoulders and pulling her against his chest.
"I know you still miss her," he said after a minute, his voice low and surprisingly comforting. "I'm sorry. I wish there was more I could say."
He always did his best. Rukia couldn't hold it against him. He knew, no matter what he said, that he was always glad about the choice Summer had made to give Rukia her body back. He'd never directly said that to Rukia, of course — he wasn't that stupid. But it was obvious from the way he acted when Summer's name was mentioned, or when he tried to comfort Rukia, and he just couldn't, for the life of him, figure out what to say.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, mostly just relishing the fact that they were together, both trying not to think about the sacrifices that had been made to get them to this point.
"It's going to be okay," Ichigo murmured after a moment. "I know it hurts…a lot. And I know you didn't want things to go the way they did. But it is going to be okay."
Rukia sighed, closing her eyes.
Remember not to waste anything.
Never, Rukia told the ghostly words firmly, pulling away to look up at Ichigo. Their eyes met, and after a moment, she pushed herself up a bit, just enough to close the space between them…and their lips met.
The two in question jumped a mile as a loud, squealing voice interrupted the moment, and they pulled apart just in time for Hisana to rush in, her face literally glowing. "Guess what, guess what, guess what!" The girl shrieked, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
"Ow, Hisana…take it down a few decibels…"
"What's going on baby girl?"
"Momo-san, Momo-san, Momo-san…!" Hisana was nearly vibrating with excitement. "Momo-san is going to have a baby!"
Ichigo's and Rukia's mouths dropped in unison, and they turned to face one another.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah!" Hisana's feet left the floor as she began jumping. "I went to Momo-san's and Toushirou-chan's room, and Momo-san wasn't there, so I went looking for her, and I found her in the infa — infir — infarm — um, the place where Isane-san keeps all that medicine stuff and where Uncle Renji always has to go because he gets hurt lots."
"Yeah, that place," Hisana nodded eagerly. "Anyways, I found Momo-san in there, and I asked what she was doing and she told me she was having a baby! 'Cept I don't know how she knows…"
Rukia and Ichigo exchanged another look. They'd started keeping pregnancy tests in the caves after Rukia had found out she was pregnant. But they weren't about to explain that to Hisana.
"Momo-san is going to have a baaaaaaaaby!"
Rukia really hoped Hinamori had wanted the rest of the cave to know. "Come on, come on, come on!" Hisana bounced forward, grabbing Rukia's and Ichigo's hands and trying to drag them up.
"Okay, okay." The two laughed as they stood up, allowing their daughter to take the lead as she tore out of the room again. Ichigo slipped his hand into Rukia's, intertwining their fingers, and they left together.
It's going to be okay.
Rukia could believe that. No matter how hard it was now, it would get better. She had a promise to keep, after all.
Remember not to waste anything.
It would never end, of course. They were still just a bunch of humans, a minority in a world ruled by aliens. Every day the mere fact that they existed was going to be a danger to them. But that wouldn't stop any of them. They would continue to exist and continue to survive.
But as Hisana's laughter filled the halls and Ichigo tightened his grip on Rukia's hand just a little, Rukia couldn't find it in herself to worry about that, at the moment. She still had a life to live, after all. One part of the story was over…
But another was just beginning.
Author's Note: /dies/ Oh…my…god. One prologue, 35 chapters, and an epilogue later…it's finally over. And all I can say is…wow. I never thought this story would go as far as it did…not that I'm complaining. This story has lasted me through my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, and I loved every second I spent writing it. I'm definitely going to miss this one a lot. Not quite sure what I'm going to do with myself anymore, ha-ha.
ForeverSam's Sappy Corner: As usual, I want to thank everyone who stuck with me through the ups and downs of this story, and always reviewed no matter how bad it got (you guys know who you are). I know sometimes I went places people didn't like, but surprisingly I only got a little bit of criticism. So thank you. Thank you all very, very much. I hope you all enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
What's Next: I do have a story idea in mind…as usual, of course, I'm going to run past you people, see what you all think. So here it is:
Summary: Kurosaki Ichigo knows the rule of the world: in the end, the only one he can depend on is himself. On the path to self-destruction, he meets the last person who still believes he's worth something — if he can only let her in [AU, IchiRuki]
Yes? No? And before anyone asks, yes, it has everything to do with the song Shattered by Trading Yesterday — love that song to death. If you haven't heard it, get your butt on YouTube right now and listen to it. And while you're at it, let me know if I should go ahead with this.
And that, folks, is all she wrote. You know the drill, of course: review please! Let me know what your thoughts were on the end of Heart and Soul, of course, and let me know if I should go ahead with Shattered. Thanks for reading! — Sam