Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or anything associated with it. Title of owner goes to 久保 帯人. :3 Nor do I own anything related to the Hana Yori Dango drama or manga.
AN: *wails* It's the end, folks! This is the last chapter. I can't tell you how much of a journey it has been with this story. It's been a little more than two years since I started! How time flies! I feel so old T_T
Usually I would thank my reviewers here but I'm afraid I'll start crying already so I'm going to save it for the end so you can start on the chapter! It's my longest chapter yet! 8,830 words total without the author notes, thanks, and disclaimer! I also have a bit of surprise which you will find out at the end! Hehe...
Enjoy guys and gals! :3
Ichigo thought he heard it incorrectly but once personnel from backstage came out with a bouquet of flowers and a gold sash and gave them to Ashido instead of Ichigo, he knew he was defeated. It all happened rather quickly as he was passed up from receiving the congratulatory items signifying the winner. He was silent as Ashido proudly wore the sash and held the bouquet, making his way toward the front of the stage and bowing before the audience. Politely the audience applauded, getting out of their shocked stupor gradually.
"Congratulations, Kano Ashido-san. You are the official winner of the Teen of Japan contest." Ukitake shook hands with Ashido, posing for a photo op briefly before taking up the microphone again. He looked over to Ichigo, placing an assuring hand upon his shoulder before continuing. Ichigo looked at Ukitake questioningly, wondering why his superior was making it seem as if the contest was not over.
"Everyone, as this year's contest is already full of surprises it would not be out of the ordinary to uncover another surprise. The judges and I discussed it thoroughly and decided it would not be fair to take into consideration what our little judges told us of it being a tie." Ukitake looked over to Ichigo, a huge smile on his face as if he could not hide a secret anymore.
"That is why we are rewarding Kurosaki Ichigo-san with two million yen in prize money for getting second place!"
Surely Ichigo heard that incorrectly… right? But the audience was suddenly giving him an uproar of applause, throwing out praises to him left and right, smiles upon smiles of satisfaction and happiness all directed toward him. He looked over to Ukitake who joined in the applause for him and pushed him forward to stand beside Ashido who looked a bit confused himself. A check was placed in Ichigo's hand with his name written on it and two million yen in the amount box.
That is when Ichigo knew definitely that this was no dream. After a few seconds of disbelief, he quickly bowed to the audience and the T.o.J judges panel in complete gratitude. The applause for him increased and just as quickly everyone in the audience started to chant his name. "I-chi-go! I-chi-go! I-chi-go!" This moment was all too surreal for Ichigo as his eyes met with the crying ones of his father and sisters, immensely proud of him for his unimaginable feat.
He waved over to his friends who all stood up for him. Tatsuki clapped her hands together so hard, she barely noticed they were becoming quite red. Sado had a smile on his face that one could only truly decipher as a smile if you were to look at his smiling eyes. Urahara flapped his fan in the air and at one point randomly grabbed a bunch of streamers from his pocket, letting them go off into the air. Toshirou kept his calm composure but nodded to himself as if knowing Ichigo would benefit from the contest all along. Orihime grabbed Renji's arm and was jumping up and down in place, yelling out 'yatta' multiple times. Needless to say, Renji's arm was hurting like a bitch from her iron grip.
Ichigo moved his gaze upward toward the back of the audience. Feeling elated his main target was still present in the room, Ichigo met eyes with Rukia and mouthed a 'thank you' silently to her from across the room. He realized that she was more than the friend who beat him back into place. Rukia had kept her unwavering faith in him despite the obstacle of her brother looming overhead. Rukia showed him a side of her that gave evidence of her caring nature. She was the one that gave him the strength to continue. She was his strength. She was his ray of light.
Rukia merely smiled and pointed behind him to divert his attention to what was going on stage. Ichigo took a moment to look at her before finally moving his attention back on stage where a short video montage was being shown on the journey of the contestants. Although entirely grateful, Ichigo could have cared less about the video and would have rather joined his friends and family. Somehow he was also feeling the itching need to just be near Rukia.
But before such a thing could be done, he was ushered offstage at the end of the contest and had to stay behind for photos and interviews with local news stations and newspapers. They were certainly having a field day for headlines for the next day's paper. Kurosaki Ichigo, Mere Low Class Teenager Wins 2nd Place in T.o.J! The Boy Wonder, Kurosaki Ichigo! And so on, and so forth. Ichigo was careful to answer questions, not divulging information frivolously and choosing his words wisely while not coming off as snobby or proud. He was just himself.
Finally after half an hour passed the press was ordered to leave the premises and the contestants were allowed to see their families. Among the frenzy of disappointed parents who reprimanded their sons as they met them outside the dressing room, Ichigo searched the crowd and before he could meet the eyes of his bawling father, Isshin sprung up and grabbed his son in a tight bear hug. Ichigo sputtered and could barely breathe in his father's tight embrace.
"My son, my son! My pride and joy! I can't even... wahhh!" Isshin couldn't hold his composure and poured waterfalls from his eyes. After a moment of struggling, Ichigo escaped from his father's grasp to catch his breath. "Ichi-nii! Congratulations!" Ichigo looked up and was met with double the hugs from his sisters. This time the hugs were tolerable and Ichigo returned the actions to his sisters, ruffling their hair in the process.
Ichigo looked over to his right and found Tatsuki, Sado, Orihime, Toshirou, and Renji making their way toward him. Congratulations and congratulatory hugs were given as Ichigo thanked his friends for the support. "I think it's time for a party to celebrate, whaddya say?" Renji brought up as everyone agreed wholeheartedly with nods.
"Ah, hai." Ichigo said. He looked around for a moment, hoping for some elaborate greeting from Rukia but was left with disappointment when he realized she was nowhere in sight. "By the way, where's Rukia?" He questioned Renji.
Renji looked confused for a second almost forgetting about Rukia but grinned widely. "Oh! She left right after the contest ended and we didn't get a chance to ask her where she would be. I'm sure she'll be at the party!"
Ichigo nodded slowly. He wasn't too convinced but decided to hide his doubt for now. Everyone was too happy for him to be second guessing himself.
On the other side of town after having his share of interviews and photographs, Ashido arrived at the Kuchiki Enterprises building. He was escorted personally to Byakuya's office right away to bear the news of his first place title. Byakuya nodded in approval, going so far as to stand from his seat and approach Ashido with a handshake for his victory. Byakuya was undoubtedly pleased that Rukia would have Ashido as a fiancé and more than pleased for himself to have such strong business ties.
"Congratulations, Ashido. I take it you'll do well in caring for my sister, correct?" Byakuya was met with unsure eyes from Ashido as he hesitated from answering. Byakuya raised a questioning eyebrow. "Is there a problem, Ashido?"
Ashido cleared his throat, seemingly wanting to put off whatever he was about to say for as long as possible. "I am honored and I thank you for everything you've done. In no way do I mean any disrespect, Kuchiki-sama but... I must be honest and say the right person for Rukia-san is Kurosaki Ichigo-san."
Byakuya's left eye twitched for a millisecond. "Who has led you to believe that?"
"I have made that conclusion on my own, Kuchiki-sama." Ashido answered. "I may have earned first place but Kurosaki-san, he won the hearts of every person in that audience. He was ridiculed throughout the contest, given the short end of the stick and yet he was unwavering and stayed until the end. He is determined and will fight for what he believes in. It wasn't until I witnessed it for myself but I saw how much Rukia-san cares for Kurosaki-san. And I can genuinely feel that cares for her just as much."
Ashido waited for Byakuya to speak but the older man was stoic, looking away and unresponsive. Ashido continued when the silence was too unbearable. "Because of this I cannot say I am Rukia's fiancé. I apologize but I've decided not to continue on with this engagement."
For once in his life, Byakuya did not know what to say.
Ichigo was met with a room full of people applauding for him and a downpour of streamers and confetti as he walked into the large banquet hall reserved specifically for his second place win in T.o.J. Surroundings students from Takaimono cheered him on already forgetting that weeks ago he was once an outcast at the school. Ichigo humbly nodded in greeting at everyone before stopping before Renji, Orihime, and Toshirou. Once again Ichigo instantly noticed that she was not there standing alongside with them.
"Hey, where is Rukia?" Ichigo questioned the three friends.
Orihime and Toshirou looked over at Renji, expecting him to answer this unavoidable question. Renji gave a shrug. "I don't really know. I imagine she had some business to attend to. But don't worry, I'm know she'll be here soon enough." He reassured.
Ichigo looked around once more, finding no sign of the petite girl. The festivities were beginning without him as the crowd dispersed and went to various catering tables set on the perimeter of the banquet hall. He really could of cared less as he stood at a distance, focus toward the entrance in hopes of seeing Rukia walk in.
"She's on her way. I'm sure of it, Kurosaki-kun." Orihime said before she joined the crowd at the banquet tables. She gave Ichigo a reassuring smile and went off.
Ichigo felt the pit of his stomach sink once he thought of where she could possibly be. After all, he had not won the contest. Did Byakuya somehow forcibly block her from coming to the party? Or worse, prohibit Rukia from ever seeing Ichigo again? Although Ichigo knew Byakuya had given such orders to Rukia before, was it so unusual to actually act upon his threats now that T.o.J was practically over? Ichigo was getting more and more worried as he stood by the entrance. He thought he had no way of finding where she was at that moment. It would be difficult considering her own friends had no idea of her whereabouts! Although... why weren't they as worried?
Before Ichigo could get even more antsy, his questions were answered when his cellphone rang. Of course! He could call her! He was so caught up in his racing thoughts he forgot about communication through phone! He blew a sigh of relief when reading his caller I.D. after seeing it was Rukia! Why was he feeling so elated suddenly?
He flipped open the cellphone and took a deep breath. "Yo."
It had been an hour after Ashido left Kuchiki Enterprises and he was well onto his way on a flight back to Italy to resume his studies. He had apologized to Byakuya profusely but Byakuya merely waved him off and said he had work to do. A tell-tale sign that things were not going well in his head.
Kaien had arrived a few minutes after the hour entering the office cautiously, without his usual witty remarks toward Byakuya. Kaien surprised himself as he felt the need to bow before Byakuya respectfully considering the current conditions.
"A deal is a deal." Byakuya blurted before Kaien could start with any sort of rebuttal against him. Kaien looked up and smirked, not surprised that Byakuya was keeping things short as possible in conversation.
Kaien sighed, knowing well the implications behind the deal. "I understand. I should have done more for the boy. But I must say seeing Rukia now," Kaien smiled despite himself, knowing what he had to say would have an effect. "I now fully understand that the only thing to touch the heart of an individual is the heart of another." Kaien knew he succeeded once Byakuya looked away and avoided his eyes. He began scribbling on a document in front of him, trying to seem unwavering. But Kaien knew better than that.
His work was done here for now. He silently bowed before Byakuya's desk. "Goodbye, Byakuya."
Rukia gazed out the window of her room enjoying the sunlight on her face. She gripped her white cellphone in her right hand, fingers occasionally toying with the black rabbit charm dangling on the side. Almost two hours had passed after the contest had ended and she had left quickly, almost stealthily before her friends could question her. Her heart had sunk when the winner of T.o.J was announced and although Ichigo had been given a second place prize that he would benefit from, it still hurt her inside knowing that not just Ichigo lost first place, but she had lost as well.
She ignored the large amount of text messages sent to her from Renji, Orihime, and Toshirou as they all informed her of the location of Ichigo's celebration party. She found it hard to not go at that instant. But she held herself back. She had no other choice. She could not leave Ichigo in the dark though. She had to talk to him. Flipping open her cellphone, she entered a speed dial and after one ring, Ichigo picked up his phone.
"Yo." He greeted.
"Yo." She returned back to him.
Ichigo grinned, leaning against the wall near the entrance. His voice softened, suddenly feeling guilty with himself. "Listen... I'm sorry I didn't win first place."
"Ah." Rukia responded calmly. "I know. I saw everything."
"You did so much for me and helped me through everything." He turned his back toward the crowd in the room, shielding away his face. "I remember struggling, feeling like I was going to lose but I kept pushing myself because I knew you wouldn't have me do anything less than that. But... I'm sorry it ended the way it did."
Despite his insistent apologizing, Rukia was immensely proud of him and would be even if he came in last. "It doesn't matter how it ended. You're still the boy I approve of."
There was a second of silence where Ichigo thought it perfect to ask what would happen between them now but Rukia spoke before him. "I'm sure you've been too busy to notice but tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I'd like to buy some of your time." She smiled sadly to herself, never actually spending a Christmas Eve with anyone of significance before. Byakuya always chose to work and the other three of S4 had their own families to spend the day before Christmas with. It would be different this year in more ways than one.
Ichigo felt like he'd rather see her now but if he had no choice but to wait until the next day to see her, so be it he thought grudgingly. "What do you mean by 'buy some of your time'?" He questioned, curious from her choice of wording.
"I meant for one million yen I'd like to buy Kurosaki Ichigo's Christmas Eve this year." She answered without skipping a beat.
"EH?" Ichigo blurted out from shock. "You can't be serious, Rukia! You don't have to do anything like that for us to spend time together." He explained genuinely.
It both warmed and pained her heart to hear such an honest confession but she continued her reasoning for the offer. "If you combine the one million yen with the prize money you received from the contest, that should pay off your family's debt completely."
"No buts." Rukia interrupted before he could finish. "As a matter of fact, I've actually paid the loan sharks the full three million yen of debt so your family can keep the prize money." She revealed.
"You're kidding, right?" Ichigo hoped this was some kind of joke. He still wasn't used to getting so much help and perhaps would never be.
"Nope." Rukia answered. "No more say on this matter. I'm... really busy today so that's why I can't come to your celebration." Ichigo felt a pang of sadness hit his chest. "But I'll see you tomorrow anyway." She added.
"Yes but are you sure it's okay?" Ichigo questioned in an incredulous tone of voice. He figured he'd have to address the white elephant in the room sooner or later. Except this white elephant was in the form of an ice cold man named Kuchiki Byakuya. Was it not the whole point of competing in the first place with the intention to win so that Byakuya would leave Rukia and him alone? How would this go on without repercussions?
Rukia was unyielding and avoided answering his question fully. "Like I said, you're spending the time with me. Meet at Matsumoto's Bistro at around 2pm tomorrow, okay?"
Ichigo sighed, thinking it best that she was at least insisting they meet the next day. Maybe she would explain what would happen then. "Got it." He agreed wholeheartedly.
"Well then..." Rukia paused, honestly not wanting to end the conversation but she needed to get things ready. "Ja mata, Ichigo."
"Mm. Ja mata." Ichigo responded, starting to feel very dejected that he would not see her at all that day but masking it in his tone. He was about to hang up when Rukia called out his name before he could. "Hmm?" He questioned with the phone back to his ear.
"Today YOU were number one." She stated with conviction. "Don't you forget it."
Ichigo grinned at her response, so very glad she believed in him so much. "Arigatou."
After they hung up their phones, Rukia went over to sit at the foot of her bed. She clasped her hands in her lap and smiled, feeling a new true emotion well up within her. Ichigo and his family and friends would be safe, she made sure of it. With all her might she ignored the faint aching in her heart. There was but one thing left to do. She picked up her phone and dialed Orihime's number.
When Ichigo returned home after the party that night, he had barely taken his shoes off when he heard his father and sisters yelling out 'BANZAI!' in enthusiastic and loud voices. He went in the living room and found them surrounding the table. A huge feast was set out for dinner all to commemorate Ichigo's second place win... or so Ichigo thought.
"Wow! This is all just because of my winnings?" Ichigo sat beside the table, staring at the food in awe. There were dishes he thought he would never see on the table! Okonimiyaki, sashimi, kobe beef! He could tell his family was putting the two million yen to good use.
"Dad has some good news to share too, Ichi-nii!" Yuzu answered, passing around plates for them to use.
Isshin puffed out his chest in pride, taking a moment to chew the food in his mouth before speaking. "I received a call from a very prestigious company and they've offered me a job double the salary than my old one!" Everyone in the room started to clap at the wonderful news.
"Sugoi!" Ichigo yelled out with happiness. Things were starting to look better after all! He didn't think twice about it but maybe this had to do something with T.o.J? He shrugged it off and continued cheering with his family.
"Now with Ichigo's second place win and my new job, we can celebrate with a feast!" Isshin declared, holding his chopsticks up in the air.
"HAI!" His children responded. "ITADAKIMASU!"
Orhime made her way down the corridor of the Kuchiki mansion with ease having been through the hallways hundreds of times before. After a simple phone call from Rukia requesting to meet at her mansion, Orihime put down her red bean tomato soup and quickly left for Rukia's mansion. She was honestly worried for her petite friend especially after her disappearance at the end of T.o.J. She could tell Ichigo was just as worried until she spotted him talking on his phone during the party. Afterward he seemed more at ease but Orihime could sense the slight disappointment in his demeanor. Was it due to Rukia? She perhaps would find out.
She arrived and knocked on the door of Rukia's room, waiting to enter until Rukia spoke for her to come inside. As she entered, Orihime noticed first thing the open suitcase on Rukia's bed. It was empty but before Orihime could ask about it Rukia addressed her.
"Orihime, thanks for coming." Rukia moved away from the suitcase and sat down on the nearby couch, expecting Orihime to sit down as well.
Orihime continued to stand, arms crossed and expecting an explanation. "Why didn't you come to party, Rukia?"
Rukia sighed and looked down toward her hands, fingers fidgeting together. "I had some business to attend to. I've just been busy. You know how it is." Orihime could tell right away Rukia wasn't telling her everything and sat down next to Rukia to further prod. Before she could do so, Rukia quickly took Orhime's hands in hers, a pleading expression gracing her features as she looked up at her friend.
"Orihime, could you do me a huge favor?"
"Eh?" Orihime was taken aback at the request, not expecting to come here for Rukia to ask her for a favor.
"You are my best friend and I trust you which is why I'm asking." Rukia explained.
Orihime read Rukia's eyes. She could not exactly pinpoint what it was, but there was something unsure within her violet irises. "Rukia, what's wrong?" She questioned automatically, fearing the worst. "Don't tell me you're... you're giving up on Ichigo?" She assumed the worst.
This time Rukia was the one to be taken aback. "What? Why would I give up on him?"
"Ah, gomen." Orihime apologized quickly, relieved that wasn't the case. "Ano... then what is it? What is the favor you would like me to do?"
Rukia let go of Orhime's hands and placed her own clasped atop her lap. This was definitely something so difficult for her to ask but she had made her decisions and would not go back on her promise. If not for her sake, for Ichigo's.
"This is what I need you to do..."
"How about this and this?" Yuzu held up a grey cardigan over a white dress shirt and black slacks in front of her sister. Karin groaned and gestured a thumbs down back at Yuzu.
"No way. Too preppy."
"Aww, but I like it! Ichi-nii should look polished for Rukia-chan tomorrow!"
"He doesn't have to look like a nerd."
Yuzu and Karin continued sparring back and forth on the outfit as Ichigo sat nearby at his desk, trying to catch up on some reading assignments. Earlier during dinner his father had somehow deduced that Ichigo was spending Christmas Eve with Rukia after Ichigo had simply mentioned his absence for the next day. Before Ichigo could get a word in edgewise, Yuzu had offered to help him pick out an outfit as she claimed that spending Christmas Eve with a significant other was all too romantic. She had dragged Karin with her to Ichigo's closet to raid his clothes and find something suitable to impress the petite heiress.
Although it was a bit annoying to have his sisters choose an outfit for him, he refrained from complaining as he secretly did want to make a good impression on Rukia. Of course he would never admit that out loud even to Rukia herself. After an hour the twins finally decided on something. They proudly showed off their unanimous choice to Ichigo. He in turn gave an incredulous look at the both of them. The outfit consisted of a simple white v-neck shirt, black jacket, and dark blue jeans.
"I could have chosen this. What was the big deal in picking out an outfit?" He questioned them as they placed the clothes on hangers and hung them beside his mirror.
"Exactly!" Yuzu exclaimed with fervor. "You would have chosen this outfit yourself!"
"We believe that Rukia-chan will be happy with whatever you wear because it shows that you're being yourself. An expression of individuality through clothing." Karin added nonchalantly as if she were stating a fact.
Ichigo stared at his sisters as if they had suddenly gone crazy. "O-kay. Then how is this outfit self expression if I didn't pick it out myself...?"
"You would have chosen this outfit anyway or at least something similar!" Yuzu explained. "We see you everyday, Ichi-nii. We know you're a t-shirt and jeans type of person."
They had a point there. Ichigo shrugged and decided he'd wear it tomorrow anyway. It was one less thing he would have to worry about. As they were about to leave, Ichigo called out to his sisters before they were out the door. He had one more thing to ask them. He scratched his head awkwardly, finding it hard to seek out their help in something he had never attempted before.
"I'd like to try to err, make her... something for... Christmas." Ichigo said slowly, finding the words leaving his mouth difficult to come out. "But I... don't know what."
Stars shined instantly in Yuzu's eyes as she clasped her hands together in glee at her brother's request. Karin chuckled at her brother's cheesiness but started to brainstorm at what he could make for Rukia. "What does Rukia like?" Karin asked.
Ichigo thought for a moment. Rukia was obviously rich and probably had everything she needed and wanted. What would be the one thing that she could not resist?
A lightbulb turned on in his head.
"Bunnies." He answered quickly.
"Kawaii~!" Yuzu was on cuteness overload. First her brother wanted to make something for a girl and now to find out said girl had an affinity toward bunnies? If this wasn't a fairytale in the making, she didn't know what else it could be. An instant idea creeped inside her head and she grabbed Ichigo's arm, leading him to the kitchen. "I've got the perfect thing!"
Ichigo sat a table in Matsumoto's Bistro ten minutes before 2PM the next day. Looking at the periwinkle blue wrapped gift in front of him, he couldn't help but grin as he imagined the look on Rukia's face when she opened his gift. He sincerely hoped she would like it. It wasn't extravagant nor could it ever compare to all her expensive clothes from her favorite name brand designers but Ichigo hoped it would at least bring a smile to her face. He really did like seeing her smile, even if it was a teasing smirk.
Ichigo looked up at the sound of his name and met eyes with Orihime who stood before him. "Inoue-san?" He was utterly confused. Maybe Orihime had tagged along with Rukia?
"May I sit down?" Orihime asked him, gesturing toward the seat opposite his.
Ichigo nodded, ready to ask the waitress for another chair for Rukia. But before he could flag down a waitress, Orhime slid a box with an envelope atop it across the table toward him. Ichigo's name was written on it. He gave Orihime a questioning glance.
"It's from Rukia." Orihime responded. She hesitated, wondering how hard Ichigo would take what she would reveal next. "... She's going to New York."
"What?" Ichigo blurted out loud enough to get the attention of a few surrounding tables. He noticed the stares and lowered his voice as he spoke again. "You're kidding, right?"
Orihime shook her head sadly, expecting this denial from Ichigo. "I'm not. Rukia made a bargain with her brother during T.o.J."
Ichigo realized the time this could have happened as he thought back to when Rukia was gone during the entirety of the contest. "A bargain?"
"In the event that Ichigo loses..." Byakuya began.
"Which he won't." Rukia interrupted, so sure of the outcome.
"In the event that Ichigo loses," Byakuya repeated, ignoring Rukia's rebuttal, "You are to go to school in New York to study business management for two years."
Rukia stood by silent, none too happy with the conditions so far. "What if I refuse to go?"
Byakuya smirked, ready to answer her defiance. "You won't refuse because if you are still willing to listen to me and go to New York, I will restore the lives of Ichigo's family and friends. Most notably his father will be able to find work and his boss' candy shop will be brought back to business. So you see, Rukia, this is not all in vain." Byakuya tried to reason, "Even if the boy loses you can still save him from total defeat."
Ichigo stared at Rukia's gift as Orihime recollected the information given to her by Rukia. He was finding it hard to think straight. Why would she agree to her brother's bargain and not tell him about it? Why had she falsely spoken to him as if there was nothing wrong? Why did she feel the need to hide all of this from him? It was also his burden to share, not just her own.
Orihime spoke after sensing that Ichigo was not taking this well as he blankly stared down at the table. "She's leaving on a private jet to New York this evening."
Ichigo blinked a couple of times, his brain trying to process the information all at once. His chest tightened at the thought of her leaving but he held his resolve when he realized he had been slighted and basically set up. Looking away, he sighed and chuckled at the turn of events. "I'm such a fool. I was... celebrating all throughout yesterday, not knowing the truth. Well then..." Ichigo's eyes crinkled in an attempt to smile as he looked up toward the female across from him. "Inoue-san, could you hang out with me for today?"
Orihime stared at him, befuddled at his sudden change in tone and his smile. It was all too... forced. "Are you sure that's okay with you?"
Ichigo's smile faltered at the question. He looked away again and shook his head. "She just left without saying anything. What can I do about it?" Ichigo shrugged as if he decided he didn't care at all and grabbed his cup of water, downing it in one gulp. He eerily went back to smiling in which Orihime noted was obviously fake.
Orihime could see right through his disguise. She narrowed her eyes at him. This was for him and Rukia. "Go after her."
Ichigo raised an eyebrow at her command, his smile fading. "What?"
"Go after her! If you love her, you should go after her no matter where she is! Are you satisfied with watching her from the sidelines? You look so pitiful right now. You know you won't be able to see her again."
Ichigo recognized those last words. "I said that to you..."
"The night we met with Ishida before he left." Orihime's eyes softened, knowing how important Rukia was to Ichigo for him to act in such a manner. "Why don't you finally tell her how you really feel?"
How he really felt! That's it! The feelings he had ignored and tried to hide, stuffed in his pockets and now practically overflowing at the seams! Before he knew it he was sitting in the backseat of Orihime's chauffeur driven Benz. Orihime stood outside the vehicle bidding him goodbye. "You can use my car as much as you like." She offered through the open backseat window. "Now go on your way!"
Orihime waved goodbye as the vehicle drove off, smiling at thought of those two finally reuniting. Placing her sunhat back atop her head, she decided to take stroll in the nearby park. She took in the peaceful scenery surrounding her, the beautiful shades of reds, oranges, and yellows splattered all across the trees. As her hands started to feel a bit chilly, she stopped abruptly on the park walkway and fished inside her pockets for her gloves. She did not notice the sound of a person's footsteps approaching her until said person stopped a few feet in her peripheral.
"Looking for something?"
Orihime froze. That voice was all too familiar. She slowly lifted her head, hoping what she heard was not just in her head.
"It's been a while, Inoue-san." Ishida stood before her, his hands in his coat pockets. He smiled and tipped his head slightly toward her.
Orihime's eyes widened as she fought the urge to run to him. "Ishida-kun? But I thought you had no time to visit... I..."
"I'm allowed to have some time off to spend Christmas with the ones I love." He answered bashfully. Orihime's eyes instantly brimmed with tears and she couldn't control herself anymore. She ran up to him and embraced him for dear life.
"I missed you." Ishida whispered softly in her ear as he held her back.
Orihime smiled through her tears, unimaginable happiness bursting within her. She would spend her own Christmas Eve with the one she loved.
On his way to the privately owned airport, Ichigo took out the letter from Rukia, chuckling when he spotted the countless doodles bordering the margins of the paper. She was just too predictable with those badly drawn doodles. He did enjoy them though. But that was only for him to know.
He smoothed out the creases of the pages then began reading her letter to him...
How are you? I'm doing okay.
This might be a bit sudden but I'm going to New York to study business management at a prestigious school. It is expected of me since I am the next heir to Kuchiki Enterprises... Also I have no other choice.
When I first met you I thought to myself, "Who the hell is this cocky brat with loud hair?" But before I knew it... I started liking you. Maybe I started having feelings for you the first time we met. I'm not so sure myself how it started. Despite the fact that I had kidnapped you at one point, you were still so kind to me when we were stuck in the basement that one time and I had a cold. I guess that's when I realized you were a nice boy.
When Hanatarou and his thugs had taken me hostage and assaulted us, that was the first time I actually felt frightened not just for myself but for you. From then on I realized how much pain I must have caused others if they went so far as to try to take revenge on me. Through that you had protected me even when we were not on good terms. Thanks to you, I discovered compassion as you had shown that to me. Then when Orihime returned, I was afraid you had a crush on her even though you didn't go out with her. That is when I gained more faith in you as you showed your honesty. I believed in you.
I'm sure my friends' perspective about us has changed. I mean, Renji would have had the urge to punch your face a few months ago. Now I'm sure you're resisting the urge to punch him when you see him with Tatsuki. But honestly, I can tell they like you a lot. If not, at least they support you.
Even though you can't do anything right, you're poor, you're a commoner, and you're hopeless... nevertheless it was my fault you didn't win T.o.J.
Despite all that you're still the best! I mean, I did approve of you so you SHOULD be the best naturally. Every time I'm with you I always feel like I'm having a good day. My only regret was not discovering these things sooner, before I would have to leave. Inside the box along with this letter is the first gift I've ever given to a boy. So if you lose it, I'll seriously kill you!
One more thing... you and I, we share a destiny. There's a reason we've been through such fun and difficult times. I'll be going away and I'll probably miss you but I promise destiny will bring me back. That is a promise I intend to keep.
In the meantime, always do your best! I'll do my best as well.
Ichigo gripped the pages tightly, a hundred thoughts zooming around his mind in response to the letter but one emotion swelling up within his chest. He proceeded to open the small box and found a gold band snuggled within soft foam inside. He carefully took out the ring, examining it's shiny exterior until his eyes caught sight of something etched in the inner band. The inscription read: You and I, We Share A Destiny.
It was a promise ring. A promise that she would return.
Gripping the ring tightly within his palm, he looked out the window of the car noticing he had just arrived at the private airport. A lone small private jet was set on the runway, getting ready for passengers to go on board. Ichigo's stomach sunk when he read 'Kuchiki Enterprises' on the side of the plane. He had to catch that plane! Before the car had a chance to even come to a complete stop in front of the entrance Ichigo opened the car door and jumped out, turning into a sprint toward the building. He ran so quickly he was almost a blur that the guards standing watch in front did not notice his unauthorized entrance until a few seconds after. They realized their mistake and ran inside to chase after him, assuming him to be an intruder.
"Chotto matte! Wait!" They yelled after him as he maneuvered himself between airport personnel. Luckily it was a private airport Ichigo thought as he surveyed the empty airport lobby. He spotted two familiar looking bodyguards that worked for Byakuya and ran toward them. The bodyguards seemed to recognize him instantly and before Ichigo could ask them about where to find Rukia, they quickly ushered him down a passageway that would lead him outside toward the airport tarmac. Ichigo thanked them and ran off just as the bodyguards blocked the two security guards from continuing their chase.
Ichigo was panting by the time he reached the metal chained gates set a long distance away from the plane. He spotted Byakuya, Nanao, and finally Rukia walking up the stairs toward the side entrance of the plane. He yelled out Rukia's name but the plane's engine had been running, the loud whirring drowning out his cries. Ichigo frantically looked around for an exit to go outside the gates. Once he spotted the exit, he ran out just as the plane was starting to go down the runway.
Ichigo saw Rukia's profile through her window as she stared straight ahead. That propelled him to chase after her even if the plane was in his way. He was crazy. He was a maniac. He was running alongside the plane. He was screaming at the top his lungs. He had to get her attention and stop the plane. "RUKIAAAA! RUKIAAAAA!"
At the sound of Ichigo calling her name, Rukia looked out of her window and saw him frantically sprinting beside the running aircraft. "Ichigo?" She gripped the armrests and cried out in disbelief. "You idiot!" He continued yelling out her name despite finally getting her attention.
Rukia didn't know what to do as she stared back at him helplessly. She couldn't stop the plane so abruptly but this was dangerous for Ichigo. She wished the idiot would just stop running and...
"Please stop the plane." Byakuya called out to the pilot. The pilot blew out a sigh of relief, a bit worried about the liability of the orange haired dummy chasing the plane. He obliged and started to slow down the aircraft, eventually coming to a complete stop.
Rukia's eyes widened in shock as she looked over at her brother. She honestly was afraid that he had something up his sleeve after he did something so unexpectedly. She waited a few seconds, watching him for a reaction. He was sitting still in his seat, stoic as ever but his eyes were closed. "Nanao."
"Yes, Kuchiki-shachou?" Nanao answered immediately from the seat behind him. She was also shocked that Byakuya had ordered for the plane to stop.
"I think I forgot my briefcase in the airport lobby." Byakuya simply stated.
Nanao paused, her eyes moving downward toward the black leather case under his seat. But she got the message nonetheless and knew not doubt her boss and stood up. "I'll go look for it right away, sir."
Rukia was ever so confused but without a second glance at her brother, she took the chance to follow Nanao outside the plane. She quickly walked out onto the tarmac, taking huge strides toward Ichigo as he kneeled over himself, holding onto his knees and trying to regain his breath.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, you idiot?" Rukia yelled at him furiously using all of her willpower to stop from smacking him on the head. "Who told you to come here?"
Ichigo took a moment to inhale a few more deep breaths before standing up to his full height. His expression mirrored Rukia's livid one and he pointed at her accusingly. "I should be the one asking you that! Why didn't you tell me you were leaving? Do you always have to do everything by yourself without informing anyone of your intentions?"
Rukia stared up at his towering figure, silent and deciphering the look in his eyes. She understood at that moment how hurt he was by how fiery his amber eyes seemed to be as they glared back at her. She bit her lip in guilt, suddenly feeling so terrible. "I'm sorry." She stated, feeling awkward after even if she did truly mean it. She still needed to get in the habit of saying that phrase naturally.
A moment of silence came upon them and she looked him over for a moment, noticing his outfit. "You look nice today... like your true self."
Ichigo was surprised to hear that his sisters were right. He would have to thank them later. Ichigo shook his head, ignoring her compliments and any other frivolities she was trying to put forth to distract him with. He sighed. "You were going to leave before I had the chance to tell you what is really important."
This peaked Rukia's interest. She rose a perfectly shaped eyebrow in question. "What's really important?" She repeated.
Ichigo nodded, not wanting to hold off what he wanted to say to her for so long. "I want to say thank you." He answered, his voice as well as his eyes turning soft as he gazed down at her. "You always believed in me. You were thoughtful of me. And because of this, I am grateful." He held out his right hand, palm faced up uncovering the ring he gripped tightly ever since the car ride. "Thank you for this too."
Rukia looked at the object, a small smile forming as she picked it up between her thumb and forefinger. She carefully took Ichigo's right hand into hers, grazing his long fingers before choosing his ring finger and sliding the gold band into place. Ichigo thought it a bit funny that their roles had been reversed in a way but he knew he would do the same for her one day.
She placed her left hand in his, gripping it firmly. "I'll be back when I become greater than I already am. But I won't come back soon even if you beg me," She looked up at him, eyes twinkling and smirking from her statement, "I think it'll make you stronger."
Ichigo returned the firm grip on her hand and gave her a genuine smile. Rukia had never received such a look from him or as a matter of fact anyone before. Ichigo felt his heart beating so quickly in his chest but he wouldn't identify it as an ache. It was a pleasant feeling, this he would admit. Remembering she still had to leave him soon, Rukia sadly slipped her fingers away from his hand. She took a step back and crossed her arms while looking off toward the sun setting behind them.
"Remember that now, even in the future, or even way into the future, you'll always be the boy I approve of." She gazed back up into his eyes, meaning her words with conviction. Violet met amber once again but this time they held their gazes firm and steady. "I'm going to be with you, Ichigo."
A deep warmth filled his insides as she said her words. Gazing deeply back at her, he could have bore a hole through those beautiful violet depths. He did not realize he walked a few steps forward on his own volition until they were now standing so close in front of the other and yet they were not touching. He wanted to initiate something, but his hands stayed anchored to his sides, afraid of an outcome of disappointment. He knew he wouldn't be able to let her go.
"You're happy, are you not?" Rukia questioned as she craned her neck back a little.
Ichigo looked away, cheeks turning pink at her acute awareness of his feelings. "No, I'm not." He mumbled, lying out of his mouth but meaning to tease her a bit.
She saw through him instantly. "You lie." She playfully poked the tip of his nose, causing him to turn his attention back onto her. "You're in love with me." She stated simply.
Months before, Ichigo would have downright denied this claim. He would have kicked and screamed, probably covered his ears in a childish manner. But at this moment in time he would do no such thing. He had no intention to because she was spot on. He sighed, nonchalantly placing his hands in pockets. His eyes seemed to sparkle between wisps of his orange bangs.
"You're right. I AM in love with you."
Rukia gulped, finding it difficult to maintain her composure at his revelation. He actually admitted it and it sounded much better from his lips than she had imagined. You know that feeling of a fluttering heart? Oh yeah, she felt that.
Ichigo wasn't done speaking though, stubbornly continuing despite himself. "You're stupid, selfish, short, and self-centered. I've gone and fallen in love with..." He could not finish his sentence as Rukia engulfed him in a hug, her arms barely making it around him as she clutched his torso with her head buried in his chest. He was taken aback at first by her sudden movement but returned the hug tightly, placing his arms around her small body and resting his head atop hers. He felt so many unexplainable things at that moment because he was so in love with her and it was just as he thought. He didn't want to let Rukia go.
He heard her sniffling and leaned back a bit to see her face but still firmly kept his arms around her waist. Rukia looked downward in an attempt to hide her eyes but her chin was lifted up softly by lithe fingers, the shine from a gold ring appearing in her peripheral. Her eyes were watering and she stubbornly tried to move her chin away from Ichigo's grasp. It was to no avail as he firmly but softly held her chin steady for him to see her eyes as they brimmed with tears. In that moment she took his breath away as he saw her in her most vulnerable state. Her violet eyes were glistening and the wind was softly blowing through her hair, making strands dance along her shoulders. She was beautiful.
Ichigo couldn't help himself any longer. He leaned down swiftly, holding Rukia's face in between his palms, his lips meeting her slightly parted lips with fervor. He didn't intend to be so rough, but if she was leaving him for two years he had to brand strong memories of himself within her mind. He honestly didn't know where this boldness came from but didn't care either way. He was sure to leave an impression on her now.
Rukia was doubly shocked at his initiated contact at first, but slowly closed her eyes in response, moving her lips in tune with his as she clutched his shirt, balling the fabric in her fists. Her heart was hammering in her chest as the passion in their kiss increased and they were practically making out right in the middle of the tarmac. She never felt so exhilarated in her life. She reciprocated so much longing in the kiss because she as well did not want to leave Ichigo behind.
They parted after a long moment, breathless but still holding on to one another for balance. Ichigo leaned his forehead against Rukia's and exchanged smiles with her, laughing a bit at their sudden display of affection. So this was what it was like to fall in love. No wonder his father made such a big fuss over it.
Rukia sighed in contentment and embraced him fully once more, leaning her head sideways on his chest and closed her eyes. Ichigo held her tighter in response, rubbing her back in slow circular motions, wanting her to stay beside him a bit longer.
Ichigo knew right then that he and Rukia did not only share destinies. They were each other's soulmate.
AN: Thanks are long overdue so here we go...
chichi11101: hehe, it's supposed to be the last chapter but... you're gonna have to scroll down to see what I mean, lol! Thank you for reviewing!
CloudRed1988: *bonks on the head* You okay there? Lol, thank you for always reviewing!
LyraZeldaCyndaquil: Hehe, I gotta agree with you on Ashido jumping off the cliff but who got the girl in the end? :D Thank you for your review!
Gunbladez19: *munches on the leek* Yeah, I'm sad it's the end too! I'm so honored that you got hooked on through my story! Ah, I'm so happy! Thank you for always reviewing too! 3
sayume214: Yeah, I was thinking of having Ichigo win too but I'm a bit sadistic and liked the idea of him losing more. XD Thank you for reviewing and I hope I didn't disappoint with this chapter!
JDH1080: Hehe, it's not BS, I swear! Hope you enjoyed the conclusion! Thank you for your review!
YuukiCross5: Thank you for the review, my dear! I like Toshi-kun a lot too and wanted to expand his background a bit, maybe give him a love interest, but this story's main focus is Ichigo and Rukia so I refrained from doing so. Hope you like this chapter!
HalfEmoHalfNormal: Crap, I guess I've been pretty much obliterated by Ichigo and Zangetsu by now... although I would like Ichigo to stick his sword in me instead! Whoa, *gets shot* Bah, anyway thank you for the compliment and the review! Hope you liked the chapter!
inFamous Arrogant Deviant: Lol, another reader who's familiar with HYD! Nice! Hope I didn't disappoint and sorry for making ya wait! Thank you for the review!
XxKasumiAmuxX: LMAO! Wow, you had to sneak on the internet to read 423? Omg, I died laughing when you said you were sadder than Kira. Hehe, did I tell you I looooveeee reading your reviews! I probably did but I gotta say it again! They always give me a good laugh! Thank you so much for reading and reviewing! 3
dethangelx: Yay! I hope you were satisfied with this chapter since you know the whole deal with HYD. Thank you for reviewing! 3
Kittens Hellfire: Haha, I agree that Ashido is hot but Ichigo is on top of the hot list. I mean, come on! Thank you for your review! :D
SilverStella: Thank you! 3 The trials are based on the drama although I did some tweaking to them. Thank you for the review! :)
LinG08: Thanks for the review! I apologize if the story's not up to par with the drama but I am trying my best to follow the story and add my own things as best as I can. Totally understandable though! :)
ichirukitard: I LOVE how you reviewed every chapter and gave such detailed reviews! Thank you for taking the time to read and review. I really hope you enjoyed this chapter! 3 Please look out for season 2 coming soon!
Bibliolympian: Yay, such a nice compliment! Thank you so much for reviewing and reading! :)
FluffyTheTennisBall: Awww, thank youuuu! I am really flattered that you said I should never stop writing! I won't stop ever! Thank you for the review! 3
DawnLinkPiplup: Hehe, is it really like a good book? Thank you! I'm really, truly honored 3
If I forgot anyone, I'm sorry but thank you! I LOVE YOU ALL! :3 More than Ichigo loves Rukia! :D
THE AUTHOR'S NOTE:
Please don't kill me but... there is one more chapter left! I made a fib! Ack! *runs away*
Ahem, I decided there will be an epilogue because I can't just leave it there between our lovebirds. And I know you want more, don't you? :)
And no worries, I will be making a sequel for the story! Ichigo and Rukia have lots to encounter together so we'll definitely be continuing their journey!
Thank you once again for reading and reviewing! :3