Sorry about the long wait. Ended up being a lot busier than I expected, but I finally finished it! Thanks for keeping up with this story till the end.
Disclaimer: Bleach is not mine!
Chapter 18: Moving On
Approximately five years later…
"Dad, we better hurry or else we're not going to make it."
Ichigo looked down at his raven haired son who was tugging on the side of his pants to get his attention. A serious little face with Rukia's beautiful violet eyes stared back up at him with a small frown. Isamu looked exactly like Ichigo at this age, but the major difference was that any pictures you saw of Ichigo at age five was always of a very happy little boy with a huge goofy grin on his face. Ichigo had always looked like that when his mother was alive. Isamu, on the other hand, was almost always serious and he rarely smiled. He sometimes seemed like a little old man trapped in a five year old body.
I wonder if it's because he never got to know his Mom, Ichigo wondered as he knelt down to Isamu's eye level. Isamu knew that his mother had died shortly after she had given birth and he seemed to behave as if he was all grown up and okay with it, but Ichigo knew that deep down, Isamu really missed his mother. When he picked Isamu up from kindergarten he would see him staring with longing at the sight of all the mother's coming to pick up their kids. He would also stare, with a needy look in his eyes, anytime he saw any other children playing or doing anything similar with their mother. He always tried to hide his feelings from everyone so that they wouldn't worry. Sometimes he acts so much like her.
Ichigo gave a small smile and placed a hand on the top of Isamu's head and ruffled his hair.
"Sorry, Isamu," Ichigo said with a small grunt when his tired muscles complained as he kneeled down, he had been filing paperwork for the clinic for a while and hadn't noticed that it had gotten really late. "I know that visiting hours are going to be over soon at the hospital, but I'm sure that they'll still let us in for a visit."
"I have to see Orihime Oba-chan's new baby," he replied as he stared solemnly at his father's face. Isamu looked very determined as he reminded Ichigo about the promise he had made to Orihime just before she was ready to give birth. "She asked me to help her take care of the baby and I promised her that I would."
Ichigo sighed as he ran his hand through his bright orange hair. The boy had a sense of duty that was admirable, but Ichigo felt a little frustrated because Isamu would never back down to reason. He could try to reassure his son that Orihime didn't expect him to go rushing down the moment she gave birth, but Isamu was steadfast once he decided something. Ask Isamu anything and if he agreed to do it he would do it.
"Alright, let's go," he replied with a small sigh as he stood up.
If Rukia were here, she would probably yell at me for being such a pushover, he thought with a small ache in his heart as he thought about his late wife. He still missed her immensely even though it had been over five years since she had passed. But then again, if Rukia were here it wouldn't be Isamu reminding me that we had to go.
Ichigo stuck his head into the kitchen to let Yuzu know that they were going out and to serve dinner to the rest of the family without them. Then he got a coat and headed to the front door. Isamu was already there with his coat on, his arms crossed and was impatiently tapping his foot.
Why, do I have this strange feeling that I'm the kid making his father late for an appointment, he wondered as he grasped Isamu's hand. He opened the front door and they walked out into the late afternoon light. I wonder if he would have been this way if Rukia were still here with us.
They walked quietly hand in hand towards Ishida's family hospital on the other side of town. Isamu remained quiet and seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. He rarely spoke unless he had to, but when he did he spoke like a little adult. He always tried to be so grown up that Ichigo sometimes worried that something was wrong with Isamu and that he was somehow failing him as a parent.
Shouldn't little kids his age be laughing and smiling all the time, he wondered for the millionth time as he looked down at his dark haired little boy who was so completely absorbed in his own thoughts that he didn't notice his father staring at him. I guess I should be grateful because he doesn't whine or fuss like other kids his age either, but still…
Ichigo sighed and looked straight ahead again and decided to let it go. Isamu was Isamu and he loved his little boy no matter what, and that was the thing that mattered. Ichigo's worries, though, led his mind back to the conversation he had with Urahara a few days ago.
"I'm sorry, Kurosaki," Urahara had said as he sat on a rock in the cavernous training ground under Urahara shoten. Ichigo brought Isamu here every week to get some tests done by Urahara and so that he could get some early training to hone his Shinigami powers. He was only five but he often spoke with ghosts and Ichigo felt better if he was getting some training on how to control his reiatsu even though the gigai he was in masked all of it. "I'm still not able to figure out a way to contain their reiatsu when they're together."
"I've brought Isamu here every single week since he was born and you still can't figure out a way he and Masumi can be together?" Ichigo had asked incredulously. "What's the hell is going on Urahara? Why is this taking so long?"
"I'm trying my best," Urahara replied as he frowned up at Ichigo from under his hat. "But it's sort of a Catch 22."
"What do you mean, 'Catch 22'," Ichigo asked feeling a bit confused by Urahara's choice of words.
"It means I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't," he replied as he tapped his fan against his arm. "I can't get the proper data to create something to help control their reiatsu because when they're not together it's completely normal albeit a little high, and if we put them together to get the proper data then the world will be destroyed."
"Well, what about Sode no Shirayuki?" he had asked impatiently as he glanced up to check on Isamu, he caught a glint of light from Isamu's bracelet and saw him hiding behind a large rock. He was playing hide and seek with Ururu and, strangely enough, Tessai. The bracelet had remained clasped onto Isamu from the day he was born and had grown along with him. Everyone was so used to it that it seemed like it was just another part of his body. "Any answers there?"
Urahara regarded him steadily from under his hat before he answered, and Ichigo knew what Urahara's answer would be before he even spoke. Ichigo had asked him these same questions every week even though the answers were always the same.
"I know that you have some kind of hope that Rukia will come back because Sode no Shirayuki is still here, but you have to let it go, Kurosaki. I already explained to you that the reason Rukia's Zanpakutou is still here is because Isamu and Masumi were technically a part of her. Rukia's reiatsu was mixed heavily with theirs and Sode no Shirayuki somehow connected to all three of them, so when Rukia died Sode no Shirayuki went to the part of her that was still here."
"But that still doesn't explain the mirror that appeared to save us from the Gillians," he replied, completely ignoring Urahara's warning. "The twins weren't even an hour old and there was no way they could have done it. Besides, how could they have used a power that Rukia hadn't even discovered yet? Are you telling me that Sode no Shirayuki protected us all with her own free will? "
"Maybe not all of us," Urahara replied as he tapped his fan thoughtfully against his leg. "More likely it protected Isamu and Masumi who were a part of it, but I can't say anything for sure because nothing I've done seems to be able to coax Sode no Shirayuki out so that I can question her directly. I've even tried to get Isamu to meditate and commune with her, but it doesn't seem to work."
"Well, what do you expect?" Ichigo asked as he glanced at his son who looked like he wasn't trying very hard anymore to hide from anyone. He was just standing quietly behind a different rock as Ururu and Tessai crept closer to where he was hiding. "He's only five."
"You haven't been paying close attention to the games they've been playing, have you?" Urahara asked as he looked down and shook his head a little in mock disappointment.
"What are you talking about…," Ichigo began to ask, but a blur of color caught his eye and drew his attention back to Isamu and the game of hide and seek he was playing with Ururu and Tessai.
Isamu was using Shunpo to evade his would be seekers. He would wait till the last second before they would find him and then he would move in the blink of an eye to another rock. He couldn't go far and his steps were still slow enough that Ichigo could follow it easily, but it was still Shunpo.
"When did he learn to do that?" Ichigo whispered in awe as he watched his five year old calmly zip here and there in the training chamber without even batting an eye. "I don't remember ever seeing him do that before."
"He's actually been doing it since he was four," Urahara replied as he watched Isamu move around the chamber, Isamu miscalculated and accidentally banged right into Tessai. He bounced off the huge man violently, but Tessai quickly shot out his arm and grabbed the small boy before he could crash into the ground and hurt himself. "He usually only does it when he starts to get tired of playing regular hide and seek, and by that time you're usually so busy pestering me that you don't notice what's going on."
Ichigo shot a glare at Urahara for his remark. It made him feel like Urahara was questioning his parental abilities.
"But, anyway," Urahara continued as he ignored Ichigo's look completely. "Since he's learned Shunpo by pure instinct – just like his father – I thought Isamu might be able to commune with Sode no Shirayuki and get us some answers, but unfortunately it didn't work. Hopefully, I will get a chance to examine Masumi one day and maybe that will help me figure things out. After the whole incident with their birth Central 46 has become even stricter about trips between the human world and the Soul Society."
"Speaking of Masumi, how is she doing?" Ichigo asked anxiously, he leaned closer toward Urahara in anticipation. He looked around quickly to make sure that Isamu was out of earshot. He had never told Isamu about his twin sister because he figured it would be the safest course. If Isamu knew he would needlessly worry about why they sent his sister away and Ichigo wanted to spare his feelings. He would wait till Isamu was a little older so that he would have a better understanding about why they had to do what they did. Although that didn't stop Ichigo from pestering Urahara every week about her. "Is she happy? Has she grown? What is she doing now?"
"She's fine, Kurosaki," he replied once Ichigo stopped to take a breath. "According to the reports I've gotten from Yoruichi she is not as far along as Isamu as far as tapping into her potential powers, but she's treated like a pampered princess. Captain Kuchiki is taking very good care of her."
"Masumi!" Renji Abarai called out as he frantically searched the Squad 6 barracks for any sign of her. The little minx had a way of simply disappearing right from under everyone's nose. She had been in his care for only fifteen minutes and she had already forced him to mobilize the entire squad to try and find her before Captain Kuchiki could realize she was missing. "Masumi!"
Where could she have gone? Renji wondered as he stepped out into the courtyard of Squad 6's barracks, he almost immediately heard a badly stifled giggle from somewhere in front of him. He looked up and saw Masumi sitting on a branch in a tree a few feet away. A breeze blew her long, bright orange hair gently around her while she swung her bare feet back and forth. She had Ichigo's hair and eyes, but the face was all Rukia. In fact, she looked exactly like Rukia when they had lived together in Inuzuri with the rest of their makeshift family.
She also has Rukia's fondness for heights, Renji thought wearily to himself as he realized that he would usually find her someplace up high when she ran away from him. He pasted an appropriately angry scowl on his face, but he didn't know why he bothered because the sweet impudent little midget wasn't ever fazed by it at all. I still don't understand how the hell a five year old can make it that high up a tree.
"Masumi, you better get down here or else you're going to get hurt," he called out to her as he strode towards the tree, he tried to make his voice sound angry, but for some reason it sounded a bit faked and forced. Renji blinked in shock and dismay as he got closer to her. "Masumi! Where are all your clothes?!"
"I was hot and I can't climb trees in them," she replied with a laugh, she was dressed in only her under clothes and her beautiful purple kimono with a pink and gold obi she had come to the barracks in was nowhere to be seen. She laughed once more at the expression on his face and then she pushed herself right off of the branch and fell towards Renji. Renji felt his heart begin to pound as he watched her fall, but he stretched his arms upwards and caught her gently before she could get hurt. He opened his mouth to yell at her for doing something so stupid, but before he could get a word out she hugged him with a laugh and said, "Love you, Renji Onii-chan."
I've turned into the world's biggest pushover, he thought as he gave a defeated sigh. He felt his anger melt, like always, under her open and honest feelings of joy and love.
"Masumi, you need to stop scaring Renji that way," Captain Kuchiki's cool voice said from the doorway to the courtyard. "Judging from the expression on his face he will not last much longer if you keep doing that."
Masumi instantly squealed in delight in response to her beloved Uncle's voice and immediately wiggled out of Renji's grasp so that she could throw herself at Captain Kuchiki. No matter how many times he witnessed it Renji still could not believe how tolerant the Captain was of Masumi's antics. She clung to him whenever he was around and he was the only one that she would ever listen to completely. Renji realized that Captain Kuchiki held Masumi's kimono and obi in his hand and was now helping her back into her clothes.
"Renji," Captain Kuchiki called to him as he guided her left arm through her long purple sleeve. "Let the rest of the squad know that I have her and they can stop their panicked searching now."
"Yes, Sir!" Renji exclaimed as he turned slightly red from embarrassment. He hustled out of there quickly and left Captain Kuchiki and a giggling Masumi alone.
Captain Byakuya Kuchiki gave a small sigh as he helped his squirming little niece back into her clothes. Her brown eyes glowed with happiness at the attention she was receiving from him.
It takes two servants to help her dress every morning, he thought to himself with a hint of exasperation coloring his thoughts. How does she manage to become almost completely naked every single day in less time than it would take me to Shunpo across the room?
"Masumi," Byakuya chided her gently as he finished tying her obi around her waist. "You cannot continue to disrobe in public like this. It is hardly the proper behavior for a member of the Kuchiki family."
"I'm sorry, Byakuya Oji-san," she said with an extremely exaggerated look of penitence on her face. She managed to hold onto it for five seconds before she broke into her usual, dazzling smile. "I promise I won't do it again - today."
Byakuya closed his eyes, tilted his head down and let out another small sigh. He knew that this was probably the best he was going to get out of her. Masumi always seemed unfazed by anything he said or did to try to correct her behavior, but if she promised to do something than she would do it.
I never appreciated how well behaved Rukia was until now, he thought as he stood up quietly. Masumi instantly took her usual place on his right side and clung to his white haori with her little hand. It must be my fault because I seem to be unable to be stricter with her, but I tried that route with Rukia and it never seemed to work. Besides, she seems to have found a way to wind everyone around her little finger, even Commander Yamamoto, and I think that I would be demoted if I ever actually scolded her.
Masumi had turned Byakuya's life upside down from the moment he brought her home, but he had never regretted a moment with her. When he first came back with her there was a lot of talk about locking her away and then doing the same to Isamu, but Urahara and himself had been able to convince Central 46 that as long as they kept the twins apart that there would be no further danger from them. The most disturbing thing about that time was the insistence of Captain Kurotsuchi that they should be brought to him for further study, but luckily, none of the leaders of the Soul Society felt comfortable about allowing that mad scientist to get his hands on a pair of babies.
At least Captain Kurotsuchi would not dare to do anything now that Masumi is so favored by everyone in the Seireitei, Byakuya thought in relief as he glanced down at the bright orange head of his niece. She was absentmindedly playing with the star shaped pendant that hung at her neck with a thoughtful look on her face. She treasured that necklace more than anything else in the world because she knew it was a parting gift from her mother.
For the most part Masumi was always a happy carefree child who never seemed to have a gloomy thought in her head, but Byakuya knew that deep inside, where almost no one could see, Masumi truly missed her mother and father. Every once in a while he would catch her staring into the memorial where Hisana and Rukia's pictures were kept. She would look sad and a little lost while she stared at her mother's picture. She knew that Rukia had died when she was born, but all she knew about her father was that he had given her up for her own good. Once in a while she would ask Byakuya if her father had loved her and he would always assure her that he did. He had never told her about her twin brother because he worried about her feeling even worse about him staying with their father and not her. He did not want to lie to her outright so he simply refrained from mentioning it to her. When she was old enough to understand he would explain everything.
I will take care of them both to the best of my abilities, Rukia, he thought quietly as he continued out of the barracks to return to the Kuchiki manor. I hope Isamu is faring as well as Masumi is.
"Dad…Dad!" Isamu called out as he shook Ichigo's hand to get his attention. "The light's green. We can cross now."
Ichigo blinked as Isamu's voice drew him back from his thoughts. He looked up and saw the green walk sign.
"Sorry, Isamu," Ichigo apologized as he walked across the street with his son. He had been so busy wondering about his children's futures that he didn't even realize that it had changed. "I guess I'm a little out of it."
"It's okay, Dad," he replied quietly as they finished crossing the street. They were now nearing the entrance of the hospital. "That's what I'm here for. Now let's go see the baby."
As Ichigo watched his son sprint ahead of him to the entrance, he felt a sense of peace come over him. He had to admit that he never thought he would feel content again after that disastrous night five years ago, but somehow, with the birth of Orihime and Ishida's daughter he felt that life was moving on to more positive things. Rukia would always be the love of his life and he would always miss her, but he felt that he was looking towards a much more positive future for him and his family. Despite all the misgivings he had felt just a little while earlier, he felt himself feel just a little bit better.
Isamu and Masumi seem to be growing up happily, he thought as he pressed the elevator button to go to the top floor. I know we'll all get to be together someday and be a family once again. I also know that Rukia would have been happy to see them growing up so well.
I know a lot of stuff are still unanswered, but since this was supposed to be an IchiRuki fic I am continuing this story arc in another fic I'm writing called Twining Fates.
I posted the first chapter up with this last chapter so I hope you will check it out.
Thanks again to everyone who has kept up with this story. I especially appreciate the reviews.
Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou! (Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)