Disclaimer: Bleach and all its characters are property of Kubo Tite, not mine.
Author's Notes: IchiRuki New Year AU created for the Winter Presents event at the IchiRuki FC on Bleach Asylum.
Till Death Do Us Together
December the 31st, 2008. The streets are piled up with merry groups of people eager to welcome the year to come among cheers, liquor and dancing. Their lively chatter unabated by the blistering cold, their festivity clad bodies warmed with predisposition for joy.
Window glass and curtains aren't enough to completely filter the animation, transpiring lights and sounds into a small apartment, where a young man knelt in front of a shrine, his orange bangs darkened with dripping sweat, his whole body heated by something other than the blistering air that intruded his residence. At the center of the small homemade memorial, the picture of a striking light haired lady holding a smiling child watched him with bliss colored eyes. The man raised his auburn gaze to meet her, his moistened eyelashes either rained by the orange locks or fallen tears.
"Tonight… I'll avenge you… mother."
He stood up and walked on the carpet floor into the bathroom, the noise of running water on the shower easily filling the small domicile, entwining itself with the sound from the ignored TV at the living room, reporting the local newscast. The journalist's professionally trained lively tone contrasting with the images of a pale raven haired woman, seemingly ignoring the cameras' attention at first, but soon blinking her violet eyes shut and facing away from the storm of flashes and cheers, as if burdened by an intangible gloom.
"… just now, when members of the famous rock band Shinigami were arriving, it caused a major stir on the building crowd, everyone wanting to see them. Indeed, the party tonight promises to be a blast in Seiretei Hotel, where seemingly all the cream of Karakura's society will be gathered to celebrate New Year. On the streets, there's no cold that can keep people inside their houses, there will be entertainment until dawn. At the center square, there will be held…"
The images proceeded on the screen, casting shadows and flickering colors on the low lit room. To the left, a mirror rested on the wall atop a wooden drawer. The lower left corner had an identification card where it could be read in large bold letters 'Seiretei Hotel Security', while below the mirror, over the dresser, laid opened and spread a black vest, ornamented with silver lacing and plastic explosives.
The hours seemed to pass as if the man, now fully dressed with his vest underneath the suit, was watching the world from within someone else's body. He could see people tugging their scarves closer with cold, but he couldn't feel it. He could watch the worry on his co-workers for everything to run perfectly tonight, but he couldn't share it. He could observe the guests admiring the colors of the Seiretei Hotel decoration, but all colors looked the same to him. He couldn't even identify with the effort to focus the artists were displaying throughout the stage, because he was focused without even trying. It was like he was already detached from the world, all connections to human senses severed and unresponsive, working automatically, reacting to his environment according to a protocol, without really sensing anything. He was a man with a purpose and the purpose had become him.
It was an hour to midnight and he was strolling under the night air. The hotel was a large building, with the peculiarity of the ball room being a huge circular floor two stories higher than the rest of the construction. A wonder of modern architecture, it was supported by one massive central pillar that allowed it to slowly rotate, and several other smaller pillars to support the weight, but successfully creating the illusion, when seen from the ground, that the top floor is actually detached from the hotel, hovering on top of it. The space in between the circular top floor and the top of the lower building created a covered terrace, where an icy breeze sang in between the pillars and disheveled the man's orange locks. It was the area all security officers hated, because it was the most freezing and the most boring, but tonight, he could feel neither.
He noticed it had started to snow. The hovering circular floor on top of him, standing out considerably from the normal building's area, would prevent him from being able to reach out and touch the flakes, but he didn't mind. He was surrounded by all the beauty of the night lights of Karakura, and it couldn't touch him anymore, what good would it be to touch a snowflake, if his senses already seemed to be as dead as soon his body would become.
He heard the noise of the service door to the terrace opening and immediately grabbed the detonator key inside his pocket. It was three hours too early for his shift to be over, so no one is supposed to come there. If he was found out, he'll have no choice but to pull the trigger ahead of schedule. The sound of unsteady high heel steps showed him it was just a lost guest. Reassured, he placed the T shaped small key back inside his pocket and proceeded to meet the woman and redirect her back to the party. Walking around the pillars, his body unknowingly halted the moment his eyes caught a glimpse of her.
She had her bare back turned, but maybe having listened to his footsteps, or sensing his presence, her face was turning towards him, though her tear filled eyes couldn't see him in the dark. Holding a half emptied wine glass with delicate fingers beside the curve of her hip, with the other arm tugged against the scant top of the white fine silk dress that clad her body but offered no worthy protection from the breeze's bite, a dark unruly strand of hair across her face and her huge violet eyes fluttering long eyelashes while searching amidst the darkness around the columns. Such sadness in her eyes…
The wind blew stronger, making her shut both eyelids under the whipping of the dancing dark strands. Her body shivered, and so did his, but still refused to move. He watched as, instead of going back to warmth, she kept walking forward across the terrace, towards the edge. Raising the glass to her lips, she drank the liquid slowly, trying to prolong the taste that would fade. With some wine still left, perhaps numb with the cold, her fingers lost the strength to hold the glass and it shattered on the concrete floor. Tears were rolling down her cheeks when she took her shoes off and climbed on the edge, leaning against one of the pillars. She closed her eyes and inhaled the wind, spreading her arms to both sides to ride the air stream. On that moment, the wind shifted direction and unbalanced her forward, making her throat scream when her instinctively reaching fingers couldn't grab the column to prevent her fall.
All her body curled against the man that securely had an arm around her waist, while she cried uncontrollably, shaking and clawing to his suit. Only then did he start to ponder what he had just done, or better, try to find out what spurred him to do it, given everyone on that party was soon to perish anyway. He couldn't find anything. He couldn't find one logical reason behind his urge, other than the simple will for this woman to live. The same urge that was compelling him now towards comforting her, towards telling her that she's safe now, but he can't say it, she's nothing but safe, he's going to make the whole upper structure blow up at midnight. So he decided to say nothing and just hold her close, stroking her silky hair until she calms down.
A few minutes passed with them like this. It felt strange to him in ways that he didn't know how to describe, lingering on how it actually comforted him to be able to comfort that woman. When her sobbing seemed to diminish, he ventured speaking.
"… Listen, lady… Go home." She just shook her head slightly in refuse. "Please, go home. Whatever it is that's going on, it will get better. Just go home."
She raised her head to meet his gaze with watery eyes frowned with contempt. "What the hell do you think you know about my life?"
He didn't like her tone, but he resisted biting back. "I only know you have one ahead of you that's not worth wasting today. Please, just go home, I'll take you downstairs myse-"
"Let go of me!" She yanked his suit's jacket, pulling out both upper buttons and revealing the vest bomb underneath. They both froze for a few moments, him pondering about what to do next, while she was scrutinizing his dangerous apparel.
"… What are you?... A terrorist?..."
He closed his eyes then looked to the side with a hard expression. "… Aye, I guess, after tonight, that's what they'll call me."
She slowly started to walk backwards, then covered her face with one hand and, much to his surprise, started to laugh uncontrollably. Maybe she thought it was a joke. Maybe he should play along and say it was a joke, and laugh too, but his facial features refused to brighten while he watched her finding amusement on her own doom.
"Aaaah!... Of all the days on my life, the gods have chosen this one to be merciful to me… They didn't think I would have the guts to end my life on my own, so they sent you to help me!..." And she walked back to him, trying to open the rest of the jacket. "Come on, how does this work, can I push the button?"
"Stop it!" He grabbed her wrists firmly. "What are you, crazy?"
She looked at him, before her face suddenly turned serious and her tone became bitter. "… No… I'm someone like you… someone who can't stand to see a new day anymore. Let alone a new year."
He released her and stepped back. "You're nothing like me. Whatever it is that made you try to jump the edge, you can move over it."
She arched her eyebrows cynically."Oh really. As if you're one to say."
"I have a cause."
"Is there a better one than the simple will to cease to exist?"
He narrowed his eyes at her. "And why wouldn't you want to exist? Who are you?"
She frowned her eyebrows in disbelief. "You don't know?..."
"What, have you been living inside a cave or something?"
"Are you going to answer or not?"
She smiled, apparently pleased with needing to introduce herself, but her features saddened again soon afterwards. "Lead singer from Shinigami rock band… Kuchiki Rukia."
He nodded with a smirk. "… Rock band…" and added dismissively "So, why are you so miserable, the record didn't hit platinum, or some-" a loud slap didn't let him finish the sentence. He dared not face her, but he could feel her eyes piercing him like daggers. For someone so frail, she sure hit hard and her hand felt like being smacked with ice. Which reminded him she should be freezing. "… I'm sorry." And he took off his jacket to wrap it around her, but she distanced herself. "Look, I really am sorry and it's really cold up here, please take the jacket."
She stood still while he covered her, focusing on the vest she could now see completely revealed. "What about you?"
"I'm good, the shirt is enough."
"I mean, who are you?"
He pointed towards the identification card outside the pocket of the jacket she was now wearing. "Security guy, Kurosaki Ichigo."
"The real thing? Isn't this like a fake ID?"
He smirked without any real amusement causing it. "No, there's no fancy organization behind me, this is personal."
"Didn't get a raise?" she asked mischievously.
He had to admit he deserved that line. "... Whatever it is, I want you spared from it. Can you please go home? You can even send word of warning to people as soon as you get downstairs, I'll just pull the curtain down as soon as the commotion starts."
She walked lazily and sat down with her back against the column. "Look… Can I call you Ichigo?..." He just nodded slightly. "... I would have gone down already if you hadn't grabbed me. We both know that next time you won't be there to grab me. And if I stay with you, I don't even need to gather the nerve to jump again. I'm not going anywhere."
"But why do you want to die so much?"
"Why do you?"
"Well, for starters, I'm not a rich famous person." he said, sliding his hands inside the pockets.
She didn't try to tone down the bitterness in her voice. "Tonight… would it make a difference if you were?"
He looked at his feet, then sat down beside her, resting the back of his head against the column. "… No." It seemed they had reached a common understanding.
She tugged against him for warmth, with her head on his shoulder, watching the show falling down the dark sky. "So… what's your story?" He took a while to reply, so she urged him further. "It can do no harm to talk about it now, can it?"
He looked at her with a sad smile and began. "My mother raised me on her own. She was a worker at the big chemical factory that closed down ten years ago, Hueco Industry, you remember that?"
Rukia lowered her eyelids in thought. "Yeah, most of the old owners are at the party here. Gin, Tousen…"
"I know." He stated sternly. "They were several dozens of partners and I know them all. The politicians that were on the active back then are here also."
"Yeah, Aizen and so on, but what does one thing have to do with the other?"
"Hueco Industry owners knew that the materials they were using were far too toxic, resulting on a high rate of respiratory diseases on the workers. They knew that sooner or later, it would come out on the open, so they tried to make the most profit within the least amount of time. They put pressure on politicians not to regulate the pollution inside the factories of the chemical sector. Without a clear study being done on the effects of exposure, no maximum concentration of substances board was created, no effective protection enforced for years." He lowered his head and stared at his hands. "My mother contracted an illness and she wasn't the only one. When the cases of illness started piling up and measures finally enforced, politicians kept delaying their declaration as professional diseases, which would allow the diseased to stop working there and be supported by the company's health insurance. As a result, my mother had to keep working there even while ill. Jobs weren't aplenty back then and other companies wouldn't have her, being so sick already." He tensed his jaw to continue. "It became lung cancer and killed her." Rukia tilted her head to the side to look at him, but he just returned his head to the cold concrete and stared blankly at the night. "After hers and other people's deaths, the resulting illnesses from those chemicals finally gained the status of professional diseases, but the factory had already done the owners and the politicians that helped them indecently rich, and they didn't want to be paying sick workers to stay home, so they closed it down."
She tugged closer against his arm. "I'm sorry… about your mother."
He turned to her and wrapped his arm around her petite frame. "Thank you." His voice was lower now. "I've waited fifteen years for an opportunity to take them all down. I'm part of the security here ever since I came out from the army, but generally the fancy parties are held on Royal Karakura Hotel, that never accepted my applications. Luckily for me" he raised his eyebrows and looked up "and unluckily for everyone standing up on that ball room, the Royal Karakura is under renovation construction this year." He half closed his eyes to conclude. "Hueco Industry started with a bang on New Year twenty five years ago. Tonight, they're finally getting their bang back."
She raised her head to face him, aware of the pain hidden on his voice that could be fully seen in his dark eyes. "Don't you mind a lot of people that have nothing to do with it will die as well?" Her tone wasn't accusing, in fact, it sounded as driven by mere curiosity on his character.
He looked at her coldly. "I've been in the army. We kill people that have nothing to do with it all the time, it's collateral damage. People get killed out of collateral damage from one country's interests interfering with another's. Like my mother was collateral damage to the fortunes they raised for themselves."
"… So now you became the same as them."
There was no waver in his voice. "Yes. Why do you think I'm wearing the bomb instead of just wiring the structure and going home? I have no wish to live past what I'm going to do. Still, it's the price of the statement. They will investigate what caused someone to do this. The symbol of the New Year with blood being spilled by the ones that raised their fortunes at the cost of the blood of others will be hard to forget. People will remember and the next set of fancy pants will be afraid of raising their wealth in a similar fashion, lest someone else blows them up one fine day."
"So you do mind about people."
Ichigo narrowed his eyes. "Yes, I do mind. I would very much rather you wouldn't die tonight."
Rukia seemed amused with that concept. "Why? You don't even know me."
He raised his eyebrows slightly. "I'm still trying to figure it out myself. But, then again, I don't figure you out all together. Care to help me?"
"What do you mean?"
"What's your story?" And he lowered his face closer to hers. "What made you so miserable?"
She tugged against him again, hiding her face against his arm, but he held her up and placed her in front of him, curled against his torso while he tried to guard her from the cold with all his limbs around her. After a while, she began. "There are only four of us now, but we were five when we started. On the Shinigami band, I mean. I wasn't the lead singer back then. Kaien was, as well as the main brain behind the band, both with song writing and leadership. Taught me nearly everything I know… We were working hard to get national exposure, spent years on the road with small concerts, waiting to be discovered by a big label." She took a deep breath and continued slowly. "Then it happened, we signed a contract with Gotei 13 and released our first album, Sode No Shirayuki. It was no huge hit, but it was the enough to get the money flowing. As the band came up, Kaien started to go down, dragging the band along with him soon afterwards. He started getting into drugs, trying to get other band members into the same, screwing up on concerts and skipping recordings, always saying he and he alone would make Shinigami reach the top… While I was just wishing he could disappear from our lives." Her voice broke and she paused, her face contorted with memories. "One day, he did… After a party, high and wasted as always, instead of taking him, I left him drive home on his own, making it… his last trip." Ichigo held her more closely, but she raised her upper body to face him with a bitter smile. "And you know what's funny?... He did bring Shinigami to the top. After his death, the media made him an idol, Shinigami became a cult band." She started to shake her head left and right. "It's not even about our music anymore, it's all about what was Kaien like while he lived. Everyone looks at me just to see right through me… I feel him haunting me, weighting me with everything I am, everything I'll ever be, will always be thanks to his death. The death I allowed him to have because I was wishing it." She lowered her head, tears on her eyes.
Ichigo cupped her cheeks, drying her tears. "You can change. No matter how much you wished him gone, he died out of his own foolishness. You can put it behind you, things change, change career if you must, but live."
Her tears couldn't hide the sarcasm in her eyes. "You're no one to speak."
He looked away. "I'm different. I am changing things. After tonight, they'll try to find out why this happened. The next set of industrials plus politicians gang will be afraid of fooling around."
She pulled his chin to face her again. "You don't know that. They can just put up a front and say you were crazy or part of some international hate list. The world is always changing, things can change even you don't blow yourself up together with a ball room, and nothing assures you that blowing it up will."
"Oh, but you can't? You can't change your life if living it under Kaien's shadow is so unbearable? You can't conclude that Kaien didn't die because you so wished it, but because he drove while knowing he was in no condition to, something he obviously did aplenty before, but was lucky not to take consequence. Not to mention all the other people in the party that also didn't drive him home and need not die to take punishment for it."
"There's nothing to change. Music is all I know how to do, I can't erase the past and I can't bare the future!"
Ichigo held the back of her head and opened his mouth to argue, but on that moment, the countdown for the New Year made itself be heard, both with the loud voices from the ball room above, and the thousands of people on the streets.
Ichigo held out the key to the detonator and pleaded once more for her to escape. "Rukia…"
She wrapped both her arms around his neck and looked him straight in the eyes. "Die with me." was all she could ask.
In the crowded streets at the center of Karakura, the year 2009 started with a blast. Some screamed and covered their ears, others rushed to see. The whole ground shook and the sky was ablaze. Both children and adults were pointing their fingers to the heavens and most of the attention was directed towards the rotating top floor of Seiretei Hotel, where several explosions were making it look like it had been set aflame. After that night, most people that witnessed New Year on the outside would agree the fireworks really excelled.
Atop the terrace below Seiretei's ball room, Ichigo and Rukia were still staring at each other, their faces repeatedly painted with the sparkling colors of the fireworks on the sky. If he could chose one last image to see before welcoming death, what he was seeing right now would match it perfectly. But somehow, looking at her, holding her in his arms, made death seem anything but welcome. The hand that held the iron key, instead of plunging it to the detonator on the vest, dropped it on the floor. Maybe all he needed was someone he could save. Maybe all she needed was knowing she's worthy of being saved.
"Live for me." he asked in return.
His eyes never left hers, while she was covering every inch of his face with her gaze, admiring all the different shades and tonalities the fireworks were rendering his features with. Her scrutiny ended on his lips, that she used a thumb to part and slowly raised her head to meet them with a tender kiss, to which he responded most eagerly. Cradled by the sparkling lights and loud blasts from the fireworks, their kiss was long and overwhelming, shadowing all the surrounding explosions with its flame.
When they parted, the sky was dark again, though the air was still filled with the music of celebration. Her voice came out unwillingly husky. "Now you can't make a New Year statement anymore."
And his reply was little louder than a whisper. "And you just lived to another day and another year. Might as well see them through, now."
"A fifteen year long revenge… Why didn't you do it?"
He pressed his forehead against hers. "If what it takes is to kill you, I can't do it."
He caressed her neck as holding something precious and searched the words that could better explain it. "When I look at you… the world looks beautiful."
Rukia rewarded him with a wide grin. "I like the way you look at me… Feels like being seen for the very first time." She kissed him again, interrupting it with a shy smile. "… But… What are we going to do now?"
He smiled back and nuzzled her forehead, caressing the raven strands in between his fingers, replying with a sly smirk "Hm… Apparently, death has brought us together. … Wanna find out if life can ever do us apart?"