A/N: I hope you enjoy reading the story. : ) Not what I usually write, but I feel kind of proud of it anyway.


Ever After


There are very few happy endings in this world.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic or jaded or anything else like that because frankly, I'm not that type of a person. Yes, I'm the type to get into fights that involve punches and kicks and bruises – and win, of course – and I do occasionally act as though my life couldn't possibly get any worse, but in all honesty, I like my life, I love the people in it, and that was that.

The problem here though is that just because I have a good life doesn't change the truth about reality.

There are so many people around us who we see everyday in the streets that never got the life they wanted. For some people, it's obvious, because they are homeless and starving and living in shelters on the sides of roads. That is not the dream life of anyone – no parent would ever wish that upon their child, no child would look forward to that life.

Then there are those people whose unhappiness is slightly harder to see – because they smile at you everyday, and seem to have a perfectly content life. But inside, they're thinking: Will I go home again to an empty apartment? Will I always be stuck in this unhappy marriage? Will my children ever see that no matter how much I love them, they continue to constantly hurt me?

So many people we see everyday. So many people whose stories we won't ever really know.

But then there are those scarce few of us who got what we wanted out of life. Who can't say they ever regretted making the decisions which led them to where they are right now.

These are the people who we should be jealous of.

I know there's a place where I can begin this. A place where if I start from there, you all would be instantly captivated by the sheer level of beauty of this story involving two very real, very in love, people.

But I just don't know where that part is.

So maybe I should start in the place where my story began – because my story is undoubtedly connected to theirs.

My father says that I was born healthy, coming into the world crying and as full of life as he had ever seen anyone. He was quick to assure me, however, that if I was born with something that was wrong with me, it wouldn't have changed anything and he'd love me just the same because I was a Kurosaki and a kick-ass one at that.

Dad was the one who named me Yuki – it literally means snow, which I always found odd because I was born smack in the middle of summer. But Dad said that that it was the right name for me, and so did the rest of my family, so I let it pass.

My family is a bit strange, to be perfectly honest. There's Dad, of course, who is the best father anyone could possibly ask for, and my grandfather Isshin. There are my aunts, Yuzu and Karin, and my uncles from my mother's side, Byakuya and Renji.

You might notice the lack of mention of my mother in this list of characters, despite the mention of her family.

But there's a perfectly valid reason for that.

I don't have one.

It sounds strange, but it's true. I mean, of course I have a mother – otherwise who gave birth to me? But I don't have a single memory of her, as she was missing from my life for as long as I could remember.

I'm sure she was a good person. Dad certainly seems to think so. And it wasn't like she was one of those women from television who ran away from their family and duties and responsibilities because of some torrid affair.

No. My mother was nothing like that.

She wasn't in my life because, simply put, she wasn't alive.

And that was the root of all of the problems that I had through out my life.

I learned from an early age that life wasn't fair. I grew up around people who loved me and cared for me and wanted me, but that didn't make me blind to the fact that all of them were giving me the life that they never had.

Not having a mother in my life didn't bother me at all at first. Dad was the most amazing person ever, and he was a hero in my eyes. He still is, truthfully. I don't know if I'll ever meet anyone who'll love me as much as he did, or if I'll meet someone who I'll love as much as I loved Dad.

But as I started to grow older, as I started school, I couldn't help but notice that everyone else had a mother.

And little children are curious things. They are innocent in their hearts, and they don't intentionally want to be cruel, but sometimes that's the worst part.

Because they say things as they see it, and that type of shock into reality isn't the type of thing that's healthy in a young child's mind.

That was the beginning of my long list of fights. The girl who had said it I had forgiven later on in my life, because she really didn't know better. But what she had said had hit home, because I was wondering something along the lines of that already.

"Yuki, don't you have a Mommy because she doesn't love you?"

I didn't know how it had happened, but the next thing I knew, the girl was crying on the floor, rubbing the wrist she had fallen on.

Dad had looked at me with a mixture of confusion and disappointment when he came to pick me up from school. At age six, that look made me feel upset and guilty. Because no matter what had happened, I never, ever had wanted to do anything that would make Dad feel sad.

"Why did you do something like that, Yuki?" he had asked, scrubbing my face as gently as he could with a napkin. "You know what I told you about hitting people."

When I told him what had happened though, I hadn't understood why he had smiled, rather than look sad. A father was supposed to love a mother, I understood that even then, and I was confused on why he'd look happy. But when he smiled, my father looked so stunning that I couldn't say anything else.

"Yuki, your Mom loves you," he said with such absolute conviction that I couldn't not believe him. "Where ever she is right now, I know that she does."

"How?" I asked with wide eyes.

"Because I know her," he replied.

Of course, I didn't really understand what that had meant. How can someone know a dead person? But it didn't matter: I was so happy to know that it wasn't my fault that my mother wasn't in my life. I was so happy to know that Dad loved her, even now.

But it was this conversation that I had with my father that planted a seed of resentment against the mother I never knew, no matter how brave, how kind, how simply breathtaking my father may have made her sound over the years.

Because if she loved Dad the way Dad loved her, she wouldn't have left.

It wasn't her fault, I knew, but I couldn't help it. My father – the most brilliant and amazing person I know - deserved more. He deserved a life where my mother was alive, so she could love him back.

Because Dad was the type of person who gave and gave and gave, until there was nothing left. And even then he'd find a way to give more. And if there was no one there to give him love in return, wouldn't he be left empty?

Of course, I loved him back as much as he loved me. Even more than that. And the rest of my family loved Dad too. They loved his determination, his stubbornness, his honour, his odd sense of humour, him.

But the person my father gave most of his love to was my mother. And no amount of love anyone gave would ever be able to fill the gaping hole in his heart that was left for her, almost as though he was waiting for her to come back to him.

It hurt me every time I realized that.

And even now I don't think I understand just how deep the love between my parents were. Something that was so strong and real that if I had even understood a fraction of it, it would have overwhelmed me.

After I had that conversation with him, I loved Dad even more. How could I not? No matter how fun Uncle Renji, Aunt Karin, and Grandpa Isshin was, how kind Uncle Byakuya was, how sweet Aunt Yuzu was, they would never be everything that Dad was.

Dad was the strongest person I knew.

I was born when he was nineteen. And from everything I understood, by mother died when he was twenty. I never knew my mother's age, and still don't even now.

Not that it really matters.

I have not met a lot of single fathers in my lifetime. Yes, there was Dad, and Grandpa Isshin raised Dad, Aunt Karin, and Aunt Yuzu by himself. But somehow, I think, the fact that it was me that my father had to raise made his accomplishments seem so much more.

By saying all of this, I don't mean to demean the rest of my family at all – because I love them all deeply. It's just that no amount of anything could ever match up to all the sacrifices my father made for me. Nothing could compare to the admiration that I feel for him.

But I love the rest of them too.

Grandpa Isshin, for example, is what I'd imagine every kid must want in a grandfather.

Of course, this isn't to say he's perfect. In fact, Grandpa has got to be the most insane person I know. He has the most unusual sense of humour, he's eccentric almost to a fault, and even now I sometimes feel as though I'm the older one, not him.

But he has a kind heart.

Grandpa is such a selfless person, it sometimes shocks me into silence. He is an amazing person, raising three kids all by himself. Of course, Dad had helped, having Aunt Yuzu and Aunt Karin being considerably younger than him, but still. He had raised three of the most magnificent people in society, each of them a success with a loving family, good career, and amazing friends to support them.

And the greatest thing about him was that it made him happy. He loved Grandma Masaki, yes, and he thinks that he made her proud by making "damn fine people" out of my father and aunts.

He was the one who was always there whenever my father couldn't be. This didn't happen very often, as Dad was responsible almost to a fault, but sometimes it did. And no matter how strange the relationship is between Dad and Grandpa, I know that Dad trusts him with his life as well as my own.

It wasn't so much that he wouldn't trust the others with me. Uncle Renji and Uncle Byakuya specifically, as Dad knew they loved me more than they loved themselves. It always made me feel warm inside to hear that, even though it was years before I could figure out why they loved me so much.

The reason Grandpa was chosen was because despite the rest of my family loving me as much as they love each other, my uncles lived "far away" and Dad wanted my aunts to live their lives as teenagers.

Grandpa would tell me stories.

"Once upon a time there was this handsome and powerful man," he would say dramatically, and I would giggle, because I knew he was talking about himself. "But this man was special, you know. Because he was a shinigami. And a captain of shinigami at that."

"What's that?" I had asked, the first time he told me.

"They're really cool people with swords who fight evil monsters to protect others," he had said to me. "But back to the dashing person I was talking about."

I had giggled, and continued to listen.

Grandpa is one of the biggest parts of my life. He was there from the moment I was born - he's a doctor. And even now, so many years later, he's still here, as though he needs to make sure I'll survive in the real world before he'll be ready to leave me.

Aunt Yuzu and Aunt Karin are the ones who keep me sane amidst all the men in my life. Aunt Karin is the one who taught me that in the kind of world we live in, women like us have to be strong.

She taught me all sorts of things. She told so many stories about my father. Dad, my brave and bold father, and all of the stupid things he had done in his life. I have to admit it was a bit of a shock to find out that someone as amazing as Dad had ever been anything less than that, but Aunt Karin was never one to sugar coat the truth.

And if anything, it had made me love Dad even more. Because it made him real, finding out about the fights he got into to protect his friends and family, how he'd sometimes get flustered around a really pretty girl, how he'd act like a total moron, but end up doing the right thing.

Aunt Yuzu was different from Aunt Karin in every possible way. Where Aunt Karin was "one of the guys," so to say, Aunt Yuzu was sweet and demure, and the definition of "woman." It made me, someone who was thirteen years her junior, want to protect her from the cruelties of the world.

But Aunt Yuzu was such an innocent person, I couldn't help myself. And she was a great cook. As great as Dad is in everything else, he is a disaster in the kitchen. I had to learn all the tricks of the trade from Aunt Yuzu early on in life, otherwise I would've been doomed to starvation.

Next was Uncle Renji.

Uncle Renji was similar to Dad, but different at the same time. I don't know how to describe it, but that's just how it was. They both had the same type of heart, they were both rash and stubborn, but something about them was so radically opposite that I loved Uncle Renji in a different way.

Now, Uncle Renji isn't related to me by blood. But he might as well be, seeing that we're as close as peas in a pod.

He was my mother's best friend, Uncle Renji, or so everyone tells me. And he loves me as though I was his favourite niece, lavishing me with presents and affection and good natured teasing. And it should be mentioned, as a side but important note, that he was the one who taught me how to fight properly.

"Now, I don' want you to think that fightin' is good or anythin'," he had started sternly, and because Uncle Renji was being serious, I knew I had to be too. "But a little pipsqueak like you need to know how to defend yourself properly."

I had nodded eagerly.

But, to be fair, Uncle Renji is very responsible with me. He didn't teach me anything cool that would allow me to completely beat a person in a fight. He said if I wanted to do that then it was my responsibility to learn that on my own (or ask Dad). But he taught me how to take care of myself, but not end up in jail in the process.

He has such a good heart, I always wondered why he hadn't settled down with a girl who would worship his every step. Because Uncle Renji deserves that, and so, so much more.

Except he didn't go looking for happiness. He still doesn't.

Because he's also in love with my dead mother.

It was when I was maybe seven or eight, and I realized that I forgot give Uncle Renji a hug goodbye before going to bed. I was about to rush into the kitchen, but I stopped when I heard them talking.

"Thanks for coming," Dad had said. "For whatever reason, she actually likes spending time with you."

"Heh. Smart ass. Yuki's awesome," Uncle Renji had replied, and I could hear the grin in his voice.

"She gets that from me, you know."

"Hah, keep dreamin'," There was a moment of silence before Uncle Renji continued, softer, "She's Rukia all the way, y'know."

"I know," said Dad in response. "She has..."

"Her eyes," finished Uncle Renji. "Yuki has her eyes."

I don't know why it was that conversation that made me understand that Uncle Renji was every bit as in love with my mother as much my father was, and he always would be. Maybe it was in that breathless tone that he spoke in, but I'm still not sure. Even now I wonder if it's possible for one person to have two soul mates, or if Uncle Renji simply has to wait to meet his one?

And my inexplicable anger towards my mother grew even more, even though I didn't recognize it as such at my age.

How can someone be so selfish, to leave behind people who care for her so deeply? Why didn't she try harder? Why did she have to die? Why did she have to deny the happiness of my father and my uncle that they so rightfully deserve?

I had gone to sleep that night crying, and my heart feeling heavy, although I didn't know why.

But to truly understand the depth of my twisted mess of a relationship I once had with my mother – a woman who wasn't even there – you'd have to know about the last person in this equation: my Uncle Byakuya.

Words don't seem to be adequate enough to describe him.

Uncle Byakuya is like a prince out of a fairytale my father read to me when I was younger. He was handsome beyond words, with the most pretty hair and beautiful eyes and the way he smiled at me was just breathtaking. I don't mean to say that Dad and Uncle Renji weren't fabulous by their own right, but Uncle Byakuya was just something else.

The way he walked and talked with such utmost assurance and grace, I honestly used to think that he was a royal when I was younger, the Emperor, maybe. No, not even the Emperor would be as cool as my uncle.

"Is Uncle Byakuya the Emperor?" I had asked Dad when I was young, and watched with confusion as Dad choked on his drink and patted his chest to make it easier for him to breath.

"No, Yuki," he replied, finally. "He's not the Emperor."

"Are you sure?" Because there was no way someone like Uncle Byakuya could be anything less than that. More, definitely: maybe an angel, with his big, beautiful wings hidden from the eyes of normal people, but never anything less.

"Completely," my father replied with a serious nod, even though there was a slight twitch of his lips, as though he was trying to hide a smile.

Speaking of which, Uncle Byakuya didn't smile very often. Actually, he didn't talk that much either. But even from when I was small, I felt very safe around Uncle Byakuya, and loved those moments when he would take me walking in the park, and we would sit on a bench, and watch the plum blossoms grow.

But he'd take me playing in the swings as well, and I always felt a special sort of pride in my heart that Uncle Byakuya would let me into his world.

As I grew older, he started to talk to me more. Uncle Byakuya once told me a story, about the most beautiful woman in the world who he had fallen in love with. But the story wasn't a happy one. The beautiful woman had died, leaving my uncle heartbroken, and even though I didn't know her, I was angry at her for doing this to my uncle, like what my mother had done to my father.

But he told me that he met another person, this girl who he loved as his own sister, who was more beautiful than the first woman, stronger, livelier. And that girl had found her own prince, and it made him so happy to see the woman who was his sister practically glowing with joy.

Yes, Uncle Byakuya's eyes dimmed whenever he talked about his dead wife, Hisana. But that level of sadness could not compare to the look on his face whenever he talked about my mother.

Sometimes I wonder if I really was so selfish that I felt bitter towards my mother because I always felt like a replacement for her – in a way that all these people had so much love in their hearts for her, and now that she was gone, it was all being channelled towards me. As though they loved me because they couldn't love her.

My mother made these three so very, very important people in my life sad. But it was also my mother who made them so happy that they weren't even mad at her. And it was this feeling, this need of justice that made me resent her so much.

Because I was tired of seeing them happy and sad, as though they couldn't decide which one to choose.

I didn't understand.

That lack of understanding caused my anger to grow. I constantly got into fights because of insults towards my family. These ranged from the simple, "you do realize that you look more of a freak that your entire family combined, right?" to "so I heard your father knocked some woman up and she dumped you on him before running away."

It was the last type that bothered me the most. I may have had so much anger towards her, but I still wanted to defend her. I hated her, but I wanted her to love me. I was selfish and confused and I didn't understand anything, no matter how hard I tried.

She's dead, I always wanted to say. She didn't leave my father, you bastard. She died. But I never could.

This was because no one really knew my mother. When I was younger, I used to think that maybe she was a fairy or a spirit from another world, since no one seemed to know her. If she had existed, no one remembered her.

I didn't know how it was possible – there are pictures of her, her wide eyes shining and her hair blowing beautifully in the wind. There are pictures of her with people I know, yet none of them seem to remember her.

"You're just like your mother," Dad constantly told me, after speaking to me about his disappointment and giving me a suitable punishment following a fight. "When you think you're right, there's no changing your opinion. You're both strong and don't put up with crap. And both of you never understood what it meant to let some things go."

"I don't want to let it go," I'd reply hotly. "What they're doing is wrong and I won't stand around and let it happen."

Dad would sigh.

"I know," he'd say, before smirking and still ruffling my hair, even when I was a teenager. "And I'm so proud of you for having a backbone. You really are like your mother."

But I want to be like you, I felt like saying. I don't want to be like her.

When the other kids said that I looked like a freak, they were not entirely wrong. And I don't believe that I'm shallow – but despite me being a tomboy, I was still a girl, and sometimes those comments got to me.

I have my father's hair, a bright sort of orange that is eye catching and long. And my skin tone is my father's too, darker than my Uncle Byakuya's and it went great with my hair, if I do say so myself.

But then there were my eyes.

Everyone says my eyes are the best part about me. Except that it's not. I suppose they would be on anyone else. They're large and this stunning violet in color, with long, thick lashes and expressive pupils.

It's just that it looked so out of place on my face, which was sharp like my father's, with his high cheekbones, dark skin, and angular jaw.

Strangely though, this was one thing I didn't blame my mother for. I think it was because I realized that even if she hadn't left us, I would look like this anyway. I would have to deal, and really, I shouldn't care what the other people think of me.

But as petty and insecure as it makes me sound, I did.

Maybe it would have been different if my mother had been around. Maybe then I would've been stronger, having her influence in my life. I had Aunt Karin and Aunt Yuzu as feminine influences, but no matter how great they were, they couldn't fill the hole inside of me. And no matter what, there was a hole – my mother may have been gone, but the tremendous role that she had on everyone I knew made it so that she was part of mine, but an absent one.

Yes, I was bitter about my relationship with my mother, and I hated the fact that if only she hadn't gone away, then my life wouldn't be like this. But despite that, there was a part of my heart that yearned for her, her love and kindness that everyone says she was full of, and that part of me never went away.

Then, when I was fourteen years old, I met the woman named Orihime.

Now, my father had many beautiful women in his life - and I'm not exaggerating in the least. Aunt Karin and Aunt Yuzu are pretty, but then there's Matsumoto Rangiku, who's a good friend of my father's. She's like a supermodel from a magazine that people don't think exist in real life - the long blond hair, gorgeous face, big bust, and defined waist and hips.

Then there was Yoruichi-san, who, according to Dad, was something like his mentor long ago. Of course, I wouldn't know the exact things that she taught him until much later, but I knew that Dad respected her deeply. And yes, she was stunning and exotically beautiful, with a feline grace that no one could ever replicate.

They were beautiful, yes. But in my eyes, none of them matched up to Orihime-san.

I had seen pictures of Inoue Orihime, of course. She was one my father's closest friends. But the pictures I saw of her had been from her childhood, her years as a teen. In the pictures she was striking, with her citrus orange hair and wide grey eyes - but nothing that would match up to the other two.

She still looked almost exactly the same. The same hair style, the same type of clothes. But what struck me more than her vibrant, natural beauty was the way she held herself. It wasn't the strong and confident – and dare I say, cocky – way that the rest of the people in my life stood. No. Rather, Orihime-san stood with a quiet dignity, as though she discovered who she was and loved and accepted that person.

"You must be Yuki-chan," was the first thing she said to me when I had opened the door, giving me a warm, cheerful smile. "You are more beautiful than what Kurosaki-kun could've ever described."

"Oi, Yuki, who is-" Dad had started to say, before cutting off and blinking in surprise. "Inoue."

Orihime-san had grinned. "Hey there, Kurosaki-kun."

The smile that spread on my father's face was so fabulous that it nearly took my breath away. She was important to him. And that fact was further proven when he strode forward and gave her a firm hug, despite him not being very physically affectionate.

But then why did they refer to each other so formally? Clearly, she meant a lot to Dad. And he meant a lot to her. Yet despite the warm embrace that my father bestowed upon this beautiful woman, he still called her "Inoue."

I don't know if it's because love has been such a defining part of my life so far that I had become attuned to it. Because I was such a blessed person, surrounded by love all through my life, giving as much love as I possibly could in return.

But right then I saw.

The way Orihime-san's expression had been startled before softening so joyfully when my father's arms went around her. How her arms had wrapped around him slowly, hugging him back just the slightest bit tighter. How she had closed her eyes and smiled so very contentedly as she rested her head against Dad's shoulder.

I saw love.

Much like Uncle Renji who was still in love with my mother, this woman, Orihime-san, was deeply in love with my father. She had the love to give that my father needed so badly. The love that could fill up the empty spot in his heart that had existed ever since my mother had died.

The more I got to know Orihime-san, the more I became convinced. She loved Dad with a sort of selflessness that I didn't understand. She loved me as though I was her favourite sister, even though I was actually the daughter of the woman who had taken away her chance with my father.

This was the sort of woman my father deserved – the type of person who'd go to the ends of the earths for him, kind of like Orpheus and Eurydice from Greek mythology. Yet for some reason, they never happened. They hadn't been soul mates.

I wondered what would have happened if Orihime-san had managed to win my father's heart in the end. Would she be my mother? Would I be happy with her? Would I have less bitterness in me because of this person's presence in my life?

Because even now, she gave Dad all the love and affection she possibly could. It wasn't obvious, of course, but little things like always being there when Dad needed a favour, occasionally dropping by with food.

But there had to be a reason why my father never returned these feelings that were so strong within her.

I was at the age when I was bold enough to ask these things. I wasn't old enough to be embarrassed about it, yet mature enough that they would give me a serious answer.

Well. Mature enough that Orihime-san would give me a serious answer.

And she simply told me:

"Because I can only give Kurosaki-kun as much love as he's willing to take from me," she had said, distant smile on her lips. "It's not my love he needs or wants."

"How can you be sure?" I asked disbelievingly, wondering how someone as wonderful as Orihime-san could exist. No one could possibly so loving that they wouldn't care about their own happiness, as long as the people they loved had it.

"Because I know him," she had answered, a mimic of what my father had told me about my mother, so long ago.

Or maybe, I had thought hours later, when I was lying in bed, maybe Orihime-san was one in six and a half billion. The type of person who actually felt themselves be truly happy when the others in her life were content as well.

It was perhaps Orihime-san's arrival in my life that started the next wave of events.

Certainly, she made me wonder just how tragic and intricate my father's generation was. Him, his friends, his family. Just what kind of epic adventure had they all lived through? When was I going to find out about all of this? Because from the bits of conversation I had overhead, my father reminiscing with Orihime-san, Sado-san, I was certain there was something.

The question was one that I desperately wanted an answer for.

And I was about to get an answer whether I wanted it or not.

Within the next few months I knew the time was coming for me to find the truth. Why I could see ghosts of people who were no longer of this world. Why everyone my father knew had an uncanny grace, as though they were beautifully dodging bullets. Why my father still looked as though he was twenty-five, even though I knew he was in his thirties.

I didn't know what type of reaction I should have had. Should I have been excited, finally learning the truth about the mysterious past of my family? Or should I be scared about what I would find out?

It didn't really matter. Because one way or the other, I was going to know.

Eavesdropping was something I had become quite an expert at. Even though my family was open and kind and warm, there were still secrets lurking behind the curtain. I never felt the secrets were something terrifying, but the touch of mystery was nonetheless enticing to me.

Of course I would want to find out what was going on.

"You need to tell her, Ichigo," Uncle Renji was furiously whispering at Dad. "You need to tell her about us. About you. She needs to know that her father's a fucking hero and why she'll always feel like she doesn't fit in this world."

"I'm going to tell her," Dad had replied. "Obviously she's going to know soon. Yuki deserves to know the-"

"Then why aren't you tellin' her yet?" Uncle Renji interrupted. "She's startin' to see spirits, you know. And she's dealin' with it herself. She needs to know that her father knows exactly what she's going through. That we all do."

There was a pause before Uncle Renji continued fiercely, "And if you don't tell her soon, then you sure as hell can bet that I will."

"No, no," my father was quick to reply, and my breath had caught in my throat. What was this? Did he not want me to know? But Uncle Renji said that Dad was a hero. "I... I want to be the one to tell her. It's my story."

Uncle Renji was quiet at that, and I left with a pounding heart before I could hear anything more.

For the next few days I had waited, my stomach tight with anticipation every time I passed my father. My heart was constantly racing, my head constantly aching, and it was all to brace myself for what I was going to hear.

Because I honestly did not know what to expect.

But nothing had happened. A week passed by, and then two, and Dad behaved towards me the same as always. He'd give me a grin in the mornings, occasionally a ruffle of my hair. He'd leave for work and come back and attempt to help me with my homework.

Disappointment had replaced my excitement, and I had fallen back to my routine. I would no longer tense up whenever Dad entered the room, and my stomach started to feel as though it could stomach food again.

Strangely, I wasn't angry at my father. Yes, I wanted to know, but like he said, it was his story to tell, not mine. His and my mother's. This could very well be the thing that would help me decide where my mother stood in my scale of relationships.

This could be the single, most important thing in my life.

And then, when my guard had finally been let down, it had happened.

"Yuki," Dad had said, sitting down beside me on the couch in the living room. I had been flipping through a magazine. "You busy?"

"Mm, no," I replied, turning around to fully face him. "What's up?"

Dad was silent for a second.

"Did you know," he then began slowly, looking off to someplace far away, "that you're special?"

I rolled my eyes at the lameness of his words. "Dad, I'm old enough to not need this. I know I'm the most special person in the world because I'm myself, okay? We had this talk when I was nine."

He shook his head, and I knew something was up when he didn't grin at my joke.

"Yuki," he said, looking at me straight in the eye as always with a voice that was so serious that I had to listen, "what I'm about to tell you, you have to listen to me without interrupting, okay?"

Oh, my God, I had thought, and felt my voice caught in my throat because of the sudden acceleration of my heart. All I could manage was a feeble nod.

Dad didn't seem to notice me though, since he had that faraway look in his eyes again. It wasn't the dreamy sort of look you'd expect, but it was like one of concentration, like he wanted to focus all of his power and energy into that specific thought.

"Once upon a time," he said, so softly that I had to lean forward to hear him, "there lived a person whose name was Kurosaki Ichigo."

And I listened.

Normally, by father is a terrible story teller. He'd give in his own comments, he'd lose where he was, and he would find a way to confuse me out of even the simplest of tales. But this time, with his voice so entrancing, I was immediately captured.

The story I heard was an amazing one. It was the most captivating story that ever existed, and could ever exist. Not only was it the simple telling of a man and a woman who fell in love, but it was a story about the people themselves.

The story of Kurosaki Ichigo made me love Dad even more. My father was a hero - and all the things I ever thought about him being brave and honourable and noble - it was all true. It wasn't just something that I saw because I was the star struck daughter.

He was literally the person who changed the fate of the world.

And it wasn't as thought Kurosaki Ichigo's story had been just one – no, his entire life was a story, with one ending right at the beginning of another. I was blown away by everything I heard, from my father's determination and courage to his humanity, how despite doing all these amazing things, he had to face his fears and grow as a person.

He tried to tell me as much as he could about my mother as well - it wasn't as complete though. But that was okay - Kuchiki Rukia's story was like a continuation of my father's story. It made his story more complete.

And maybe it was because they were my parents, and I wanted to know about the woman who was my mother and my father's true love, that I was most enraptured by the love story in this.

The story was so simple in its core - about a boy whose life had been turned upside down by a woman who had jumped in through his window one night. It would've been comical if I hadn't known that the ending was so deep.

I was finally beginning to grasp what it was like for my parents. I stared to comprehend just how grand their lives had been – but I was also starting to understand that their lives weren't just adventure and tales of heroism. My family were people, and with every story there came emotional burdens and scars. Some of them had fallen deeply and managed to struggle and come back up as heroes.

Hearing the story of my parents, both together and individually, coming from my father's mouth made me want to cry. Especially the stories about my mother, which made the love in my heart for her overwhelm the anger - not because of what my father told me, because I still didn't understand properly, but because the way he spoke about her, I just knew that the love between them was true and real.

I wanted to understand though.

My hate towards her was something of a default. I didn't want to feel this way. But she seemed to be the center of the world for so many people I cared for, that when she went away and left them without her, their lives lost so much sunshine.

How else was I supposed to feel?

But I wanted to love her. She was my mother. And I asked the question that had been plaguing me since I was six, almost a decade ago.

Why do you love her so much?

There wasn't even a contemplative pause before I heard the answer.

"Because she made it stop raining," Dad had replied simply. And it filled me with such frustration because I still didn't know what he was talking about. "It was because of her that it stopped raining in me."

The line seemed to hold so much significance for my father. It seemed far too deep for me to truly understand what it meant - I didn't think I ever would. I still don't, actually. No one would. Not unless they were Kurosaki Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia.

Naturally, the bond between me and my father strengthened after that. I didn't know how that was even possible - we were already so close that it seemed beyond reality that we would find a way to trust and love each other even more.

But it had happened.

The same was true with the rest of the family as well. All the stories that Grandpa Isshin used to tell me about the shinigami captain, they were true. They were about him. It made me even more eager to learn about the world that was Soul Society, the place where everything in my life originated from.

Aunt Karin and Aunt Yuzu were also very indulgent about all my questions. Of course, they didn't know as much as the others as they were not shinigami, but it was with them I could relate to the best. Because they were like me, watching something great happen yet not understanding it. Hearing about what they had seen, what they had felt during Dad's time as a shinigami made my heart go out to them even more.

I found out about the tattoos on Uncle Renji. I thought that they were cool enough before, but once he told me the stories behind each and every one of them, my admiration of him grew even more. How could it not? Uncle Renji was the living proof that if you wanted something bad enough and were willing to work for it, you would get it.

And Uncle Byakuya...

I found out he really was a Guardian Angel. The sacrifices he made for my mother, the magnitude of love and pride he had for her. All he needed was the wings, or maybe a halo. He loved my mother enough to put her life before his own, and he loved me in that same way.

Uncle Renji and Uncle Byakuya told me more about my mother. About her childhood and her life, and even though I could never love her as fully as I would if she had been in my life, I could love her as the woman who was Kuchiki Rukia, the woman who was my father's love, my Uncle Renji's best friend, and my Uncle Byakuya's sister.

The woman who had been the strongest ray of light in all of their lives, the woman who died as a hero so Dad could survive.

Sometimes I know that I don't deserve a family like this. Yes, we fight, we have clashes in opinions, and sometimes I honestly feel as though I hate some of them. But I don't. How can someone possibly hate these people who are all so impossibly selfless?

An orphaned boy with nothing left to live for deserves a family like this. The type of family that not even the wealthiest have the luxury to have. They type of family with a bond that is both thicker than water and thicker than blood. The bond that is stronger than all the titanium in the world combined.

Not people like me. Me, Kurosaki Yuki, who had it all and still found a way to be angry at the world, for not making my life even more perfect than it already was.

Except that I'm a selfish sort of person. I would never give them all up. If I had to choose with the destruction of the world and the presence of these people in my life, then it wouldn't even be a decision. Not having even one of them with me would be the same as throwing me into a pit of hell.

No matter what Dad says, I'm not as strong as him. If he died, I would not be able to pick myself up like he did after the death of my mother, and continue to live. I wouldn't have the courage to love someone again as deeply as he loved me. I'm a weak and selfish coward, and the worst part was I didn't give a damn as long as my family never left me.

As long as these people never left me.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of realities in this world.

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The sky is blue and the grass is green. Two to the power of four is sixteen. When a person is born, it is written in their fates that they will, at one point, die as well.

I honestly don't know how I could've been so blind to the fact that the perfect world would never exist for me. I must admit, one of my bigger flaws is that I believe that the universe revolves around me. How could I not, with everyone I love doting on me as though I was a gift from heaven? I thought that all the bad things happen to other people. There was no way that could happen to me.

And in all honesty, I should have known better.

What made me so special? Nothing, that's what. Why would I, of all people, deserve the fairytale ending? No reason at all, of course.

If a hero like my father didn't get the world of perfection that he so very well earned, then who was I?

No one.

But like I said, I was so caught up in the glow of my life that I didn't even think about things like that.

I like to believe that I'm a strong person. I can take care of myself physically, and even if I couldn't, I knew that the moment someone even thought about hurting me, Dad would be on them faster than I could blink.

Emotionally, however, it was somewhat of a different story.

I had a happy life. Even though my mother was never a constant in my life, I had enough love from everyone else to make up for it. I had a marvellous family, the stubbornness that would never let me feel depressed, and the belief – hammered into my head from my knuckleheaded family – that no one could make me feel less than I am without my consent.

But there was still something unstable in me. I was quick to anger, relied too much on the people around me, and the unconscious belief that the world always revolved around me.

This was most likely the reason why Dad's death affected me the way it did.

My father was always a strong person. Physically, mentally, the whole works. And trust me when I say this: had Dad just suddenly collapsed in the middle of the room, I would've been the first one to notice. But this was something that was more gradual, so much so, that I didn't see it coming until it actually did.

Dad started blinking more, his smile seemed wearier, and his movements had toned down so he wasn't as quick as before. But even then he was so many light years ahead of me in those things that I hardly noticed that he slowly started to sleep earlier and wake up later until it was me who was waking up first.

But I was so damn happy with my life – the fact that I had friends, the fact that I had family, the fact that I was doing well in school – that I didn't notice. Not until one day when Dad was in such a deep sleep that he wouldn't wake up when I started to shake him.

I don't know if I started screaming or not, but the next thing I knew, Grandpa was in the room, and he said, "I want you to sit down Yuki."

Then, for the first time in my life, I saw magic.

I barely had time to brace myself before I could literally feel the change in the air. It was electric – I could feel it coursing through me before escaping through the tips of my hair. I was more aware, more alert, yet in so much awe that I couldn't capture it all.

And then life started to pour out of Grandpa's hands.

That was the only way I could've described this. Even though I knew about the world beyond this one, I didn't know the specifics, the science of it yet. I would, soon – Dad would explain it to me later – but not right now.

The energy that I could see was so blue that it was white. I could feel myself get overwhelmed by the force of it. I think I fell to the floor at one point, stumbled back until I was a fair distance away, watching as my father's body glowed a sort of mystical light.

It was unfortunate that I couldn't even appreciate the beauty of the powers that was within a human soul because of the fear I felt – the fear that never released the hold on my heart from the moment I walked into the room.

"Yuki, go and give Urahara a call," Grandpa told me. It seemed like it was hours later, with Dad finally breathing, Grandpa looking beyond exhausted, and me in between them, on the floor like the useless person that I was.

But Grandpa's order seemed to shock my mind back into motion.

"No," I said, leaping up and going towards Dad. "I don't want to leave him here alone."

"I'm here, aren't I?" Grandpa replied grumpily. "And it's just down the hall, Yuki – but never mind. He's already here."


I could only stare in astonishment as Urahara-san and Yourichi-san barged into the room, looking like they were prepared to take on a mass murderer with multiple machine guns.

"What happened?" Yoruichi-san had asked, her feline eyes falling on my father. "We felt that all the way at the shop."

"Saa, don't get us worried like that," Urahara-san said, poking at Grandpa with his folded-up fan. "First we feel your huge burst of reiatsu, and then we realize that Kurosaki-kun's is gone. We thought some rogue Espada was here to get revenge."

"I wish," Grandpa muttered. "We need to talk, Urahara. Yuki, leave the room for a bit."

"What? No!" I grabbed onto Dad's hand. "You can tell me! I already know everything, anyway. It's not like we have any more things to hide."

Grandpa looked lost for a second. "Yuki-"

"Yuki," interrupted Dad's voice, and I turned my head so fast I groaned a little at the pain from the crick that I had gotten. His eyes were still closed, though he was speaking clearly. "I'm only knocked out for half an hour and already you're rebellious against the old man?"

"Dad!" My heart was pounding equally from shock and relief. "You're–"

"Yeah, I'm still kickin'," he smirked, peeking at me with one drowsy eye. "Now let's listen to the idiot over there for once in our lives, Yuki, and have you go out for a bit."

"But I–" I started to say, before Dad threw me his look. I'm sure he knew that I'd never have the will to completely disrespect his direct wishes, because there was no other reason why he'd stare at me like that.

I quieted.

"I'll go with her," Yoruichi-san said, placing her hand on my elbow. I looked at her questioningly. She threw me a wink before smirking. "You think you can out eat me in dango, little brat?"

Much as I love Yoruichi-san's company, it didn't stop me from feeling the uneasiness that I did while I was away from the house for that hour. It was the most stressful hour of my life so far. The anticipation of death was worse than dying itself, someone once said.

And, okay, so I wasn't anticipating death, but I understood what that meant now. My stomach was churning, my breathing was shallow, and my heart felt a sort of heaviness that I can't properly describe. It was as though I was wracked with guilt – except that that made absolutely no sense.

But that anxiety that I was feeling was nothing compared to when I got home, and the look that Yoruichi-san had on her face as she dropped me back home said that she was having similar feelings as well.

I was hesitant as I walked to my father's bedroom. It was all very quiet, and I don't think there was anyone else left in the house. I turned out to be right because when I opened the door to his room, he was the only one there, covered halfway in blankets and attempting to complete a Sudoku puzzle.

"Yo," he said, grinning up at me. "So just how badly did Yoruichi out eat you?"

"You are an idiot," I informed him. A little bit of sadness crept into my heart, seeing the hints of tiredness in his smile and movements.

"Well, that's not news."

I couldn't help the giggle that came out. "No," I agreed. "I guess it's not."

Dad patted on the spot next to him on the bed, and I sat down. Although I was growing older and was not as physically affectionate with Dad as I had been before, I rested my cheek on his shoulder and felt reassurance that everything would be alright when his arm went around my shoulder.

"Are you going to tell me what happened?" I asked quietly after a while.

Dad sighed, but his face was serious as he said, "Yeah." He seemed hesitant. "Maybe the old man or Urahara should explain this to you. There's a lot of things that are-"

"Dad," I cut in. Usually this is the part where I would pout or whine until Dad gave in – although to be fair, the faint smile he has on his face when he does usually implied he was being difficult just to annoy me. But this was serious. This was Dad.

Dad awkwardly scratched his cheek. "I just feel weird. I mean, I don't know how I'm supposed to say this to you without leading up to it or whatever and it's too damn much to just say it-"

"It's me," I interrupted. "Dad, its Yuki. Whatever you say, I can handle it."

After a moment of silence Dad said, "Okay." He looked at me straight in the eyes. "I'm dying."

I blinked.

"That's okay though, right," I said, thinking as rationally as I could even though my stomach was turning. "Dead is such an abstract word here. I mean, Uncle Renji and Byakuya are dead too, right?"

Even when his face and body was weary, Dad's eyes were full of life and determination. They really are the best part about him, and not for the first time, I wished I had those dark brown eyes were a part of me, and not my mother's purple.

"Your birth was complicated, Yuki," Dad said, and I nodded, even though I didn't understand what that had to with him dying. "It wasn't because of you that Rukia died, of course. She died the way she would have wanted to – protecting the people she cared about."

And even though he didn't say it, I could hear the, but I think she would've rather stayed and watched you grow, inside Dad's head. I heard the, she would've rather stayed and grown old with me.

I still nodded. "I know," I said. "You told me all of this before. The complicated part was that her soul didn't have a body while yours did."

"Right, right," agreed Dad. "You should've seen the look on her face the first time she held you, though. It made me wish I carried around a camera with me but then I think it would've been a bit too stalker."

I laughed, but it was half-hearted as best.

"It was... really hard for me after she died, y'know?" So many years had gone by, and Dad's love for my mother had never diminished. Usually Dad had a quiet amusement, a quiet happiness in his words when he talked about her – which was why I was stunned when I heard his voice crack.

I've been his daughter for almost sixteen years, and I never, ever heard him choke like that.

Daddy, I wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come out of my throat.

"I haven't told this to anyone," he informed me, and I couldn't do anything but listen. "Not even Rukia, I don't think. But she was the first person – she was the first person after Mom died that made me feel like – she made me feel like something."

He laughed, as though he couldn't believe that he was actually saying what he was saying. "It wasn't as though I didn't always know I was worth something. Having Karin and Yuzu and Dad was amazing. But Rukia. She was. Just having her there was enough to get rid of any sort of inadequacy I felt. I felt as though if it was for her – if it was with her – I could literally do anything."

Dad smiled and there was a sadness there that made me feel afraid.

"You were so cute when you were little," he continued. "We both completely went all out with you. Rukia was so damn protective, putting you in mittens and hats and five different sweaters before we took you out in winter. You were only like, eight months old. It's kind of stupid, thinking back at it, but that day with the snow – you remember the photo? – I thought, this was it, you know? This will be forever."

I did remember the picture. Both of my parents looked stunning, Dad's face grinning as he sprinkled snow onto my mother's hair, and her shielding my small, baby face from the falling flakes. Her smile was vibrant, and whenever I saw that picture I thought I understood just a little bit of Dad's love for her.

"When Rukia died just a couple of weeks later, it was – it was unreal. You wouldn't believe how I felt – I saw her disappearing in front of me. I saw her disappearing because of me." Dad's eyes were getting far away, as though he was remembering that night. "Obviously now I know that there was no helping it – if I was in her place, I saw her trying to protect you like what I was trying to do, I wouldn't be thinking rationally. I'd just try and get between you guys and the attackers."

I felt my eyes get wet. As much as a tomboy as I was, I always cried in moments like these.

"Everyone always said that I took too much on my shoulders. And I guess that was true. But with Rukia, it was incomparable. I could hardly believe it had happened. I woke up in the middle of the night for weeks after that and actually started looking for her before remembering that she was gone."

Dad sighed. "But I realized that I had Yuki, that Yuki needed me. And I needed you too. I couldn't let myself be beaten by Rukia's death, you know? You were so tiny and didn't know anything that was going on, and I wanted to protect you from all the shit that keeps happening to me."

"You did," I finally said. The heaviness in my chest was overwhelming. "No one else could have protected me as much."

Dad quirked his lips. "I hope you feel that way in a little while, kiddo," he said. "Because the point of this story is about to come."

I nodded. "Go on."

Dad nodded, but he had difficulty meeting my eyes now. I wondered if it was because of all the memories this story had brought up, or the fact that my mother's eyes would stare back at him if he looked.

"Y'know that I love you more than anything, right?"

I was thrown off by his question.

I mean, obviously I knew – a person would have to be completely not from this world to not know this. What startled me was the fact that Dad needed my reassurance.

"Of course," I replied, feeling the tension ease from my shoulders when Dad smiled.

"I did everything I could, you know. I loved you, but without Rukia there anymore, I had to love you as much as she would have as well. And you were such a cute baby, it wasn't that hard. But Yuki, I love Rukia more than anything else in the world too."

Love, I noticed. Not loved.

And perhaps I was more mature than I gave myself credit for because I nodded.

A part of me had always understood that the love between Kurosaki Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia was something that was too big for me to understand. No matter how much of his heart Dad gave me, that tiny fraction more would belong to my mother.

"I had you to take care of, I knew that, and because of that it doesn't excuse what I did."

I looked at him and frowned.

Dad laughed. "It wasn't anything too stupid," he reassured me. "I would never intentionally do something that would make your life even the littlest bit harder. But I missed Rukia, and now she was two lifetimes away from me. For all I knew, her spirit was probably back in the living world."

He removed the arm that was around my shoulder, and I felt suddenly vulnerable to whatever truth he was going to tell me.

"It makes me a terrible father when I say this," Dad said, and there was a small "heh," and wry grin that followed. "But when we were heading to Okinawa that day when you were seven and the train crashed, I was happy that I died helping that woman get out even though it wasn't on purpose."

There was silence.

I think that at the back of my mind, I always suspected something like this. It would, at the very least, explain why Dad looked so young when he should be at least thirty-five by now.

But even still, hearing him say that out loud - hearing Dad say to me that he was dead - it was something that stunned me. I could feel the breath actually stop in my throat, and had difficulty trying to get more air in.

The tears in my eyes started to fall, from aggravation, confusion, hurt, but most of all: sadness. "Daddy..."

"Don't cry!" Dad looked at me, horrified. "Yuki, the way we've lived – knowing what so few people in this world know - death is nothing but the beginning of a new life. You know that."

Of course I know that, I wanted to say, but I couldn't open my mouth. Of I course I know.

But this was.

This was Dad.

"You can't – you can't honestly expect me to just. Take this in like that," I finally let out, pulling away from him. The harshness in my voice surprised even me. "You're – you're my father."

"Yeah, one who makes his kid cry." There was so much heaviness behind that sentence, so much grief. "What a shit father I turn out to be."

A growl of frustration escaped my throat. "No – no, you're not. That's the worst part about it. You're amazing, you're fantastic. Why the hell do you think I'm making such a big deal about this if I thought that? Of course I care that you're leaving. OF COURSE I CARE THAT YOU'RE NEVER COMING BACK."


"No, you – you just shut up." I was so angry that I could barely form proper sentences, never mind be polite. "You lied to me about being dead and I DESERVE TO BE ANGRY AT THIS BREACH OF TRUST."

Dad smiled a little. "I never lied. I just never told you. It wasn't like I was expecting this to happen."

"I know, I know!" I felt like shrieking and pulling my hair out. Because even though I deserve to be angry at him, he was still my father and I understood why he did what he did. I felt guilty for being angry which made me even angrier. I jumped off the bed and stalked angrily out of the room. "I'm going out."

Dad's face instantly slid into worry. And underneath my anger, guilt was already starting to form. "Yuki-"

"I'm not going to do anything stupid," I said. My entire body was tense and I needed to do something. Anything. "You know that I won't."

"Be careful," he said, finally, after moments of silence. God, I love him so much. This wasn't fair– "I'll be staying up."

I didn't do much outside – it was nearing sunset, and I didn't want to go to anyone's house and bother them at this time of day. But I was literally vibrating with negative energy, and I needed to let it out.

Never before in my life had I wished for a punching bag so hard in my life.

My hands were shaking slightly, and I could actually feel my nervousness and anxiety start to claw through me. I started to run – I ran and ran and ran, focusing on the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement and the way my leg muscles started to burn after the first fifteen minutes.

I didn't stop though. One thing I learned from Uncle Renji all these years was that once you pause for even just a second, it's extremely difficult to start again.

When I finally did collapse, however, it was by a playground at least an hour away from my house. I stared up at the slowly darkening sky, and could imagine the fading clouds as Dad's life.

I stayed there for a while and cried.

Dad – ever the man of his word – was still awake when I got home, but had relocated to the sofa. He looked like he should've been asleep though, with him nodding off every few seconds before snapping his head back up and looking at his watch.

I looked at him for a moment, trying to memorize the picture I saw. I stood in the doorway for several seconds just appreciating the scene, appreciating this amazing person.

My chest felt incredibly heavy.

"I'm really, really sorry that I got angry and stomped off and acted like a compete brat but you have to understand that finding out something like that is more than a little shocking," I said in one deep breath. Dad jumped in surprise and looked at me, but I continued before he started to speak.

I needed to let him know.

"I'm going to miss you," I carried on, my voice cracking at the I. "I'm going to miss you so much and I'm angry that I don't have more time to deal with it but you have to know that you're amazing, the most fantastic person to ever exist and this world will be a crappier place without you."

There was a long stretch of silence after that with Dad looking at me with considering eyes.

Finally, eons later, he softly said, "Come here."

I nearly broke in my relief and didn't waste a second curling on the couch beside him, leaning my head on his shoulder.

Later on I learned that Dad, being the special soul that he is, was unstable in the living world. There wasn't enough energy in the air to sustain a spirit of such a magnitude as his. The basics of his soul structure had been trying to remould itself to try and let him survive in his fake body, but the fundamental core had been changed drastically. Because of this, neither world could properly hold on to him and absolutely nothing could change that.

This was the price that he had to pay for staying in the living world. I couldn't get over just how unfair it was that out of all the people who broke that unspoken law that it had to be him who had to suffer.

And he wouldn't have even had to if he hadn't stayed behind for me.

If it wasn't for the fact that something like this was so final – it just was, seeing the look of desolation in the faces of all the people in my life – I would have fought harder. Of course, there wouldn't be much that I could have done, but I would have tried something.

But I wasn't an expert while Urahara-san was.

And even I started to notice how much more Dad slept, how washed out and faded he looked whenever I saw him in his natural form as a soul. Still amazingly and fiercely determined to grin at me, but the color in him was disappearing.

It scared me, and I spent a lot of time crying, but Dad was right – I had been brought up in such a way that I may have been unprepared for many things in life, but Death (capital D and all) was something that was familiar to me.

That revelation didn't help at all, of course.

We went back to Okinawa, and it was as beautiful as it was before. Except this time, the rest of my extended family wasn't there. It was just me and Dad and the exceptionally beautiful scenery.

"This is kinda ironic," he informed me when we were at one of the beaches, looking at the waves crash against the shoreline. "Last time I was holding you up so you could see everything properly. This time you're holding me up so I don't fall flat on my face."

Dad's ever growing weakness was something that I took notice of. It just spoke more of the dreaded day that he would be gone. But the way he joked about it and never took it seriously enough made me angry: was he really so eager to join my mother that he would leave me behind like this?

That anger inside of me that I thought had been healed long ago was starting to bleed out again, each time Dad smiled his weary smile.

But I kept it to myself. I didn't want to be the one who made him frown with my seething rage every time we flipped through the photo album and he smiled at the picture of the three of us together as though his life had been complete the moment that image was taken.

Dad got a lot of visitors in his final few weeks. I didn't even know he knew so many people. Some of them were almost too beautiful to look at – like Hitsugaya Toushirou with his startling white hair and exquisite turquoise eyes and Nell-san's astonishingly refined face and smile.

Others were more average and some were slightly terrifying. But they had around them an aura of power, respect, and loyalty, and I could accept them all, and hope that they would accept me back in return.

I did the best that I could to prepare myself for when he'd be gone. I tried imagining how it would be like without his constant presence, how it would be like without the assurance that he would always be there to look after me.

It was hard to imagine, and even harder to face.

The day that Kurosaki Ichigo died was August 28th, at 4:32pm. It was exactly one month and six days after my seventeenth birthday.

I was there when his body had started to glow that faint light. The look on his face was peaceful as he closed his eyes, and I couldn't bear it.

It was as though all those months I spent getting ready for this had flown out the window and I was back to that day when I had yelled at him when finding out that he had already died once.

"You can't leave me," I said, voice frantic as I held on to his hand. "I know I said that I would be okay but I was lying. You must have known I was lying but was trying not to worry you. But right now I don't care if I have to guilt you into staying here because damn it, you know that I'm not going to make it without you."

I was crying again. I couldn't help it. How could someone not cry when the best part about the world was about to vanish from existence?

"Stop crying, Yuki." Dad looked at me, lips pressed together in a thin line. "I'm not leaving you."

For one brief second, I stopped, filled with an impossible hope.

And then I remembered. "Stop joking about stuff like that!" I hissed. "How can you not understand how important this is?"

"I understand!" Dad looked at me intently, honestly – like he always did. "Yuki, you're strong. Of course you're going to be okay. And I'm not leaving. Do you think I could have honestly survived all these years if Rukia had left me?"

I quieted at that.

Dad sighed. "Yuki," he said and his voice was soft. "If there's one thing that I want you to learn in this world and absolutely nothing else it's that it's more important to have a happy life than a happy death. You've got to realize that."

"How can I have a happy life without you here?" I demanded, barely taking in those words of wisdom. "What makes you think I can even do that?"

He smiled. "Because you have the ability to love people and that lets people love you back. What else can you need to be happy?"

"I need you."

"No, you don't," he said, and to my horror I saw him start to fade. "But I'm not going to leave you alone anyway."

But that's exactly what he did.

Particle by particle, Dad's soul drifted away.

They – I don't even know who they were – held a required funeral. The whole thing was obviously done just for show because Dad knew so many people in this world. Unlike the whole incident with my mother, people would be wondering what had happened to him if he just disappeared one day.

Now they'll be saying, "I knew him when he was a child, you know. Such a nice boy. A little rough around the edges, but he looked after my dog for me when I was at the hospital."

Or, "Man. This is so surreal. Kurosaki dying of cancer? I always thought the only thing that could take him out would be a bullet through the head."

Or – and I swear, this is the best fucking one, "I can't believe it. He's been a single parent since he was nineteen, did you know? I wish I had the chance to get to know him a bit more. Seemed like a good guy."

Yeah, seemed, you asshole. Don't act all sad now that he's dead when all his life you've been talking behind his back, treating him like some kind of a disgrace who got dumped with a kid because of some whore he knocked up.

The whispers about Dad had lots of different tones to them. They ranged from sympathy, disbelief, genuine regret, and guilt.

I didn't find all of this out for ages though. How could I have? I didn't go to that sham funeral, even though my aunts, uncles, Grandpa, and close family friends all went despite the pain they were feeling.

But I've always been selfish in my own misery, and got needlessly angry whenever someone tried to talk to me, even angrier when they left me alone after I shrieked at them. For so many days after Dad had died, I was a complicated jumble of every negative emotion.

In any other scenario, my hysteric and incomprehensible behaviour would have gotten me a firm yelling from Grandpa. But everyone was grieving in their own way and no one had the emotional capacity to deal with me.

Even Uncle Byakuya – who, despite his aloof nature, was more in tune to the emotions around him that anyone else I know – couldn't.

Because no matter the differences that he and Dad had in their early days, Dad was someone Uncle Byakuya cherished as the person whom my mother loved the most. Of course, he respected the fighting ability and character of Kurosaki Ichigo, but there was something more to their relationship that wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for my mother.

It was as though I was perpetually depressed when I went back to school. I wasn't hungry, my grades were even worse than before, and I didn't want to talk about how I felt with anybody.

The last one was petty of me. As the weeks went by and everyone started to pick themselves back up, I got angry. It was irrational because obviously they still missed Dad but they had to get on with their lives. But I was stuck in this place where I could see a door that was unlocked, but couldn't bring my feet to walk over there.

They all tried talking to me, of course: Grandpa, my aunts and even Sado-san, Dad's closest friend since high school.

But they didn't understand.

Dad was someone who had unconditionally given me his love and protection ever since I was a baby. The others loved me, yes, but they wouldn't jump into a volcano without the slightest hesitation if it would mean that I would get to experience life for one more day (of course, realistically, he would find a way where no one would have to do volcano-jumping but this whole scenario was farfetched to begin with).

He was the only person who I couldn't imagine my life without. With Dad there, I could honestly believe that I wouldn't have to face any difficulties that life held for me because he would be there to protect me from it.

I was lost and confused and stuck in a dark and depressing place, and there wasn't anything anyone could do.

I wouldn't let them – they didn't understand and some inexplicable part of me didn't want them to.

But then a saviour came.

Orihime-san walked into my room looking as fabulous as she ever did, and before I could even process what was going on – before I could get angry or confused or struck with a whole new wave of grief – she had me engulfed in a hug.

"I miss him too," she said, and I just sat there, frozen in her embrace. "But he loves us. He would be so disappointed if he saw you right now."

The firmness in Orihime-san's voice made me feel weak. I part of me wondered how someone as lovely as her could stand to hold someone like me – someone who looked and felt like a wreck with red eyes and oily hair and cracking skin.

"You've been grieving for so long," she said, and that was enough to get me started again. My eyes – they actually hurt from the amount of stress I've been potting them through. "I – I'm not the type of person who believes in telling others what to do. Even if it's someone who I care about, all I can do is try to show them the way to what I believe is right and hope that it is for them as well and that they can follow."

I looked up and saw Orihime-san for the first time in my life without a gentle smile or sheepish grin or a thoughtful frown. I saw her as someone wise, with a sombre face and solemn eyes. Strangely, this side suited her well – I knew from talking to both her and Dad that she wasn't always this way, that once upon a time Orihime-san had been like me, unsure of herself and her role in the world.

She reached forward and wiped the tears from my face.

I wondered why it was different with Orihime-san – why I pushed everyone away with shouts and tears and angry words when all I felt was weariness when I saw her.

"I don't want to get over it," I said, and my voice was hoarse and raspy. "I feel as though if I start to feel better again that I'm losing something. I know that it doesn't make sense, that Dad would want me to be happy but I can't help it – I don't think I can get over it and I don't even know why–"

Orihime-san pulled me close to her again. I wondered if this was how Mom would have held me if this had happened while she was alive. She would be smaller than Orihime-san – maybe even smaller than me. Her arms would be thinner, but the hold would probably be stronger. She'd probably crush me to her and hold on uncomfortably tight where Orihime-san was holding me firmly but with softness in her touch.

I cried harder.

This was so fucking ridiculous. I could feel hysteria rising inside me as I wept onto Orihime-san's shoulder. My mother – a woman who has never been in my life other than pictures and stories – I missed her. I loved and hated her and wanted her here, wanted Dad here, I wanted them to be happy but I wanted to be happy with them because I just–

"I can't let go of him because I'm not strong enough," I sobbed, and that moment I realized how pathetic I was, how weak I was. "My whole life I've depended on him so much – you have no idea – and Dad, he's always been so strong and he took care of me so much that I never needed to be able to stand up for myself."

I paused a little, gasping for breath. "And when I saw him before he was gone – he was so weak and fading and I don't think I can ever be strong if the strongest person I know can look like that – he was smiling, he was happy, but he was fading and–"

I was incoherent and unravelling. I was a wreck and a disgrace in front of one of the people I most admired in the world, and I couldn't bring myself to stop.

"I just want to see him again," I said, my face buried in her shoulder. "I want to see him strong and alive and happy because that's the only way that I can ever be."

Orihime-san was looking at me.

"Did Kurosaki-kun ever tell you what I can do?" she suddenly asked, head tilting to the side. I could not stop the sobs that were heaving in my body or the tears from my eyes but I could look at her in astonishment.

"N-no," I said, trying my hardest to get the words to be stable.

Orihime-san smiled, reaching her hand out to me as she stood up.

"I've never done this before," she said, and wordlessly I take her hand because my faith in her was absolute as it was with the rest of the people in my life. "But I think this'll work, if only because..."

She didn't finish her sentence but instead closed her eyes. To my amazement, the clips that she always has pinned to her hair started to glow, and six little bursts of light erupted from it.

"What–" I said, blinking at the little humans – fairies? – that were now surrounding us.

Orihime-san just shook her head at me, and the next thing I knew, we were inside a prism of orange light, and the world was blurring around us.

I watched in awe as the worlds and times passed by us, and I watched Orihime-san, her eyes closed in concentration. Beads of sweat were starting to trail down her face.

We were in there for hours. I wasn't sure exactly what was going on but I trusted Orihime-san with my being. At the very least, I was standing inside six walls of pure magic, and my appreciation and amazement towards it was so great that I didn't think about the depression that had been clinging to my mind for weeks.

I had so many questions – what was happening, who was Orihime-san, what was the point of this. But Orihime-san was lost in another world, and I feared what breaking her focus would do.

Finally we stopped, and I glanced around in wonder. It was near sunset, and I was in the middle of a small cluster of trees. The air was impossibly fresh and clean and I could practically feel myself being filled with energy.

I was so distracted by the beauty of this place that it took me a while before I noticed Orihime-san who was kneeling on the ground and taking in deep, gasping breaths. Her clean white skirt was getting stained with dirt but she didn't look like she was noticing.

"Orihime-san," I said quickly, urgently. "What's going–"

"Shh," she said, a tired smile on her beautiful face. She pointed ahead. "Look over there."

I turned around.

My breath caught in my throat.

Standing in the middle of a field just beyond me was my father – Dad, looking fully alive and well and full of life. He looked so young, maybe as old as me, but that probably meant that he was younger since he always did look much more grown up than his actual age. He was in shinigami outfit, a giant sword strapped to his back, and the look on his face was–

But what really took my breath away was Mom – she was there, standing across from Dad. She was the one that Dad was looking at like that. That look that I can't even begin to describe. I had honestly never seen someone so splendid – Mom wasn't beautiful like how Orihime-san was beautiful. But standing there with that kimono covering her small frame, with the grass brushing against her ankles, and that gentle smile and wide eyes, my mother was lovely.

I could do nothing but drink the two of them in.

The wind carried over my mother's voice to my ears.

"I've decided to stay in Soul Society.," she said, and it was the first time I ever heard her speak. I couldn't put into the words the feeling that was going through me right then – I could only describe the physical effects, the way my heart started to beat faster even though it felt heavier, the tears that started to sting my already pained eyes.

I didn't hear Dad's reply but I don't think I needed to. At that moment, the love that overwhelmed in my heart for Mom was equal to what I felt for Dad – she wasn't the one who raised me, she wasn't there when I grew up, but she was Mom. She was the one whose eyes I shared, who was so painfully real and human as she stood there in the field. She was the one who in her absence brought to my life some of the most precious people to my heart.

My mother was the one who made Dad look like that. She was the one who looked at Dad like that – it was a quiet, secret sort of bond, one that only the two of them could ever understand.

I didn't have a doubt in my heart as I looked at the two of them that they would have wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life with me. Mom would have loved me if she didn't have to leave. She would have loved Dad – she did love Dad, enough to give her life for him.

Orihime-san watched them, her eyes filled with adoration. She was amazing.

"Don't they look happy?"

I looked at them, my parents.

They looked happy and healthy and strong. The looked like they were falling in love. I couldn't hate my mother for loving Dad so much that she'd give up her chance with me to save him. I couldn't hate Dad for loving Mom so much that the mere thought of her filled him with happiness, for loving me enough for the both of them.

I could only have my love for them grow deeper.

"They look beautiful," I said, and my voice cracked. But I was smiling.

She made it stop raining in me.