Marriage of Days
Ichigo stood outside of the great dining hall, the yellow lights pouring out into the night sky through the massive glass doors behind him. His deep brown eyes were watching the smoke from his cigarette float into the night sky in thin and wispy strands, the pale tendrils of burning tobacco reflecting that yellow briefly before it flowed into the blue of the full moon above. His head tilted back as the smoke rose into the air, above the fat and lonely moon, and into the eternal that stretched beyond.
The stars always made him think about things that were far too big to truly comprehend. The afterlife, as far as he knew, was understood to be the Soul Society. And while he'd never been in the King's Realm, he didn't imagine it being the stars themselves. Why would anyone want to live in the vacuum of space, anyway? Surely the King wouldn't live there?
Fuck, he thought as he blew a thin spear of smoke out into the air. Maybe he does. I know I would if I could.
Ichigo was a bit sloshed.
The Kuchiki Manor's Annual Gala, at Rukia's insistence, had been held in the real world this year; in the upper east quadrant of Karakura Town, to be exact. The dining hall at his back served one of two purposes on any given night: a reserved location for the extremely wealthy to drink and dance long into the night, or a hall for high-school students to do the exact same thing whenever their campus would plan a dance. And right now, Ichigo wished he was at the latter.
Rukia had decided, in all of her giddy and intoxicated splendor, to inform the vast majority of the attendees of her recent "betrothing" to one Kurosaki Ichigo. An arrangement that, up until thirty minutes ago, Ichigo hadn't even known was official. After all, they'd only shared their first kiss two months ago. He had no problem with the two of them being "official" or what-have-ye – in fact, he wasn't even concerned that she'd decided to tell people without talking it over with him first.
No, his real issue with the situation was that her boisterous proclamation of their "togetherness" was announced in front of a room full of Kuchiki noblemen. Including Byakuya.
Needless to say, these words hadn't quite settled well with him. Fortunately enough, he hadn't been near Rukia at the time – he had been refilling his drink when he'd heard her utter the statement that had caused her entire table to plummet into silence. And even more fortuitously, the open bar had been right next to the door that he'd immediately snuck out of.
So there he was, standing in happy solitude as the rest of the nobles inside danced and drank and plotted his immediate demise. With a final drag, the smoke burning against the back of his throat as the cherry of his cigarette touched upon the filter, he flicked the smoking stick out and into the night.
"So, Kuchiki, eh?" A strange voice called out to him. He turned around to see Kyoraku Shunsui sauntering up to him, a drink in hand. The captain looked quite different outside of his normal pink and white haori combination, but that didn't mean he couldn't look familiar at the same time. His hair was pulled back into the same rugged ponytail, tied tight with a simple cloth and a pair of expensive pinwheels. Even his tie was pink against his white undershirt.
Ichigo chuckled. "So I guess word has spread in there?"
"'Fraid so, kid," Shunsui said with a small chuckle as he pulled up alongside the orange-haired Substitute Shinigami, his elbows coming to rest against the staccato ledge. "You mind if I get one of them smokes from ya?" he asked, his soft brown eyes glancing down to the protruding rectangle of Ichigo's breast pocket.
"Oh, of course," Ichigo said, his voice slurring slightly as he flipped the pack open and thumbed out one of the thin white cylinders. "I usually don't smoke – it's a bad habit I picked up from my dad. But when I drink…"
"Tell me about it," Shunsui said as Ichigo offered him a match. "I love to smoke when I drink, but I never do. My lieutenant would kill me if she ever found out that I did."
"Lieutenant Ise?" Ichigo questioned as he pulled another cigarette out for himself. "Why would she care if her captain smoked or not? I mean…"
A sideways look from Shunsui caused Ichigo to trail off before his eyes widened in shock.
"You and Nanao?" Ichigo asked in a hushed whisper.
Shunsui dragged from his cigarette and exhaled fully, the smile that came to his lips giving Ichigo the only reply that he was going to receive. Ichigo turned back to the ledge that the two of them were leaned upon, his eyes wide. He chuckled slightly and turned back to the captain whom he hardly knew.
"So how bad does it look in there for me," Ichigo asked, the alcohol in his system allowing him to smile slightly at his impending death, "honestly?"
"Well," Shunsui replied as he pulled deeply from his borrowed cigarette and spoke with a throatful of smoke, his voice foggy. "I wouldn't go in there just yet, kid."
Ichigo sighed. "That bad?"
"Let's just say," the captain replied as he flicked his smoke off into the darkness of the night, "that the captain and lieutenant of the sixth division aren't exactly on your list of friends right now."
"Wonderful," Ichigo said with a sigh before bringing his glass up to his mouth and throwing his head back.
"What are you drinkin', Ichigo?" Captain Kyoraku asked, reaching his hand out for the empty cup in the boy's hands. "I'll get you a refill."
"White Russian," Ichigo said. "That's Kahlua and—"
"Oh, I know what's in it," Shunsui interrupted as he turned to walk inside. "Trust me – I know."
The older captain snuck back inside, leaving Ichigo to watch the moon in solitude once more. He looked up at it in silent admiration, his eyes tracing along the scars and seas that marred its surface. Karakura was very rarely awarded such a clear night as this – usually the moon was trapped behind a haze of yellow smog and green fluorescents. Tonight, however, the moon was full and white and close; Ichigo imagined that he could touch it if he were to only reach out his arm and try…
"White Russian?" barked an extremely familiar voice, one that froze his spine and forced him to remain facing outwards. "That's a strange drink there. Ichigo. I thought you preferred beer?"
"Well, if the bar is open, you gotta indulge," Ichigo said as the other man walked up beside him and handed off the milky drink. "Wouldn't you agree, Renji?"
To his surprise, the tattooed lieutenant laughed heartily. "You think I drink scotch every day?"
"I didn't even know you knew it existed," Ichigo said with a chuckle.
A moment of silence passed as the two men looked upon the infinite of space that stretched above them. These two young men who, when they'd been younger, had tried to cut one another to ribbons on more than one occasion. These two men who had formed a strange and strained alliance under the threat of a common enemy.
These two young men who both loved the same girl.
"Rukia," Renji said nostalgically, almost as if he could read minds. "She's a good kid."
"Yeah," Ichigo said neutrally, cautiously. "She wouldn't be Rukia if she wasn't."
"Yeah," Renji echoed before sipping out of his glass. "She's always been a great girl. As long as I've known her. Which, I might add," he said turning towards Ichigo, his playful demeanor dropping slightly, "is a lot longer than you've even been alive."
Ichigo nodded slightly and took a sip from his drink. Normally in a situation like this, he and Renji would but heads and yell at each other – maybe even throw a few punches – and then the problem would be in the past. But not this time; this time, it was a matter of true pride. The kind of pride that exists between the man that won the gold medal, and the man that one the silver. This was a situation that needed to be handled with kid gloves, without breaking any eggs.
"Well," Renji said suddenly and with a slur, "I just figured I'd come out and tell you that." He sat his empty drink glass down on the staccato ledge and left it there, turning away from his companion and heading back towards the party.
"Also," he continued, his face cutting over his shoulder slightly "Captain's lookin' for you."
Ichigo sighed but said nothing, turning his back on the music and the lights and the food once more. He pulled out another cigarette, feeling guilty that he was smoking so much, but justified because they made him feel better about the shitty night he was having. He placed the smoke up to his lips and left it there, his eyes once more finding themselves transfixed upon the heavens, his mind once more upon the concept of eternity and the infinite.
And the Unknown.
"Here," came a calm voice as the warmth of a fresh pair of matches tickled his chin and the smell of sulfur reached his nostrils. "Let me get that for you."
Ichigo didn't turn to look at the charitable match lighter – instead he leaned forward calmly and aligned the tip of his cigarette with the offered falme. He kept his eyes forward and upon the moon as the warmth and light faded away slightly, the peripheral of his vision picking up a slight flickering as his new companion used the matches for his own purpose. The smell of a fine cigar wafted to Ichigo's nostrils, the sweet smell so different from the cheap, mentholated rolls that he'd been puffing away at all night.
"Do you know why we Kuchiki hold this Gala every year," Byakuya asked as he pulled the cigar away from his lips, "Kurosaki Ichigo?"
"In honor of your pride as a strong and noble house?" Ichigo responded, finally turning his face to Byakuya. Rukia had already told him the history of the Kuchiki clan in its entirety, as if she needed to alleviate the knowledge from her brain before it exploded. Ichigo knew the answer to Byakuya's question – he was simply being polite. And mostly out of fear.
"Precisely," Byakuya said shortly. "The Kuchiki house has always held pride above all else, no matter where that pride may come from. From the success of the household to the success of the individual, pride has always been what we've strived to achieve. Pride is why I kept those promises to my mother and father. Pride is why I kept my promises to Hisana."
Byakuya finally turned his piercing gaze away from Ichigo, instead turning it upon the moon. A moment passed, the only sounds being the muffled music from inside the building behind them and the soft puckering of Byakuya's lips against his cigar.
"Do you know what I pride myself on the most, Kurosaki Ichigo?" Byakuya asked, his grey eyes remaining upon the fat, blue moon. "It is that girl inside the building. That girl who proclaims her love for you."
Ichigo swallowed hard. His mouth had been dry from the second the sixth division's captain had appeared, but now the skin of his tongue could rival the Gobi. He had no idea what to say. Swiftly and smoothly he dragged upon his cigarette one more, hoping that his bid for silence would be rewarded with something other than the lack of conversation. Fortunately, yet frighteningly, Kuchiki Byakuya did not hold his tongue for long.
"And do you know why I pride myself on Rukia, Kurosaki Ichigo?" Byakuya asked, his eyes once more focusing on the younger Shinigami, those cold, grey orbs burrowing into his cheeks.
"It is because of you."
Ichigo's eyes widened as he spun around at Byakuya's absurd statement.
"If it had not been for you," the noble captain continued, "she would have been dead and my promise to Hisana would have been broken. Because of you, Ichigo, I could lay to rest two oaths and see for myself what was worth protecting – what was worth loving."
Byakuya suddenly turned and walked away from the stucco ledge, his cigar smoke trailing behind him like an exotic cologne. Ichigo was absolutely stupefied; he hardly said a thing, and Byakuya had just given him permission to court his sister. He was almost completely expecting to wind up with Senbonzakura lodged deep within his stomach by the end of that conversation, and yet…
"Kurosaki Ichigo," Byakuya said sternly as he extinguished his cigar in the ashtray next to the door. "Rukia is deeply apologetic about her outburst earlier this evening. When she comes to you," his voice lowered into the threatening timbre of the noble that Ichigo was used to hearing, "I suggest you be forgiving."
And with that, Kuchiki Byakuya was gone.
Ichigo turned back to face the moon once more, his thoughts of the endlessness of space now seeming minute compared to the miracle that he'd just witnessed. Surely whatever combination of elements that composed the symphony of the cosmos could not have written the extraordinary waltz that had just transpired upon this humble blue planet. His normally infinite wonderment at the stars was currently at a standstill.
A smile crossed his face as he turned away from that stucco ledge to face his final visitor of the night. His brown eyes settled upon the petite young woman that stood a sheepish distance away from him, her small frame wrapped in an elegant affair of white and lavender. Her jet-black hair hung down to her shoulders, perfectly contrasting both her fair skin and her pastel dress. Her eyes, as blue as the middle of the pacific at high noon, shimmered with guilt as she looked at him.
He took a step forward and held out his arms, the gesture speaking more words of forgiveness than his mouth ever could. She rushed at him, flinging her small body into his, her thin arms wrapping tightly around his waist as she clung to his hips. He chuckled slightly and leaned back a bit – just enough for him to slip his index finger underneath her chin and tilt her heart-shaped face up to his.
"Hello there," he said as he leaned in and placed a small kiss on her thin lips. "Shinigami."
"It's not 'Shinigami'," she said, her voice cracking a bit as she slapped the lapel of his jacket lightly. "It's Ku—"
The rest of her sentence was lost as he kissed her again.
because i've been busy with my big stories (So and Anonymous) i didn't actually plan on writing anything else for this story. buuuuuut i got a little drunk tonight and decided that we all needed a little ichigo/rukia up in here. so i decided to write this little thing real quick - i hope you all enjoyed it.
HUGE thanks to all the people that have dropped a review for this story so far. feel free to drop another review if you so feel the need to. i DO love reading them.
peace in greece,
marriage of days - eyvind kang