Yay, last chapter. *hearts* I'd like to thank all of you who've stuck with me and read this all the way through. :D And kudos to those who managed to keep their brains intact after reading my my utter fail. (I seriously need a major overhaul on my writiing. T_T It sucks!) Bwah, anywho... THANKS AGAIN! I luff you all~

.chapter title. free/freedom

.I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.

I believe in twisting fate.


"No… No, I understand, but what do you want me to do? … Yes, of course, as long as she needs me… Okay, thanks."

Her body yet again felt heavy. Somehow managing the energy, she tossed her body carelessly on its side, heavy eyelids keeping her eyes closed. 'So tired…' She thought lifelessly. A warm hand was placed on the top of her head and her breath hitched at the sudden contact.

"It's okay Orihime… Just sleep," the voice spoke, stroking her hair like she was a child. Orihime scrunched her eyes further and puckered her lips out a bit. 'The Royal Realm is… nice…' She thought before letting herself drift back into the familiar sleep.


Ichigo watched her sigh and fall back into slumber. His heart was beating erratically at the thought of her waking up, but she still seemed to be very fatigued. He was even surprised at how she still slept even after he woke up, which was almost the next day.

"And for those five lifetimes, I'd fall in love with the same person…"

A small smile crept up his face once he remembered her gentle words. He could recall the feeling of weightlessness and happiness when he found out about her returning love, only to have the guilt and ache return after discussion her departure.

"I'm so glad I went after you…" Ichigo mumbled to himself, tucking stray hairs behind her ear. He hoped that, for once, he could live a normal life after all this crap. He hoped he could live it with her.

A loud knock startled the shinigami out of his admiring, inciting a quick swear from his mouth. Ichigo reluctantly got up from his spot by Orihime and went to the door, a scowl etched into his features. Turning the doorknob, he was ready to chew off the person who could've woken Orihime up.

"What the hell do you want?" The boy swore, flinging open the door. His jaw dropped as he could put a name with the disturbance.


His features suddenly softened and he pursed his lips together. "What's wrong, Rukia?" He asked hesitantly. The look on her face had him a bit worried. The smaller shinigami merely shook her head and invited herself into the flat.

"Is she still sleeping?" Rukia asked, folding her arms together. Ichigo nodded and looked back to the room where the healer was contained. A weak smile graced her face as she looked to the door herself.

"Quite a scare, huh?" She asked.

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Ichigo inquired, raising an eyebrow. Rukia looked back to him, a calmer expression suddenly appearing on her face. The look alone abruptly gave the boy a flood of relief.

"The imbalance… I'm surprised the captains didn't think about that possibility before. I mean, not like I would've thought about it either… But it's just so simple," Rukia spoke quietly, inwardly hoping she wouldn't wake the girl in the other room.

"Care to explain more about this imbalance thing? It's confusing, quite honestly.

"Oh, well… Basically you can't stand to have a certain number of spirit particles on one side of anything. Soul Society, Earth, the Royal Realm… Even Hueco Mundo. Too many particles and everything gets thrown off balance," she explained, further inviting herself into the apartment. Rukia walked to the couch with a light bounce in her step.

"And there was an imbalance in Soul Society because…?" He asked, still confused to all the new information.

"Boy, you really do suck at sensing reiatsu-"

"Shut up!"

"-but if you had noticed, Inoue's reiatsu was immense. Sometimes even greater than yours. With her being the Key, and the Key being made up of spirit particles, the particles in Soul Society started to "bond" with her soul, causing it to be too much for her," Rukia finished explaining. She looked around the apartment with gentle eyes, letting herself as well bask in the healer's reiatsu.

"So that's why she's sleeping so much," Ichigo concluded, scratching his head. "Her soul couldn't handle so much at one time?"


Ichigo nodded and took a seat next to the smaller shinigami. The two remained in silence for a while, unsure of what to say. After a while, Ichigo leapt out of his seat and looked at his friend worriedly.

"What's going to happen now??" He questioned her quickly, eyes showing blatant worry. Rukia smiled, one Ichigo had never seen before, and her eyes twinkled with happiness.

"She can stay in the real world."

Ichigo mouthed the same words at her and she continued nodding, still excited herself. "B-But how? Why??" He inquired further, still taking in the fact she could stay on Earth.

"After a discussion with the Soul King and Soul Society, there'd be a particle imbalance no matter where she went. The only place she'd be okay to stay at is here," Rukia clapped her hands together as she spoke. "They want you to do something in return though."

Ichigo nodded fiercely and awkwardly. "Anything!" He quickly spouted. He would do anything if it meant the person he loved most could stay with him. Rukia stood up and faced him with a haughty expression.

"Protect her for as long as you live," she told him the order from the higher ups. Ichigo blinked dumbly, wondering if he had heard right.

"And you think I'd have trouble with that…?" He asked baffled. "I'll protect her no matter what, regardless of what she is or isn't." Rukia smirked and cocked her head to the side.

"I didn't think you'd have a problem with that," she spoke quietly before eyeing the door. He noticed her look at the exit and raised an eyebrow.

"Got somewhere to be?" He asked, standing up as well. He shoved his hands into his pockets and smirked lightly himself. Rukia nodded and smiled.

"Something like that, although why do you ask? It's not like you're my mother."

"Why you-"

Although it was unexpected, Ichigo looked off to the side and his cheeks grew warm. "Thank you Rukia…" The smaller shinigami was shocked at his politeness. She didn't know whether to act the same to him or hit him out of embarrassment.

"Eh? What the heck are you spouting?" She questioned, her cheeks heating up a bit. Ichigo ran a hand through his hair and swallowed thickly. Rukia was his friend, but it was really weird to be so formal and thank her like this.

"If you hadn't, well… whipped me into going, Orihime would be in the Royal Realm right now…" He commented, his face growing awfully pink. A swift kick to the leg brought him out of his lowest moment, causing him to swear loudly. "W-What the hell was that for??"

"You would've gone with or without me!" Rukia yelled embarrassedly, turning the other way. "You love Inoue too much to let her go." Ichigo's face about exploded when she put it like that. Yeah, he knew about his feelings and he knew about Orihime's feelings, but to hear it come from someone else was just… weird, awkward, and different. He bit his tongue. 'Yes… very, very different.'

"Ah… Am I disturbing something?" A quiet voice squeaked out from the hallway, a familiar red head poking into the living room. Ichigo's body suddenly felt a lot lighter upon seeing her up and around...

"Orihime… "He breathed, a smile unknowingly making its way onto his face.

"And that's my cue to leave," Rukia commented before quickly leaving the premises. Ichigo had been acting like a lovesick puppy and she definitely did no t want to be around him when he was like that. With her gone, it only left Ichigo and Orihime.

'She looks so frail…' He thought, bringing his eyes over her form. Although he was a bit surprised to see she had changed from that previous silk gown, which he found to be… well, pretty damn attractive, to a simple, small pink nightgown, which was still pretty damn attractive as well. Although no matter what she was wearing, her sight alone managed to leave him breathless.

"W-What are you doing up?" Ichigo asked, choking a bit on his words. He was just so happy and was having a hard time containing his excitement. She shrugged, some of her hair tumbling over her shoulders during the movement.

"I heard a noise," she replied simply before yawning once more. "So I thought I'd investigate." Ichigo chuckled at her choice of words.

"You should rest some more," he commented, taking a shaky step towards her. Orihime shook her head and her cheeks flushed.

"N-No, I, um… I-I want to stay… here…" She stuttered, watching him take steps closer and closer to her trembling form. Running her tongue over her suddenly dry lips, she inwardly commented how he was walking like he was a predator and she was the prey.

"Any reason?" Ichigo asked before taking that final step towards her and encasing her small body in his arms. She nodded her head nervously while in taking his spicy scent. Her fingers trailed lightly over his muscular arms, doing her best not to shudder at his warm breath down her neck.


He smiled and hugged her tighter. "You're safe now…" The shinigami told her after a few moments of silence. "You're here for good." Orihime pulled back in surprise, eyes wide with shock.

"R-really?" She whispered, her bottom lip trembling. He nodded to her again, and brought a hand up to her cheek, the thumb stroking the skin. Through half-lidded eyes, he spoke thickly and quietly.

"I hope you get used to having me around… Because I'm never letting you out of my sight," he told her, watching her with slightly curious eyes. Orihime let a tired, but amused smile grace her already beautiful face, and she boldly stood on her toes to meet his lips with hers in a brief kiss.

"I wouldn't have it any other way…"