A/N: 1) Written since a few people requested a continuation for my other oneshot In The Falling Rain. Hopefully, I can reach the expectations.
2) Trying out something new here, so there's two main POVs I'm going to use in this— Third point of view, which will mainly focus on Rukia and her thoughts; First and Second point of view which will depict Ichigo and Rukia respectively. This sign ※ indicates a POV change, while a line breaker will indicate a scene/time transition. Hope I got that clear :D
3) Italicized and centered paragraphs are flashbacks
I- A Prologue to a New Beginning
Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it. ~Michel de Montaigne
From the rooftop she jumped lithely to the ground, one leg bent beneath her and the other extended towards her side, with her fingers spread on the tarred road. She stood up with composed grace and looked around her. Familiarity crashed towards her like a tsunami wave.
She was stationed here again— Karakura.
It's been seven years since she's been here— seven years after that cruel incident; seven years after she left this place and never looked back; seven years of regret which slowly faded into her heart, making her colder, emotionless.
Numbness surrounded her like blocks of ice in the white winter. She felt nothing after that incident. That incident where she had so selfishly, so stupidly, so regrettably had taken the memories out from her beloved… for what?
Even now she couldn't find the answer to that perpetual question.
She saw the disappointment in his eyes. He knew.
"Why?" he choked.
She said nothing.
Then the button was pressed.
And she left.
No, Rukia forced herself to compose herself. She forced back all the memories here to the back of her mind. If she could, she wished to erase every memory about this place, about him, but always when she tried, she never could find the courage to do it.
Was it cowardly of her? Was it selfish? For her to keep her memories when she wanted to forget them of him whereas he unwillingly lost his?
Stop it, Rukia. You have a duty here. A shinigami does not need feelings, her brother had told her. They are a burden to your duties, an obstruction, slowing everything down. And shinigamis —especially Kuchikis— need to be as efficient as possible.
She checked on her hollow-tracker in her Soul Phone, her rabbit keychain arcing with the movement. That hollow was forward on, 12 o' clock. She spotted it in front of her, a typical one — huge, with its pearl-white mask plastered permanently on its ugly head and the hollow on its chest.
Rukia unsheathed her zanpakutou as she charged towards it — slowly at first then faster and faster before she lithely jumped towards it and swiftly struck it with Shirayuki. But its vast size did not affect its speed or acuity. It evaded her attack almost with no difficulty and Rukia landed on the ground without so much as touching the hollow.
The hollow roared, piercing yet echoic, animalistic and raw, sending vibrations all through the ground. With a swift movement, it twisted its body and swung its tail towards Rukia. She tried to evade, but was unsuccessful and was thrown back to the wall.
Rukia grimaced and jumped towards the hollow once more, aiming at the head— something she had always told him.
"Aim for the head! It's their weak spot!"
"Shut up, midget! I know tha—
The hollow's spike grazed her shoulder blade, and Rukia was thrown to the ground. She mentally cursed herself for being distracted— something that she wouldn't normally do. Blood was flowing out from her shoulders, staining her black robe and emitting that overpoweringly sharp metallic smell. Her right arm was no longer able to hold the zanpakutou firmly. Rukia cursed once more, to the hollow and to herself.
The hollow plodded towards her, its red eyes shone with hunger as it stared into the shinigami's eyes. She felt no fear, no pain at that moment; the numbness was all around her again. An idea was slowly planned in her mind as she felt the roars from the hollow get closer.
It was right in front of her.
Rukia slashed the hollow with her zanpakutou. The swing was slightly weaker than usual, since she was using her left arm. But it was effective; the hollow wasn't expecting her to attack. It roared, reverberating much too clear to her ears but she knew it was nothing other than silent wind to the sleeping civilians around her.
Using the hollow's newly inflicted injury as her distraction, she once again attacked it, and this time, her zanpakutou met with its mask and smoothly sliced it in half. The hollow disintegrated into thin air and Rukia collapsed, her back on the wall, breathing heavily.
Her blood was pouring steadily from her shoulders, and this time the pain was felt, sharp and deep. Souvenirs from her carelessness. She clutched her arm and shut her eyes as she tried to nullify the waves of pain, but it seemed like nothing can ever stop it. Renji would ridicule her for being so careless. As the soft green glow slowly healed her arm, she kept her mind off the pain and let her surroundings fall around her, taking each detail into mind.
Despite herself, her lips formed a small bitter smile.
This was where they met, ten years ago.
"Give me the sword, shinigami."
"It's not shinigami. It's Kuchiki Rukia."
"Are you okay?"
A voice, it sounded so familiar yet so foreign, that far-off resonance kept up in one of the masses of files in her head. She knew whose it belonged to, she knew it very well. Even so, Rukia struggled to keep her head low, to refuse her instincts to look up. She feared that if she did, she'd be sucked back into his world again. She knew she would.
It was too late; Rukia found herself staring back into those beautiful eyes. And suddenly it felt like a hollow had punched her in the stomach, except that this… this had so much more effect than brute force from a heartless soul. Seven years ago she forced her feelings to be crammed up, screwed tight, sealed with a lock, and buried under a piles and piles of ice cold walls. But those eyes… chocolate brown and flecked with auburn and gold, had smashed those blocks of ice walls, unlocked the lock, effortlessly unfasten the lid, and let her suppressed emotions fly free.
She felt like she could stare into those eyes forever.
Just like seven years ago, that scowl refused to leave his features. Even so, she noticed an apparent change in him. He looks much different, less of that act he used to hold back in high school. He looks much more mature, no longer the 15-year-old teenager, who resembled any other street punk, with his bright hair, tight t-shirts and low hanging jeans.
"You're hurt," he said, his eyes noticing the gash on her shoulder. He crouched in front of her, a look of concern washed over his face— something that she hasn't seen for a while. But that didn't stop Rukia from losing her composure or her thoughts. She needed to get away, now. Quick as a rabbit from the foxes, she placed a hand on her wound and stumbled to her feet. The healing green glow was vanished hastily, like a breath of summer's wind.
"I'm fine," she muttered.
"You are not," he stressed, taking a hold of her other shoulder. He spoke to her like she was a stranger; then again, she was one to him now. He tugged onto her. He pulled out a checkered handkerchief from his pocket and tied it tightly around the wound to minimize blood loss.
"You need to come with me."
"I don't," she said firmly, holding on tightly to the lamppost beside her. Rukia started to walk off, but he was firm.
"I am not going to let some woman, as battered as you, simply walk away like that." She tried to walk off anyway but he held on to her and said, "Your shoulder's bleeding badly, you were limping and your ankles are swollen and red; it's clearly twisted."
"I do not—" He pulled her up and smoothly carried her on his back. She fidgeted and tried to wriggle away, but he held her tight.
"You idiot! Let me down!"
"Careful," he hissed. "I don't want you to get even more hurt." She started for a bit; it felt like an eternity ever since someone talked to her like that. He held her tightly and said, "Don't move." Rukia found herself obeying him; was it natural instincts because she was hurt or was it because she wanted to be there?
"Here." He held up a plastic containing boxed bento from a nearby convenience store. "Hold it while I carry you. Careful! That's my dinner! I don't want it ruined." Rukia almost smiled hearing that. It almost seemed like his 15-year-old self back then.
They forwarded towards their destination, his footsteps echoing in the lit streets of Karakura. A TV was blaring from a nearby house, the ringing sound of a baby crying, cicadas and grasshoppers playing their nightly orchestra. To the human mind, everything was a normal summer's night, but in Rukia's mind, everything was not. Why was he able to see her? To touch her? Wasn't he stripped off his powers that night, seven years ago?
"Ha—" Rukia ventured. "Have you always been able to see stuff like these?"
"Hmm? Like what? An extremely battered woman, on the streets at night while I was out getting my dinner?" he asked, a playful tone in his voice. "No, not really. First time actually. Why? Is this like a habit for you?"
"I meant like… ghosts or spirits around here."
"Of course not. That's just stupid. No one can see ghosts; they don't exist. Did you hit your head?" He tutted jokingly and Rukia found herself smiling at the familiarity of the moment. That part of him would never change, would he?
"Is your shoulder okay, or do you need me to hurry? I don't really want to run. Your swollen ankle looks bad; I don't want to injure it more."
"I told you. I am fine."
Rukia could see him rolling his eyes, skeptically. "Yeah, and you are actually a ghost."
She let herself smile at the response. Her arms unconsciously wrapped closer around his neck as she laid her head on his shoulder. It all seemed so memorable; it was as if she had never left this place at all. How long has it been since she felt as peaceful as this? The numbness that she had felt seemed to wear off with each step he took. Her eyelids felt heavier and heavier as time passed.
"I like it here…"
"Here… meaning on my back as I carry you? Coz as sure as hell I don't. Rukia, you weigh a ton— OW! Violent midget! You— OW! Okay! Okay! No more names! Geesh!"
"You idiot. Here as in Karakura… it feels like home. …What?"
"Kurosaki Ichigo! What was that smirk for?"
"Pfft. Kuchiki Rukia being sentimental— what a sight. OW! OW! Okay! Sorry! OW! Okay!!"
She jolted back awake when she heard his voice. What was that— a dream? A reverie? It was so nostalgic; she remembered the days where this town was her home for three years. She didn't recognise the place that they had reached, but he opened the door to it and went inside.
He carefully placed Rukia on a nearby sofa. He undid the handkerchief on her shoulder and thoroughly inspected the wound. "Your wound isn't that deep. Surprised me, really, because considering the amount of blood when I saw you, I thought you needed stitches." Rukia didn't tell him that shinigami can heal themselves, albeit slowly; he didn't need to know that. Not anymore. He peered her foot carefully and gently ran his fingers over the swollen area. "Grade one sprain. Doesn't look bad," he mumbled to himself. "Lie down."
He elevated her twisted foot with a pillow, applied an ice pack on her foot, then took all the necessary medications and apparatus to help her. Rukia watched him work. He'd become quick and skillful at this. Her brother was right; leaving him was the best thing for him. Look at what he has become. Rukia couldn't imagine what he would become if he remained a shinigami.
Maybe he would still be battling petty hollows in his town. Maybe he would have to constantly get treatments for all the wounds he would have gotten for being careless. Maybe he would have become a taichou in Soul Society. Maybe he would have become a really good shinigami— but was that the kind of a life that a human being should go through? She didn't think so.
If he stayed as a shinigami, he couldn't have could concentrate in his studies. If he continued staying like that for the next seven years, he wouldn't have become the aspiring doctor that he'd always wanted to be. If he remained being a shinigami, he wouldn't have led a normal life; a life that all humans have the right to settle in. He wouldn't be this man in front of her.
In a way, she was proud of him.
She mentally cursed herself for wanting him to stay as a shinigami. She was such a selfish person to want to strip him away from all this normalcy, from being the real person he could be.
Her eyes strayed to the ceiling of the room. A common beige colour, with the fan spinning somewhat fast in the summer's night and the cool white lighting was illuminating the whole room. This place didn't seem familiar at all but he seemed at home in this place. His house? Rukia glanced over at him and smiled to herself.
What are the odds of her being here again?
What are the chances of her seeing him?
Next to impossible.
And yet, here she was, lying comfortably on his sofa with not more than the occasional thought buzzing in her head, watching him. She briefly wondered whether this was one of her dreams, but this… unlike her dreams, felt so tangible, so real. Was it a dream? Or was it some sort of twisted plot that Fate may have planned out for them?
But then, he was there and so was she… so if it was a dream, she plans to stay asleep for as long as possible…
"This is going to sting a bit," I mumbled, as my eyes were locked on to the cotton ball. I looked up. Your eyes were already closed and you were breathing lightly, almost as if you were completely healed. "Asleep already?"
Well, that made things easier.
Without another sound, I quickly dabbed your wound then wrapped it in a beige bandage. I inspected your foot once more before finally running my eyes you.
Have I seen you before?
You shivered as I touch your hand. I thought, for a brief moment, my skin felt a little tingle too. The feeling seemed so familiar to my body, as if I've experienced this before. But how could I? I don't really think we've met before. I don't even know your name! And yet, your touch made me curious.
You shivered again. And then I realized; the room was cold and your garment was soiled. How careless of me. With hesitant movements, I undid the dirty white sash (were you out for a cosplay convention?) on your waist. The sash fell soundlessly on the floor as I pushed the collar of your black gi across your milky white shoulder, being extra careful with your injured arm. I tried to look away as I pulled the sides of your gi slowly.
To my relief, you were wearing a nagajuban underneath. I decided to stop there before anything else happened. My heart was beating madly behind my ribcage. Why?
But, I decided not to ponder upon it. Quickly, I covered you with one of my shirts. You hardly noticed it, even when I was zipping up the tracksuit top. Too big, that was obvious. It seemed like the fabric itself was eating you up whole.
My mind seemed to click when I had saw you for the first time tonight. It was as if I had met you before, but I'm positively sure we hadn't crossed paths before. My brain raced to figure out one question:
Who are you?
Much thanks to Alice001 who had given me permission to post this up, since she has a story with a sliiiightly same plot. You rock! :D Read hers too, it's awesome!
Anywho, posted this today since I probably won't be online for a fortnight because of a trip to Beijing this Friday. Grammar mistakes, characterization errors, typos and the like are a proof of my human flaws.
Reviews and reviewers are loved, cherished and will keep a smile on this author's face :D