Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone's having as much fun this Christmas as I am. ^^ It's a beautiful kind of season isn't it? The kind that makes you so grateful for family and friends and the people you've given your heart to.

This is an unconventional Christmas story (what is it with me and unconventional?). But in the end, I feel that I expressed what I truly think Christmas is all about; love, blessings, and miracles.

Enjoy! :)


She didn't understand…

The truck pulled up in the dirty street, and all four doors flew open, allowing out three grunts and a sergeant. They were met with the hushed chatter and cocking firearms of two dozen soldiers—about six units of four. The sergeant scanned the darkened streets of Hueco Mundo, her determined eyes betraying worry…and concealed traces of fear. When she started to move her subordinates followed, and they made their way to the front of the gathering.

It felt like only seconds ago that they had been celebrating their last week on duty. Only seconds ago that they had been talking about how relieved they were to be flying back home the next day. Away from this war zone…away from the madness. And then out of nowhere he had gotten to his knees, amidst cat-calls and hooting from the guys, and pulled out that tiny box. That dusty, tired, but altogether invaluable box. It felt like only seconds ago. Now though…she needed a miracle.

The sergeant marched to the three-man group that had, until she had arrived, been planning an extraction. Two of the men saluted the second they saw her. "Sergeant Kuchiki!"

The last one sighed and frowned "Fuck. I thought I told those dickwads to make sure the news never got to you."

"Noted. So it's you I'm going to castrate after this is over." Kuchiki Rukia hissed at Corporal Abarai, her eyes as cold as steel. "Will someone tell me what the fuck's going on?"

One of the other two men began the briefing "At 20 00 hours, tech intercepted a radio broadcast intended for one Zommari Rureaux—a Mundonian with a black trading record. Apparently Zommari's holding the Doc right in that building," He pointed to a plain run-down building down the street. "Our snipers opposite the building haven't succeeded in getting a clear shot. But they have confirmed intel. They…" he hesitated. "They say he's got the Doc strapped to some kind of explosive. Most likely C4."

"Fuck." one of Kuchiki's men muttered.

"How?" Rukia asked suddenly.

There was confused silence.

"Excuse me, ma'am?" the briefing private asked.

"How the fuck did Zommari get his hands on him." Rukia asked darkly. "How the fuck did the enemy get his hands on our own doctor? Anybody got an answer to that?"

Now, the silence was the awkward kind.

"Captain Kurosaki left camp, ma'am." the private finally explained. "He snuck down here to attend to a blast victim, a Mundonian boy."

Rukia glared down at the sandy street, furious that she couldn't even be angry at him. Still though—what kind of fuckin' moron ran away from camp to treat the civilians? Around them, the locals began to gather, curious about what all the commotion was about. Somewhere in the night air, the lilting voice of a Mundonian singer rose from a radio.

"Specialist has deemed the threat real." The private continued. "Fire team Red Apes commencing extraction in…" he glanced at his watch. "Minus 5 minutes. Corporal Abarai will be leading this team."

"Wrong." Kuchiki said frankly, stretching out her arms. Immediately one of her subordinates grabbed a flak vest off a supply truck and started fitting her with it.

"Dammit!" Abarai Renji cursed, getting in his superior's face. "I knew you were gonna commandeer this operation! The guy just fuckin' proposed to you six hours ago! You shouldn't be allowed to lead this team! You know protocol!"

"Fuck protocol." Rukia told him calmly. "Now, you may be my best friend but you're still a corporal, and I'm still a sergeant. I'm ordering you to the get the hell outta my way." She grabbed an M-16 and then shoved a handgun into her holster.

Shaking his head, Renji grabbed a rifle too. "Fine. But I'm comin' the fuck with you."

Rukia nodded and picked out two more soldiers—a bomb specialist from her team and the private who had briefed her. "You ready?" she asked Renji.

Renji nodded. "Let's bring this motherfucker down."

Stockings. He wanted Christmas stockings over the fireplace when they went back home.

"Wuss." Rukia had snickered. And he had looked down fondly at her, running his fingers through her raven hair.

"Mistletoe." he added. "I want mistletoe too. I want it hanging all over the place."

"What the fuck for?" Rukia had asked, embarrassed by all this touchy-feely talk.

"So I can kiss you every two seconds." He answered before planting her lips with a kiss. The bonfire crackled louder, throwing such bright orange light upon their faces.

"What the fuck guys?" one of the other soldiers yelled from the other side of the fire, and everyone laughed and made kissing noises. "Get a room!"

Rukia stopped long enough to yell "That's what me and your mama did last night!"

The soldiers roared and laughed harder.

"Assholes." she muttered, embarrassed because she was usually so fervently feared by her subordinates. But it didn't even matter anymore. Hers and Ichigo's period of service ended tonight. They were leaving tomorrow morning. And they would even have a whole month to spare before Christmas.

"Tomorrow." Ichigo told her. "Just tomorrow."

Tomorrow. It was just tomorrow., Rukia thought miserably to herself as she pressed her back against the wall adjacent to the building's back entrance. A miracle,she prayed. I need a miracle.

"Snipers Black-eye 1 and Black-eye 2 on stand-by. Do you copy, Sergeant? Over." a voice over her radio said.

"Copy that. Maintain visual of the target. I wanna pump a bullet through his head myself. Over." she responded, and then waved over Renji and her backup. One by one they stepped into the building, their movements more noiseless than cats.

The building was only partly finished, with each floor being basically a large empty concrete landing. Visibility was poor, but acceptable. Rukia's eyes darted left, right, and then up as she treaded in carefully but non-hesitantly. Her rifle was one with her body as she swept the first level; it glided smoothly with her, ready to bring down any threat that would even begin thinking about moving. Upon clearing the first level, they proceeded climbing the stairs to the second one.

Rukia could hear the sound of her own heart thumping erratically against her chest. Funny, she thought as they swept the second level. So this is what it's like to be afraid. I'd forgotten what it felt like. She thought about Ichigo, and possibly losing him. Her heart beat faster.

Renji nodded at her. This level was clear too.

"Black-eye 1, do you still have visual? Over." Rukia whispered.

The radio receiver crackled in her ear. "Affirmative, Sergeant. Proceed with caution. Over."

The team cleared the third, fourth and fifth levels. Already, Rukia could feel her hands begin to sweat and she re-firmed her grip on her rifle. One more level to clear before they reached the floor Ichigo was being held on. Rukia took in a deep breath, and then led the team up the next flight of stairs.

It was darker on this level, and the team had to pull down their NVDs to see clearer. Rukia scanned the floor with her green tinted night goggles. She was just about to say "Clear" when a shadow moved in her peripheral vision.

"Renji!" she warned.

But the corporal was quick. The burst of gun fire was short but deafening, echoing through and through the entire building. The 'shadow' immediately slumped to the ground, and the team rushed over to it.

Renji went on his knees. "It's not Zommari." he announced and Rukia sucked in her breath. "But it's not Ichigo either. It's…a mannequin! Shit! We must have tripped some kinda fuckin' setup!"

At once, their radios burst to life: "Sergeant, the target is on the move and we are losing visual! I repeat—we are losing visual!"

Rukia swore and ordered "Shoot him dammit!"

Two shots rang in the distance as Rukia and her team rushed up the last staircase. Even before they reached the next floor, the snipers reported missing fire. "There was no clear shot to begin with." Black-eye 1 apologized.

"Forget it. We'll handle it." Renji said as the team reached the destination floor.

Immediately Rukia stopped, her heart leaping into her throat. About ten yards away, sitting beneath a dangling light bulb, his uniform soaked with sweat and his head hanging tiredly, was Ichigo. He was strapped tightly to a metal chair, and duct-taped securely to his torso was a badly assembled blinking device. Slowly, he lifted up his head and Rukia had to grit her teeth to keep from breaking down when she saw his face.

"We'll go after Zommari." Renji assured Rukia, and he and the grunt disappeared into the darkness at the other end of the floor.

Rukia had not heard Renji. She could only stare at Ichigo's badly swollen face, bleeding nose and tattered lips. She could barely recognize him.

"Wow." Ichigo managed to croak with forced laughter. "You guys are good. I was sure I'd be held for 48 hours at least."

Rukia attempted to reply, but her lips refused to obey her. So instead, she tried to take a step forward. But a hand held her back.

"Sorry Sergeant, but you can't get any closer till I've taken a good look at that thing strapped to his chest." the owner of the hand said. Rukia, more scared than she had ever thought possible, only then noticed that Renji had left the bomb specialist behind.

The blond boy who looked rather young to be a specialist in explosives, was throwing on a very heavy looking vest and helmet. "It'll only take a few minutes ma'am. But you're gonna have to stay back for your own safety."

Rukia nodded, feeling numb all over. She dropped her gaze, and noticed that her hands were trembling. Swallowing hard, she looked back up to lock eyes with Ichigo from across the room. Even with his busted lips, he managed to smile at her.

Tomorrow, Rukia could almost hear him saying. Just tomorrow.

In a time span of what felt like twenty eternities, the bomb specialist waddled across the floor and over to Ichigo's side. Rukia watched dizzily as the boy inspected the circuitry, and then the explosive material. Another twenty eternities passed by, and Rukia was certain by now that she was going to throw up. Normally it would have worried her that hurling would look limitlessly unprofessional. However right now, she didn't give a crap. She wanted him…needed him to be alright. Or else…Oh God, or else…

"Hey," Ichigo said gently from there and Rukia could only blink at him. "What's with that face?" he asked. "You're making me real nervous, you know that?"

"Good news." the specialist suddenly announced. "Zommari must not have planned this at all. The circuits are shit, and the explosive is low grade stuff. It probably couldn't even blow up this floor properly."

Rukia didn't give a fuck. "Can you get it off him?" she asked shakily.

"Hold on." Blondie said, and his hands worked for a couple more minutes. Finally, he gently pulled the wires from around Ichigo's torso. Rukia could almost hear him grinning behind his mask. "Bingo."

At the exact same time, there was the distant sound of multiple gun shots. Seconds later, Renji's voice announced over the radio "Threat's been eliminated, Sergeant. Zommari won't be hanging any stockings next month. Over."

Rukia was almost afraid to smile. But slowly, she allowed the tears of relief to stream down her face. With a steady voice she responded "Copy that. Good work guys. Over and out."

Sighing, Sergeant Kuchiki whipped off her earpiece and dropped it to the ground. She leaned tiredly against a pillar and threw Ichigo a grateful look. Ichigo only grinned somewhat smugly back at her, as though he had known all along that everything would work out. Rukia wanted to slap him with a pair of latex gloves.

"Can I come over there now?" she asked her bomb specialist.

"Probably better if he walks over to you instead" the boy responded, taking off his helmet and grinning. "You know—it's just protocol."

"Protocol." Rukia grumbled, but she didn't care. Not really. Instead, she watched partly amused as Ichigo struggled to his feet and started to trudge the 'long' distance back to her.

"To be fair," he grunted as he drew nearer and nearer. "That Mundonian kid had some really nasty second degree burns."

"Seriously? You're giving me your excuses now? Get over here so I can show you what real nasty second degree burns can look like." Rukia threatened, but then smiled anyway.

Ichigo laughed and kept trudging closer. When he was about half-way to her, they both heard Blondie musing to himself "Hm…that's unusual. How come I didn't notice this wire the first time—?"

There was a strange clicking sound. Then a beep…

Flaaaash! The floor went boom.

Stockings. He wanted Christmas stockings over the fireplace when they went back home.

Tomorrow, he had told her. Just tomorrow.

Like a slow motion capture, Rukia watched the brilliant white flames approach like a travelling wall, swallowing the pillars and the walls and the very air around them. Ichigo—frozen mid-trudge towards her, his tortured, beautiful face fixed in that gentle half grin-half smirk that only he could manage—didn't ...couldn't…stand a chance.

Rukia stared in despair as that horrible white wall caught up with him, and then engulfed him, before coming after her.

The force threw her back. She floated through the air. Her head crashed against the concrete.

And then everything went black.

::: :::

Rukia woke up crying, screaming!

She was surrounded by the darkness, but in her mind she could still see the light! That white, scorching light! She was surrounded by blanketing and pillows, but she threw these away, writhing and trembling instead, wishing her demons…her nightmares to go away! She screamed and screamed.

Until she felt his strong arms around her, drawing her into him.

"Shhh, shhhhh." Ichigo whispered lovingly in her ears. "It was just a dream sweetheart. It was only a dream. See? See? We're in our room. We're safe here. Nothing can hurt us anymore. I'm here with you."

And though it took a while, eventually Rukia began to calm down. Her shifting eyes began to make out the objects surrounding them; the bedside cabinet, the television set, the giant Chappy ragdoll in the corner of the room.

"Look up there. See?" Ichigo pointed to the ceiling and gently guided her chin up. "Mistletoe. And there." He pointed to their window sill. "Stockings. Two for me and two for you." Kissing her tenderly on her moist forehead, he ran his fingers comfortingly through her hair "You're safe baby. It was just a bad dream. You're safe with me."

Rukia's heartbeat eventually slowed down, and then she buried her face into Ichigo's body, crying afresh. Underneath her tiny grasping fingers, she could feel the heavy bandages that covered his charred torso. Beneath her lips, she kissed the burn scars that ran the length of his arms and neck. His unscathed face looked lovingly down on her.

The doctors had promised the scars would heal. They had promised that surgery and skin grafting would accomplish a lot more than it had been able to last year when he had first had the operation.

But Rukia didn't care about any of that. Ichigo was alive. Alive. Slowly, she pulled from his hug and travelled up to his mouth to kiss it. And kiss it she did. Climbing atop of him, she intensified the kiss, breathing him in like he was the very air she breathed. And drinking him in like he was the very life that sustained her being. She worked her mouth over his until she was gasping for breath and could only place her head gently on his chest, listening gratefully to the sound of his heartbeat.

She didn't care about any of the surgeries because the only thing that mattered to her was that the love of her life was still alive. That was all that she needed.

Rukia had gotten her miracle.

Well, :) that's the end of it. I read about the trauma some soldiers go through after they've returned from oversees. War is a horrible thing. Sometimes I wish everyone would just put wars on break for the holidays at least. Ultimately though, I wish people wouldn't go to war to begin with. *sigh*

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading my miracle story. Hopefully it helps us all be grateful for what we have this beautiful season.

I better go to sleep now. I have a Christmas church service tomorrow. :D Goodnight everyone! And…of course, REVIEW on your way out! (Did you know that reviews can be considered Christmas presents too? 0.o)

Merry Christmas!