Chapter VII – Sixteen Hundred Thirty Hours
And he said, "Marry me."
Although Rukia Kuchiki saw it coming beforehand, her heart still managed to double its pace and the blood pounding in her temples she desperately tried to stop from making her blush. She could see now why she had fainted the first time. The question to her was terrifying beyond reason and his expectant, chocolate eyes gazing at her made her hair stand on end. She never got how Japanese soaps and blockbuster movies were able to portray something so horrible as something so romantic.
Yep. There was nothing romantic about this.
Ichigo's eyes widened and his facial expression transitioned from confusion to anger, to surprise, to a mixture of all three. There wasn't much to be said to the raven-haired Death God lying serenely next to him, other than "Why?", but his lips stumbled on the syllable and coherent words refused to come. He sat up and stared down at her, wondering why she had set him up for a failure that had surely bumped back his masculinity a good six notches.
'Unfair' was the perfect word to describe this, for it wasn't that she had said no, but that she had said no after alluding to him that she would say yes.
She blinked. "Sorry. I just…didn't think you'd actually do it."
He stared at her. There were no words for this.
"I'm sorry," she told him, suppressing a smile at his still-shocked expression. "But we're just…not there yet."
"Where is 'there'?"
"'There' is a relationship spanning more than two hours," she muttered irately, fiddling with the hem of his bed sheet. "I mean, 'there' is something a little more romantic than…us."
"We're…romantic," he defended lamely, for the word was difficult for him to produce out loud.
She stared at him. "I live in your closet."
"Which is very cozy when shared."
"We kill for a living."
"Great bonding time."
She nodded. "And in most societies, that's illegal."
He scowled. There was something else…something more behind the hollow excuses that meant less than nothing. As she stared down at her hands folded in her lap, he knew well enough that she was afraid of something. It wasn't a commitment issue, he was sure of that, nor was it the idea that made her nervous, for the worn out romance novels shoved under her bed were proof that the concept was nothing preposterous or new. He himself didn't see the problem in the idea – if it would save them, he was all for it – but it was impossible if she did not.
"Then what is it?" he pressed. "You don't…want to-"
"Don't be stupid," she snapped. "We're just not ready."
"It's not a shotgun wedding, Rukia. We have time."
She arched an eyebrow at him. "Give me a ten-year engagement and maybe I'll consider."
"Shouldn't we date first or something? I mean, you haven't even asked me out yet."
"And that's another thing. We still don't know if Byakuya will approve."
"There's still too much to figure out, too soon," she ranted aimlessly. "I really don't think this is a good idea, Ichigo, considering you belong here and I belong there and to pick and choose-umphgg."
Her long harangue had been abruptly sealed off by Ichigo forcefully planting a kiss to her lips. He pressed his palm to the side of her perfect features and leaned into the contact, relishing in the way her lips parted automatically and the sweet silence that resulted. Although her fanatical points were somewhat legitimate, they did not concern him in the least. Though he didn't know it, Rukia Kuchiki made him bold. Byakuya Kuchiki did not scare him, lack of experience did not faze him, and the heavy weights ready to press upon their shoulders put him in anything but panic if it meant that he could have her, truly have her, for as long as they lived.
"Shut up, will ya?" he muttered gently before planting a smaller kiss on her parted lips.
He leaned back and studied her silent features before speaking. "There's something you're not tellin' me, midget."
She mustered a smile and turned her face upwards to kiss him once more. "Nope. I think I've mentioned just about everything that's wrong with your stupid idea."
"You're lying," he whispered against her lips.
She frowned and pulled away. "And how do you know that?"
"'Cause I know you."
Though the thought scared her, it was more than truthful. Ichigo had learned long ago that if Rukia believed in something and wanted him to believe in it too, she would find a way to make it happen. If that meant drilling it into his head by reiterating it on a daily basis or punching him repeatedly in the gut in order for her point to win, then so be it. It was clear that these "fears" were empty and meaningless to her, since she barely bothered to back them up jumped quickly to the next point without spending time on the last. Her true problems had not been addressed yet.
Therefore, she was hiding something.
And therefore, he was planning on finding it out.
She rolled her eyes and began to scoot off the bed, but he caught her by the waist and pulled her to his chest. "Why is the idea stupid, Rukia?"
"Let me go," she muttered, pushing at his chest, but he kept his gentle hold and peered down at her.
"Tell me why you think it's stupid."
"Because it is," she growled.
"Because you don't want to marry me!"
For a moment, all was quiet.
Rukia studied his blank features for a moment while running her eyes over his adolescent features. There was something strange about them that day – as if he was on the line between boy and man. The boyish side of him appeared reckless, hell-bent on something he had failed to think through. This side would soon fill with regret, like a cup left outside to collect rain. Years from now, he will look at her. And he will wonder what would have happened if they had never been.
Rukia liked to pretend. Pretend that this side did not exist.
And then there was the matured side of him, the aged nature that was grasping at opportunities that never lasted forever. He saw the logic in their badly-drawn (yet sweetly-thought) plan, and he was ready to seize it with hands that would hold her, a life that would include her and a heart that would love her until it ceased to beat. Years from now, he will look at her. And he will feel dull, aching pain from wondering what would have happened if they had never been.
Rukia liked to pretend. Pretend that this side of him prevailed forever.
But games of pretend were for people with limited time and no eternity that would stretch before them hundreds of years to come. That was the daunting truth about forever- one cannot end it like a conductor ends a bad song or a player ceases to dribble. You're stuck with it; your fallacies and your triumphs, you cannot run from. And perhaps it scared the shit out of the realist who was now dealing with a boy that liked to dream. This was their story and Rukia held the pen. Divorce was out of the option for a royalty like herself; having to live with the heavy regret of a failed marriage until the day she died would be torture of the cruelest kind.
So there were three options, she guessed, that she would have to take within the next few minutes.
One- say yes. That seemed simple enough, but with more errors than perhaps they could handle. Sure, the engagement would be long (as long as she could make it within a reasonable time frame) and sure, they could call it off before they were legally bound, but that future was too near to tell. Ten years from now, things could be grim. Their love/hate relationship sure had a lot of…hate.
Two- say yes. On a more optimistic note, their destiny could be one big happily ever after. Rukia was never one to flirt with far-fetched possibilities of perfection and splendor, but she was holding the pen in this story and she could do whatever the hell she wanted. So if that meant making this thing work for the next three hundred years, then damn it, she was going to make it work.
Three- say no. And, well…that was hard to think about. Too hard. The thought was beginning to seem impossible.
"I don't believe in happily ever after," she mused to herself aloud, contemplating and weaving in and out of her bittersweet thoughts of the vague future.
"I don't either," he told her with gentle candor and his signature lopsided grin, "but that doesn't mean I'm not going to attempt one."
Well shit. He was actually winning this round. And she didn't seem to mind.
Her eyes wandered over his perfect lips and her right palm felt his heartbeat through her touch to his chest. "Will you love me a hundred years from now, when I'll be twice my age?"
"Will you love me two hundred years from now, when I'll be twice the asshole?"
The corners of her mouth slowly curled upwards into a serene smile. "Then yes. To answer your previous question- yes."
And that was that. They'd have to talk terms soon, and the Kuchiki clan would have to assemble, but that was a distant part of their lives that had yet to come. For now, there was thunder and there was lightning, and there were two bodies holding each other and awaiting the storm's end. Nothing else mattered but the sounds of their breathing, the gentle brush of fingertips and fabric, and the beating of their intertwined hearts.
And that was another daunting truth about forever- it no longer seemed long enough.
A/N: Why yes, I am alive. Why no, I'm not dead. Now that school's finally over with, I can get back to this. I got a boyfriend (woo hoo! another person to act like an idiot around!), my English teacher assigned an essay four days before school ended (and gave me a zero for the grammar part of it), and I'm learning to drive (where, I'm not sure, considering I have no destinations). Things have changed into something incredibly hectic, but hopefully your enjoyment of this story has not waned. If it helps any, I still love you, my dear reader. Leave me a review and feel free to rant about how long it's been, how crappy this chapter is and/or how stupid the plot seems. Believe me. I understand. I'll probably go back and edit it later.