"Saved For You, Kuchiki"
by Nathan J Xaxson
final tale in the Kuchiki Salvation Trilogy

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters.

Rating: T (15+) - language, emotional themes, sensuality

Summary: Rukia and Ichigo have tackled just about everything together - except, maybe, for Fate itself.

Status: Story is completely written. Updates should be released quickly. Sequel to "Save This for Kuchiki" and "Save Me, Kuchiki" - I suggest you read those first, otherwise you'll really miss out on some of the finer points of this tale.

Author's notes: First of all, I would like to thank all of my readers and reviewers. The Kuchiki Salvation Trilogy has been a real success story: "Save This for Kuchiki" has been bookmarked as a favorite story over 120 times, and "Save Me, Kuchiki" has drawn over 300(!) fave bookmarks, not to mention all of the story alerts. Thanks so much for all the love, but reviews are best!

Just to note, this story is much, much longer than the others, because it intends to wrap up all of the loose ends. Just about every major Bleach character will make an appearance, and there will be lots of pairings/interactions/exchanges that will be worth waiting for. There is a plenty of drama, romance, comedy, angst, and action for all; so stay tuned!

I've also decided to do something new this time: crossover omake! I'm excited. :)

Also, those of you who don't yet know, my avatar is a picture of Rukia after the first episode in the trilogy. You can check out my really awful photoshop skills in my profile; hopefully you'll like it, though.

Warning 1: IchiRuki fans, you're in for a wild ride. IchiHime fans? Well, let's just say I'll humor you.

Warning 2: Byakuya fans, you'll have a blast.

Warning 3: Ukitake fans - heh heh heh heh heh. You don't want to miss this for the world.

Special Thanks To: All of the reviewers and readers who have given me feedback, and fellow writers who wrote brilliant stories that served as inspiration for my own:
18Rox, Alliryan, CalypsoHatesEveryone, dark waffle, DemeterChild, Dream Scene, Etiena, Fading into the background, fanatic99, Fusionmix, Independent100, jazzpha, Kainani, Lady Azar de Tameran, laughingspider, Lil' Monk, MRegent.2 and Pangie, NorthernShinigami, omaomae, Random Inspiration, redpandagirl, Roland Deschain Of Gilead, Scarbie, SeEmYaWeSoMeNeSs, Silver-Eyed-Rukia, TheLordOfPages1692, ToastWeaselofDOOM, uberjjk, Vivienne Grainger, Whitecloud1, X Senbonzakura X, Yuriski-1st, ZeeZee The Dreamer. Sorry if I missed anyone, please accept my apologies. I'm sure that many of these writers above will recognize how I've been inspired from their genius, I recommend my readers to see what these folks have to offer. .

Thanks for joining me on this epic adventure. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I enjoyed writing it!
-njx



"Hey, if death really isn't the end, then that may not have been the very first time we met. Maybe we've been linked together for a lot longer.

"I can't say for sure, but I think that once a bond is formed, it never disappears. So even if we forget everything, we'll be joined together again someday."

~ Kurosaki Ichigo to Kuchiki Rukia;
one of the last scenes in the third Bleach movie, "Fade to Black, I Call Your Name"

***

Ichigo and Rukia stood under the moonlight just around the corner from Urahara Shoten. It had been an absolutely crazy week. Ichigo had temporarily lost his shinigami abilities, Urahara had been kidnapped and rescued, and nobody could figure out the name of that blasted 12th division captain. Everyone knew who he was, just nobody could remember his name.

Nevertheless, the week was finally coming to a close. As was always the case on late Friday afternoons, it was time for them to say goodbye until Sunday evening when Rukia would return. This had been the basic schedule ever since she had been promoted to 13th division vice captain, and given the honorary title of Head Lieutenant now that she wore the official Kuchiki garb. Ichigo hated being away from her on the weekends - life felt devoid of color when she wasn't around - but it was infinitely better than when she had been gone for six straight weeks. Ichigo remembered how awful it was without her during her vice captain's training.

Rukia missed him on the weekends, too - but it was easier for her since she always had a lot to do back in Soul Society. She had to hand in her weekly reports, which tracked trends in hollow counts in the spiritually-concentrated Karakura. Since the routine duty for her division was hollow-hunting, she had to collect the activity reports of the seated officers so she could review them during the week. Outside the scope of her duties to the 13th division, she had other things that kept her busy. She usually practiced swordsmanship with Komamura-sensei; he always seemed to look forward to it. Rukia was also sure to see her brother Byakuya, since she knew he missed her even if he would never admit it. If she was lucky, she got a chance to catch a cup of tea with Momo-chan to shmooze a bit. So her weekends were usually packed enough to distract her.

Ichigo, on the other hand, was either bored or begrudgingly preoccupied. Friday nights were Ishida's job, and Saturday nights belonged to Chad; Ichigo's hollow-hunting scheduled resumed on Sunday night when Rukia returned. The idea was that Ichigo should spend time with his other friends, too - Keigo, Mizuiro, Tatsuki - although he confessed that of the three of them, he could really only stand to hang out with Tatsuki. Keigo was just too much of an imbecile, and Mizuiro was too busy chasing skirts. He really only hung out with them whenever Chad's band had a gig on Friday night, and Ichigo would often go to show his support. Chad's band was actually pretty good - it was the only activity on the weekends that kept his mind off of Rukia - but Ichigo always felt a little sad that she could never join him.

It wasn't uncommon for Ichigo to see a movie with Tatsuki and Orihime, even if it felt a bit weird seeing a movie with girls that weren't Rukia. Of course, she would only tolerate movies about fluffy bunnies; at least Tatsuki enjoyed action movies. If it had ninjas, samurais, marines, or giant robots, Ichigo could count on Tatsuki. Unfortunately, the movies this summer had been mostly terrible; so Ichigo spent most of his weekends being bored. He tried to make the best of it - he typically used the time to play soccer with Karin, and checkers with Yuzu - but when he wasn't helping his dad in the clinic, he just counted the minutes until she returned.

The threat of the mind-numbing wait for Rukia to come back always made him savor each moment that she was around. It also explained why he cherished this particular moment more than any other during the week. Before Rukia would return via Urahara's senkai gate, they would do their little "open-heart circle" ritual in a small park around the corner. Ichigo was very proud of the fact that he had come up with this little ceremony. He had absolutely no idea where he got it from - it had just popped into his head one day - but he knew immediately that he liked it. Both he and Rukia were very emotionally closed people by nature, and it had always been hard to articulate how they felt about each other.

At first, they were both afraid that the other would mock their feelings or thoughts, or get angry when the other brought up something that upset them; but after a while he had realized that if he could trust his life to Rukia every time they went to battle, he needed to trust his heart with her, too. That realization struck him so deep that it he instantaneously found it axiomatic. Thus, he found the courage to suggest this little activity, no matter how much it would have tarnished his rebel reputation. Rukia just did that to him, he guessed. Things that once seemed so important to him were just insignificant compared to her.

Looking into her eyes with a genuine smile, he reached for her hands; she took them, returning his tender gesture. It was a little game they played during this time of the week: who could hold out without saying something first. Usually, Ichigo won; holding hands for too long typically made Rukia a bit out-of-place - although since they had returned to the real world this week, she had been much more flirtatious and touchy-feely than she usually was. Perhaps it was that she had finally been able to say 'I love you', or maybe it was something else. Either way, Ichigo played the game and waited for her to crack - but it seemed like this week, she just might hold out.

He decided to break first, giving her the victory this time as a parting gift. "Hey, Beautiful."

"You know, sometimes I think you call me 'Midget' during the rest of the week so you can save that nickname for Fridays," she teased, her voice light-hearted and carefree. This was the only time of the week she talked to him like this. The rest of the week, she was all business - Rukia retained the serious nature of her Kuchiki aura. It didn't matter whether they were hanging around with Ishida and Orihime (who seemed to be spending more and more time together), or helping patients in the clinic; the family's long-time summer employment for the entire family. She was the reserved, subtle Kuchiki woman - except now, during their private moments every Friday; when Ichigo soaked in her voice, savoring its tenderness. He would float on the taste of its sound all weekend in her absence.

A frog was in his throat. He had been meaning to ask this for a long time - since even before the Winter War - but had never, ever had the courage. Even now, under the protection of their little ritual - where the rules enforced openness - he felt like he was treading on dangerous ground. After Rukia's sudden-but-subtle change in demeanor this week, though, Ichigo knew he better ask it now before things went completely topsy-turvy.

Rukia could tell he was going to ask her something really awkward. She squeezed his hands in approval. "It's okay, Ichigo, I promise." There was something about these sessions that made it so easy to throw away her guard and just be who she was. She loved that about him, no matter how crazy and/or bothersome he was sometimes.

"Okay, here goes," he chuckled nervously. There were hell butterflies in his stomach. "Sometimes I forget that you're really a lot older than I am, and that means that you've probably experienced many more things than I have. I mean, by now, you really know just about everything in my life since I was born. As much as I know you, though, I know that there are so many things about you that I don't know."

Rukia was listening patiently, a smile still on her face. Ichigo was grateful that she didn't interrupt.

"Rukia, I... um, how do I say this? ...I've never loved anyone before. I mean, I had a crush on Tatsuki when I was ten, but when I told her, she beat me up. That's about as far as it went." He sucked in a deep breath. It was time to get to the point. "I've never had my first kiss yet. But I'm only sixteen - I mean, you could have been in love a hundred years ago and I would never even know the difference."

Rukia squeezed his hands again to comfort him. "Ichigo, is this an age thing, or is this a boyfriend thing?" she asked genuinely, smile never leaving so as not to worry him.

Ichigo sighed heavily. "Maybe a bit of both. I mean, not to imply anything, but I know you grew up with Renji. It feels a bit weird not understanding what may have passed between you, you know?"

Rukia's smile grew wide and loving. She knew that any other time in the week, she would have smacked him. Not because he would have deserved it, but because she was so used to throwing up barriers for no good reason - but now, his warm hands and soft smile just melted the defense mechanism away.

"I understand, Ichigo. I had days when I wondered if you were thinking of Orihime instead of me," a comment which resulted in a somewhat surprised look on his face. She made a mental note of it. "Renji was a close childhood friend. During those first forty years, he was the only family I had back in Inazuri. He was like my brother. I know that at some point, he had a crush on me - in fact, he probably still does - but I could never see him that way. Nothing ever happened between us, the same way nothing ever happened between you and Tatsuki."

"Oh." Ichigo thought through what she said for a bit. "Was there... was there anybody else?"

Rukia blushed. Ichigo was a bit surprised - she rarely did that. "Well, I had a crush on Kaien-dono for over thirty years."

"Oh." Ichigo reminded himself that one of these sessions he was going to have to ask how old she was.

Rukia could see discomfort in his eyes. She spoke up hurriedly. "I-I-It was totally one-sided! I mean, he was married! And his wife, Miyako, was a goddess. The nicest, most beautiful, most amazing goddess. There was no way I meant anything to him. I mean, other than the fact that I was his subordinate officer."

Ichigo didn't appear convinced. Or if he was, he was feeling really insecure. She could tell by the lines on his face, and the faint squint of his eyes and curve of his brow. "Ichigo," she said softly, hoping her sincerity would chase away his anxiety. "I never really explained this to you, but hopefully it will comfort you."

She breathed deeply, never taking her eyes from him. "I used to be someone who always had my head in the past. Always dwelling on my mistakes, on the decisions I made, on the experiences that shaped me. But the day before I became a vice captain, it was almost as if I felt Kaien-dono in the air around me, telling me to stop looking in the past and start looking to the future. The future held my hopes and dreams, and I finally reached for them. That was when I had finally achieved bankai."

Ichigo definitely remembered that day. He had been wandering around the Sereitei for hours, wondering where the hell she was. Suddenly, the most enormous blast of reiatsu bearing her unique signature came crashing through Soul Society. It was such a tidal wave that he feared for her life - and he remembered how she folded her arms and huffed at him. Idiot. Of course I'm okay, she had huffed at him. I can take care of myself, you know.

"Kaien-dono was an incredibly important person in my life. He taught me what it meant to be a shinigami, but more importantly he taught me to believe in myself. Although we never had a romantic relationship, I know he must have loved me - the same way he loved everyone else in the division. He gave us what we never had - a place where we felt like we belonged."

Ichigo fidgeted. "You sound very... fond of him."

Rukia was frustrated with herself. She knew that this was not easy for Ichigo to digest, because she wasn't explaining herself well. (Further proof that these sessions were desperately needed, or otherwise their communication skills would have been worse than they already were.) "Of course I am. But Kaien-dono was someone who made me feel special a long time ago. Kaien-dono is in the past, and I now live for what lies ahead - the future that says I belong with you. And even if Kaien-dono were alive today, it wouldn't matter. I'm not the confused, naive girl who felt abandoned and isolated that I was back then. Now, I am Rukia: Princess of the Kuchiki House, adopted daughter of the Kurosaki Home, and devoted girlfriend of one Substitute Shinigami. And I wouldn't want it any other way."

He smiled. "You realized you just called yourself 'princess' and 'girlfriend' in the same sentence, right?"

"Whatever it takes to convince you, Strawberry. Don't make me do it again," she retorted. Reverting to her Friday-afternoon-ritual voice, she followed up to make sure he was okay. "Do you feel better?"

Ichigo seemed relieved but still hesitated a bit. "Was there anyone else I should know about?"

Rukia went into deep thought for a moment. "The only other thing I can think of isn't really worth mentioning, but since you asked, I guess I can tell you. When Nii-sama took me out of Shinou Academy, he didn't want me to become a shinigami, because it could be dangerous. He wanted to marry me off instead. Jii-sama, Kuchiki Ginrei, told him that it wasn't fair to me to do that, but I wanted to do anything to please Nii-sama back then; so I agreed to go on an arranged date. It was with a widower from the Banzo family. The fact that I am most definitely a shinigami should tell you how absolutely horrible that guy was."

Ichigo smiled, but it was obvious that he was still bothered by something. "So then... that means, eh, you're a, er...."

"A virgin?"

"Yeah," he answered sheepishly.

"Well, Ichigo, if I've never kissed a man, I certainly haven't slept with one," answering the other half of his question before he could ask. She could see the tension fade from his shoulders, and he finally began to relax. "Unless you count Kon and Chappy using our bodies, of course."

Ichigo started laughing out loud. "Well, for you, it was just a gigai; for me, it was actually my body. Does that make me a half-virgin? Is such a thing even possible?"

Rukia rolled her eyes at him, but couldn't resist laughing. "Anything else I can clarify?"

"Hmmmm.... 'never kissed a man', huh?"

Rukia glared at him, although it was hard to do while laughing. "No, no past relationships with women, either! You are such a teenage boy sometimes," she teased. It was so easy for her to forget that for him, the whole high school thing wasn't an act. She had her hormonal years over a century ago, although nothing ever came of it.

"Okay, okay; I'm sorry, with the way you answered the question, I figured I just had to ask. Chizuru can be persistent, you know." Rukia giggled at that comment. "Alright, I think you deserve a turn now, before I abuse my privileges here," Ichigo laughed.

Rukia turned shy and serious, gazing at the floor. "Ichigo, why aren't you mad at me for holding out on you?"

Ichigo rubbed the back of her hands with his thumbs. He knew she had more to say so he kept quiet.

"A couple of nights ago while out on patrol, I saw Ishida-kun at Inoue-san's house. I could feel Orihime-san healing him, so I stopped by to ask if everything was okay. He said it was nothing, just a cut that would have otherwise needed stitches. But on his way out, he gave Orihime a quick kiss goodbye. It was so nonchalant and casual that it was obvious they must kiss all the time." Rukia looked up at him again. "Aren't you mad that I'm not like that?"

Ichigo squeezed her hands and looked into her deep indigo pools with a tender, soft-hearted laugh. "Of course not," he reassured her. "Rukia, how could I be mad at you for something like that?"

Rukia looked away. "People who are in love still fight, Ichigo. We do it all the time. Maybe you're mad at me, or disappointed, or frustrated; but afraid to tell me. I mean, you're sixteen. I know that you've put up with me being a prude, but doesn't it irk you even a bit?"

"Rukia, I would never lie to you. Especially not now. I'm not going to tell you it isn't really hard at times - it is. But I respect you, and your need to keep things slow. In hindsight, it's helped me understand who you are, without letting lust distract me from appreciating everything about you. I just tell myself that if I love you, I know I can wait until you're ready. Besides," he laughed, "if anyone in my family caught us doing something, er, compromising - I think I would just want to die."

Rukia pulled him into a hug. She didn't do that often, and she was comforted by his scent. "Ichigo, I worry all the time that I'm never going to live up to your expectations."

He rubbed her back and ran his fingers through her hair. "C'mon, Beautiful. I stopped setting expectations when you kept exceeding them a long time ago."

"I love you, Kurosaki Ichigo."

"I love you too, Kuchiki Rukia."

***

They finally parted ways when Rukia joked that Captain Ukitake was going to send 3rd Seat Kotsubaki to come pry them apart with a crowbar. She waved goodbye as she rounded the corner, and Ichigo floated out of the little park, his whole body feeling encased in a whispy dream. He remembered once again why Friday afternoons were his favorite moment of the week.

He took his time walking home, replaying their open-heart circle through his mind thousands of times. He knew he was completely head-over-heels for her. There was just something about her smile - the real one that he rarely saw, the one that wasn't hidden behind a smirk - that made his whole life seem perfect.

He was about halfway home when a familiar set of shouji screens appeared in mid-air. The senkai gate opened, and to Ichigo's absolute shock, Kuchiki Byakuya was soon standing in front of him. What the hell is going on? Byakuya is here? Captains don't come to the real world unless there is a huge problem. Especially not this captain.

"Kurosaki Ichigo," Byakuya said, greeting Ichigo in his usual manner. By now, Ichigo knew it was about as polite as Byakuya would get with him.

"Kuchiki Taicho," Ichigo acknowledged, almost slipping up and calling him by his first name in the familiar. Rukia had spent weeks pounding it into his skull that he really should speak to Nii-sama respectfully. Personally, Ichigo didn't care if he called the old fuddy-duddy by his first name, but out of respect to Rukia's wishes, he tried to be nice. "What are you doing here? It's pretty unusual for a captain of your stature to get sent out here," he snarked, knowing it would cost him.

The regal Kuchiki looked at him with a grim expression. "I am here to rid myself of Kurosaki Ichigo."


Cue the sinister music. Extra points for those of you that caught the "devoid of color" reference. Reviews please! Next chapter: Rain. -njx


~~Crossover Cup!~~

Today's special guest: Fuu-chan from Samurai Champloo!

Fuu: C'mon, where do you get such sappy, helpless-romantic men from? I don't know any guys like that.

Nathan: Er, well... I'm a sappy, helpless romantic.

Fuu: Yeah, but you're real! We're just fictional! Sappy helpless romantic men don't exist in our world!

Nathan: Uh.....