She's Just Not That Into You If She: Doesn't Love You Back
When her own thoughts lead to nothing but indecisive conclusions, Rukia decides to bite the bullet and ask for advice.
Renji's grin damn near splits his face in half and he gets so excited he punches her shoulder when he pulls her close for a one-armed hug, telling her it's about time she pulled her freaking head out of her ass because goddamn, he was genuinely beginning to wonder if she was a masochist. He tells her he's happy for her, would support her come what may… then proceeds to ruin the moment by listing in no uncertain terms the ways he would make Ichigo suffer should he ever fuck up.
(She looks at him, really looks, and beneath his joking exterior sees that his loyalties are still laid bare and open for anyone to see - loyalties he extended to Ichigo long ago - and her heart swells with pride at how far they've come. But she says none of this; just hugs him a little tighter with earnest promises to catch up more.)
Ran squeals so loudly her ears ring and hugs her so tightly she's sure her face is permanently imprinted in her friend's ample cleavage, crowing something about keeping her right boob and secret sake stash she bet on them going the distance. But despite finding the blonde nineteen bottles of sake deep the rest of her opinions are surprisingly coherent. She tells her to decide whether the worst possible consequences are worth the best possible moments. She tells her that for some they aren't, so they don't try. She tells her that for others they are, but are too afraid to try. She tells her that for others still they are, but regret trying. She tells her that for yet others still they try regardless and never regret finding out what would happen. Then her voice quietens as she also tells her that, despite everything, Gin has been worth it all, and she wouldn't change a thing even if she had known what would happen.
(She watches the blonde stumble back into the drunken fray just as Kira looks up. He must recognise her expression because he immediately reaches to offer her dried persimmon instead of more alcohol. She had become quite close to Matsumoto during the Winter War – headquarters had their divisions work together due to the similarities in her and Hitsugaya-taicho's abilities - so the snack is a familiar sight. But when her friend's brittle smile melts into something more genuine, Rukia realises there is still a lot she doesn't know.)
Isshin pours them cups of tea late into the night and happily answers her every question because how could he not when his third daughter needs him and Masaki is one of his favourite topics? He waxes lyrical about her spirit, her talents, her capacity for love. He explains how they defied the laws of their worlds, about how he continually worked at being a better person to be worthy of her, about how at times he felt so happy he actually pinched himself. He tells her about her death, about the aftermath, about how he coped. He tells her about regaining his shinigami powers and, for a while, embarking on a fruitless search through Rukongai for her whenever he had moments to spare (but Rukia-chan you know sometimes it takes thousands of years for a soul to regenerate, sometimes they never do and most of the time they have no memory). Most of all, however, he tells her how he still wakes every morning and counts his blessings that he has the privilege of being Masaki's husband.
(She mostly listens. In truth she's still humbled he even let her in, never mind doing so with the enthusiasm of a thousand suns. She expects him to be overtly comical, but for most of their talk he is surprisingly calm. There's wistfulness in his smile and tenderness in his eyes and he speaks about his late wife so warmly and articulately that it dawns on her why he puts on his warped displays of affection: Shiba Isshin still loves Kurosaki Masaki so completely that it's all he can do to stay sane.)
Ukitake-taicho smiles and tells her gently that he is certain Seireitei is willing to cooperate for the boy who saved them all. He tells her that couplings between the two worlds have happened before, as she is already aware, and so it's more of a question of what she truly wants. He tells her he will support her decision and help her wherever he can. He also tells her how happy it makes him to see her finally healing after so long, and how much of a privilege it's been to mentor her progress.
(She can't find the words to express her gratitude, can only stand there with bright eyes and a stopped up throat and hands full of flowers she has just picked. Her Captain glances at them. His eyes soften, tells her to take the rest of the day off. She gives a shaky bow, a whispered thank you, and takes off. When she finally stops, it's in a shady glen. She gently sweeps away some grit, then places the bouquets on Kaien-dono and Miyako-dono's graves. Rukia breathes in, breathes out, and for the first time feels herself moving on.)
Nii-sama simply states that he is confident she will make the correct decision, and appears to leave it very firmly at that.
(She finds a gilded box on her futon that night. The necklace inside steals the breath from her lungs, not just because it is completely gorgeous (deep blue sapphires set in delicate silver) but because she has only ever seen it in one place before – forever immortalised in the official painting of Hisana on her wedding day. This is the most direct Byakuya will ever be in regards to his own personal opinion on the topic and Rukia knows it. But it is enough.)
With each reassurance she feels more and more of her reservations melt away, but Rukia knows that the final barrier is hers and hers alone to break - no advice or sentimental gift will remove it for her. Can she really risk the fall? Can she really disrespect the balance of their worlds so blatantly? Can she truly be deserving of him, of his love, of this man who would do anything for her? Because it's now going on a week but she's been poised on the cliff's edge for so long now that she can feel herself almost ready to jump. She knows she can soon. She knows it.
Then, the unbelievable happens.
He's so bone tired that the honking of traffic is the only thing keeping him awake. There are three papers due on Friday, twelve readings to be done by tomorrow and right now he's trying to organise when he's available to tutor next.
"Can't do today, I'm up to my eyeballs in work. How about tomorrow? I'm usually—"
There's the screeching of tyres, a sickening crunch, then nothing but dial tone.
His reiatsu disappears so suddenly that she actually trips mid-shunpo, causing her to smash into several Rukongai houses before making a jarring impact with the ground. Her ears are ringing and she's gasping in pain but her body and the looks of passers-by are the last thing on her mind. She's scrabbling for his unique signature, becoming more and more panicked and frenzied when she realises she can't find it, which in itself beggars disbelief because it's Ichigo's reiatsu she's trying to sense so how can she not goddamn find it, oh Kami please please please no because she can barely breathe as her world has suddenly narrowed to a single point in time.
…sometimes it takes thousands of years for a soul to regenerate, sometimes they never do, most never remember…
Isshin's face lingers in her memory, weary and sad, and she has to get up, has to get back to Seireitei, has to find out if this is all some prank or another elaborate strategy or anything except that because she hasn't prepared for this, not in the slightest, she had been so close to a response but now none of that matters and she is in freefall once again.
When she returns nobody can look her in the eye, and when Ukitake-taicho quietly hands her a slim mission file her worst fears are confirmed.
"Cause of death was a hit and run. He was killed instantly."
It takes all her Kuchiki training to maintain her composure as she steps through the gate.
Rukia has always known she would perform his konso – she just never expected to do it so soon.
He's sitting next to his body, bemusedly twisting his Plus chain around his fingers, and she tries not to think about how hard she's committing these (potentially final) moments to memory.
He looks up to find her standing before him. Gives a small smile. "Sorry. I was careless."
The rest of her vocabulary is clogged in her throat.
The smile widens a fraction. "Hey, come on now. What's a hardened lieutenant like you getting all worked up over a lowly soul like me?"
Her mouth twists. "I'm not, you bastard!"
"Least I'll be in the same world as you."
"You completely selfish idiot," she whispers hoarsely, unable to believe his nerve. Here she is on the verge of breaking down, while he looks so damn okay with the situation that she wants to punch him into Hueco Mundo. "You know how long the reincarnation process can take. How can you just sit there spitting such casual comments?"
"Are you saying you'd miss me?"
"Damn it Ichigo this is not a joke!"
He's staring at her in shock and she can't even feel satisfied about it, not when her vision starts blurring, but then he's reaching for her, pulling her into his arms to fervently kiss her tears away. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he murmurs between kisses, orange bangs hiding his eyes. "I was just trying to make this easier. I'm sorry. I'm an idiot. Please don't cry, Rukia. Please."
It's all she can do to hang on. They're almost out of time and dammit she just doesn't know anything anymore. How could she know the next time she sees him would be like this, that her body can be so unhappy whole it'll feel like she's being torn apart from the inside out, that her mind can be so full of emotion there's no room for coherent thought? So instead, all she can say is something like: "You insufferable—you arrogant—of all the foolish fool things to say…"
"Hey, silver lining, right?" His voice is quiet as he rests his forehead against hers. "Glass half full, positive thinking, all that."
She's silent, trying to collect her thoughts.
"Have you… said goodbye?"
"…Yeah. Though Karin swore at me with words I definitely didn't teach her. Soon as I figure out which asshole's behind it I'll haunt them forever."
That brings the tiniest smile to her face for a moment but they're silent for longer this time, all too aware their time is nearly up.
"There is no guarantee you'll retain your memories, either." She's barely able to say those words. "Reincarnation Amnesia does not discriminate between high and low reiatsu."
"I said I would wait. I'll remember."
"I'll remember." Ichigo says, looking straight at her. "You never gave me an answer, so I'm gonna have to come back and find out. Besides," he says, reaching up to stroke her cheek, "it's time." She can only swallow down the hot ball of emotion in her throat and nod.
He stares at her long and hard, taking the sight of her in for the last time. It takes everything in her to touch Sode no Shirayuki to his forehead and watch him begin to dissolve away.
Just before Ichigo disappears completely, he smiles warm and true.
"I love you, Kuchiki Rukia. I know I'll see you soon."
She stares at the spot where he disappeared in a stupor, desperately trying not to bring the world back into focus so she won't have to process she may never see him again hear him again touch him again, but paramedics are already passing through her to collect his body and at the last possible moment she can't help herself, has to take in one last glimpse of his face before he is taken away for good. But the Ichigo she knows, so full of warmth and passion and energy and life, is now nothing but a corpse. The difference is so jarring that she reels in shock, the sight of his dead body rendering her unable to deny the reality of her situation any longer.
She is hopelessly in love with Kurosaki Ichigo, and she blew it.
Every memory, every moment, every interaction rushes up to consume her and in the face of the enormity of her mistake Kuchiki Rukia can only open her mouth to scream and scream and scream because she is the biggest fool of them all, and only now does she realise that the only thing her carefully constructed arguments and justifications achieved was to waste time they could have spent being happy. The pain of that knowledge is so overwhelming that the convulsions force her to the ground –a bomb has exploded in her ribcage and it obliterates her body from the inside out, shatters her sanity like glass and it's worse than anything she has ever experienced. She blew it and she only has herself to blame.
(In Soul Society, her brother shunpos to his lieutenant and prevents him from summoning a gate to the Living World. Renji looks at him with stricken features and white-knuckled fists and though his own composure doesn't change, Byakuya's heart aches.)
It takes hours before she screams herself hoarse and cries herself out. She's still kneeling where she fell, the scene long since cleared and cleaned, and only begins to come to when she finally begins to feel the chill of the night air. But it's as she starts to rise from the depths of feeling dazed and numb and empty and completely devoid of the will to go on that she remembers her promise.
In the end, it really is the simplest thing in the world.
She will choose to believe. Ichigo will be reborn into Soul Society, no matter how long it takes, and when that happens she'll be there with an answer. He deserves that much, they deserve that much, and there is now no doubt in her mind: when Ichigo comes back to her she will never let him go.
Rukia wipes her eyes. Collects herself. When she stands, she stands straight and tall.
If Ichigo could wait for her, she can wait for him.
One year later and she cheers as the twins graduate from high school. After, as their dinner simmers away under Yuzu's watchful eye, Isshin sobs all over the poster of Masaki and Karin rolls her eyes out of habit than any real annoyance. As usual, Rukia is charged with laying the table. She lets the comfortable chaos sink into her skin and when they sit down to eat nobody finds it strange that there are two extra place settings.
Two years later finds her accepting missions all across the Living World. She talks more with Ran and feels accomplished as she learns what will have her friend needing the comfort of dried persimmon. She learns her equivalent is, unsurprisingly, juice boxes.
Three years later and she discovers a new Bankai ability. She demonstrates it to Nii-sama first, and though all he does is nod she sees his eyes glint with pride.
Four years later has her making her annual visit to the Shiba household. Ganju proudly shows her Bonnie's newest litter of piglets and Kuukaku still tries to bloody her nose if she even smells a hint of an apology rise from her lips. When she leaves, the fireworks display is always spectacular.
Five years later and she receives an invitation to Uryu and Orihime's wedding as a bridesmaid that she accepts without hesitation. It's a beautiful affair, all airy arches and white roses, with the crowning delight of the bridal party in one-off haute couture designs from Ishida's now iconic fashion label. At the reception she eats cake and catches up on any news she's missed and accepts Chad's offer for a dance and watches the bride and groom share their first waltz as a married couple. She feels her insides wrench, but her smile never slips.
Six years later finds her examining Renji's latest tattoo during their weekly dinner. Except for a little redness, it melds seamlessly into the bold pattern that now nearly completely covers his back. He struggles to look over his shoulder at her as he asks, mouth full of noodles, how it seems to be healing. She tells him in a thoughtful voice that she never knew Zabimaru had three tails, and laughs herself silly at the way his eyes bulge with panic.
Seven years later has her become a godmother. Orihime, smile wobbly with emotion, gives her a tiny, squalling baby and she can't help but marvel at the pace of human life. Rukia has never felt particularly strongly about infants, but that's until Sora opens his eyes and looks straight at her, and the entire room witnesses the moment she falls under his spell. She scours stores across both worlds for Chappy-themed baby supplies and when she gets to relieve his parents of their duty for the night learns what to sing to lull him to sleep.
Eight years later and she sits alone in her favourite tree, once again contemplating her post-Ichigo life. She has thrown herself into living, she can say that with pride. She can smile and mean it, laugh and mean it, but not a day goes by when she doesn't think of him. She misses him as intensely now as she did then and though her belief still holds firm, there are days like this that has her feeling his loss more intensely. Still. She pushes the feeling down and reaches into her uniform for a juice box. It's soon - she can feel it.
Nine years, three months and six days later a huge source of reiatsu explodes in the eleventh district of Rukongai. Ukitake has barely looked up to find that the desk where his lieutenant had been diligently filling out paperwork not a moment before is vacant.
Kurosaki Ichigo wakes in Rukongai to find Kuchiki Rukia by his side.
He blinks. Smiles.
She stares openly and without shame, drinking in the sight she's been dreaming of for nearly a decade. So many things are fighting to be said, but before anything else:
"I have something to tell you."
His smile widens. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," she breathes.
So this is what it's like. It's terrifying, dizzying, exhilarating, and though all he's done so far is just look at her she's hopelessly addicted.
"I love you, Kurosaki Ichigo."
It's all he needs to close the remaining distance between them and engulf her tiny form in his embrace. She's instantly surrounded by warmth and his familiar scent and if she had any doubts before she has none now. His hands gently cup her face and his gaze bores straight through her, searing in its intensity.
"And I love you, Kuchiki Rukia."
A watery chuckle. Is she crying?
He leans forward to touch his forehead to hers, noses brushing, never looking away, and when he next speaks his voice is a reverent whisper. "Say it again?"
She smiles and tilts her chin a little higher. "I love you, Ichigo—"
He's already kissing her, deep and soft and slow, before pulling away just enough to murmur: "Again?"
She feels she should make some sort of joke that getting reincarnated has made him soft, but right now all her thoughts are bent towards nothing except how to get more of him on more of her.
"I love you, Ichigo."
He descends to claim her mouth again, then begins to press kisses to her cheeks her jawline her temples, speaking her name into her skin as she can do nothing but laugh and hold him close and lose herself in the moment-
"You two done yet?"
Renji straightens from the doorframe he's been leaning on, looking bored to try and hide the fact that their display has him feeling a little green around the gills.
The moment is over as soon as his trademark scowl snaps back into place.
"Get lost you voyeuristic baboon." Ichigo growls, and Rukia smothers her smile at the familiar banter. "Isn't there literally any other place you could be?"
"Yeah," Renji agrees nonchalantly, before he gives a wicked grin. "But then nobody would be here to warn ya that Kenpachi's blasting his way on through to pick a fight as we speak."
There's the tiniest pause. And then Ichigo is on his feet, three shades paler and cursing up a storm as he frantically searches first himself, then the sparse room in the futile hope that Zangetsu will somehow magically appear because goddammit, "I've only been dead for ten freaking minutes, how the hell is this fair?!" and Renji cackles.
"Good to have ya back, freak," he says before he shunpos away. The tattooed lieutenant did glance at his childhood friend (she's practically glowing and Dumbass really ain't too much better and it only makes him grin wider) but Rukia's completely oblivious - she's gone back to taking in the sight of him and letting her elation consume her because this is the Ichigo she knows, andthat final memory of him broken and stiffened and still is suddenly just that. A memory.
He must have felt the intensity of her gaze because he stops his search to shoot her a questioning glance. She can only smile, heart too full to speak, and he is before her in an instant because when you are Kurosaki Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia understanding the other comes as naturally as breathing.
"Hey, I'm here now. Told you I wouldn't make you wait long."
She raises a delicate eyebrow. "You call nearly ten years not a long—"
He kisses her, but this time it's hungry and demanding and all-consuming and the rest of what she had to say is absolutely no longer important right now. When they finally come up for air, she opens her eyes to find him looking straight back at her. His next words are casual, but his gaze is pure desire.
"How long do you think we have before Kenpachi finds us?"
She doesn't waste time with words.
So I checked up on this account for the first time in years late last week, mostly out of curiosity, and was shocked to find people still reviewing. Well, what can I say? I was so touched that I hauled ass and wrote this chapter from the original skeleton plan in three days. Thank you to everyone who stuck with me all these years in the smallest hope I would actually commit and finish this.
I would like to dedicate this chapter to candybaron21 and the guest who reviewed this year. I have you to thank for the inspiration to complete this - so much inspiration, in fact, that I've nearly completed a whole other Bleach story (but don't hold me to that in case there's another five year wait). I hope that this gave you the closure you were hoping for.
Until next time.