Title: Till Death Do Us Part: Chapter One - Prelude

Warnings: het (IchiHime), ANGST, dysfunctional relationships, adult themes, severe deconstruction of another ship

Spoilers: This is set ten years after the series, so spoilers up to current chapters

Disclaimer: These characters belong to a lot of Japanese people, namely people like Tite Kubo and Shonen Jump. You'll notice how none of those are me. This will probably (never) be updated weekly, until I eventually drop it like every other project ever. Actually, it'll probably be closer to monthly. Not responsible for epileptic seizures or allergic reactions. May contain eye-and-brain-bleeding levels of radioactive ANGST and/or peanut products. Please sit a reasonable distance from your computer screen.

Author's Note: Due to this fic being started literal years ago (!), I'm going through the process of revising it to bring it more in line with current canon! Please feel free to read through it again and see how I've spruced it up!

As Ichigo left the senkaimon, the edges of his shihakusho flapping in the wind, he looked down at the streets far below him.

This was his hometown, Karakura-cho. He hadn't been back for the past ten years. On Central 46's orders, he'd been sequestered in Soul Society almost directly upon the ending of the wars. He'd been declared a threat to the now-fragile Balance of Souls and was thus required to remain in the Seireitei. He wasn't allowed to say goodbye to anyone. He wasn't allowed to send word to anyone. Oh, his father knew; he knew he'd been informed. It was possible some of his school friends knew, too. But he hadn't gotten the chance to say goodbye to his sisters, to Chad, to Orihime, to Ishida, to Urahara, to anybody. His body lapsed into a coma and was later cremated in the traditional style. For all intents and purposes, it was now as if he'd never existed. Kurosaki Ichigo was dead.

They hadn't been bad to him, necessarily. Oh sure, they'd destroyed his life - or at least shared part of the guilt along with his own unbelievable power. He was bitter about that beyond words. All of the things promised to him as a human teenager - high school graduation, college, a career, watching his sisters grow up, a girlfriend, maybe even a wife - all of those things had been stolen from him. In some cases, those things had even been given to someone else.

But he still had Renji and Rukia, Rangiku and Toushirou, Eleventh Division and all their friends. He'd made more friends - Momo, Shunsui, the men in Division Five, even Nanao to some extent. They had helped him adjust and dulled some of that pain of separation. But they couldn't take it away entirely.

So here he was, ten years after he'd left, in for an impossibly short visit during which he wasn't given time or leave to contact the people he'd left behind. Here he was, watching the city streets below, cars passing below like ants, confident none of the passersby could see him. Here he was, wanting to punch the old buzzards in Central 46 in their old, wrinkled faces for what was probably the millionth time.

The real reason he was here now was to perform a konso. In truth, it was a stolen assignment. All he knew was that it had been intercepted for him and that it was urgent he perform it before anyone else do it. He wasn't given any more information. He assumed there wasn't time for a full briefing, and since when do konso require briefing anyway? So he'd taken it, even though he was busy, even though it was a menial task that anyone fresh out of the Academy could do, even though he probably still wasn't technically allowed to be there. Hell, didn't Academy students even perform konso? He'd ask Momo next time he got a chance.

As he descended towards the coordinates on his Soul Pager, he saw it. An accident, single car, surrounded by onlookers and ambulances. He couldn't see the body; it had already been bagged and loaded into the ambulance. It was odd, though. The car's driver's side door was open and there was a suited businessman nearly in hysterics as he spoke to the police officer taking notes beside him. Even though Ichigo couldn't properly hear him, he could imagine that what he was describing was the deceased running in front of his car. Ichigo only hoped it wasn't a small child; those were the most depressing. As he landed behind the thick crowd, his sandaled feet padding softly on the sidewalk, the scene of the accident vanished behind the sea of their backs.

As he looked around for the soul he had to send to Soul Society, though, he felt a familiar reiatsu. It was soft and gentle, and if he hadn't been right upon her at the moment, he'd probably have missed her. His heart froze in his throat; he hadn't seen her in ten years. He hadn't gone to her wedding, even though Rukia had encouraged him to have Twelfth Division make him a device so he'd be able to go. He didn't think he'd have been able to bear watching her walk down the aisle with another man. He wasn't even sure he was welcome there. What if he found out she hadn't missed him at all? Before he had been pulled away by Soul Society, he was sure he'd be her boyfriend when everything was all over. Even after he'd been pulled away, he'd nursed a weak but persistent hope that he'd be able to come back for her, he'd be able to finally see her again and set things right the first chance he got. Hell, maybe there would even be something between them again. But when he heard news of her engagement and subsequent marriage five years later, he couldn't help but feel betrayed.

Something changed within Ichigo then, and his friends noticed it. When Rukia came to tell him what the wedding was like - how the convention hall they'd held it in was, how many (or in this case, few) people were there, how the reception was, what was served, how the bride looked, how she'd asked after him - he barely moved from his desk. He hardly showed any sign that he'd heard her at all, applying his seal to paper after paper. Eventually, she went away and left him to his work.

It was days before he even spoke to anyone in more than 'yes'es and 'no's or, more commonly, non-committal grunts, and weeks before he was even seen outside his office. In all honesty, he still hadn't recovered, all these years later. He'd lost something precious to him then - a hope, a precious image - and there was no way to replace it now. She was someone else's wife. She'd moved on with her life, a life in the real world that didn't include him anymore.

He would bear it, though. He'd put on a hard mask and do his damn job and then he'd go back to Soul Society and tell Rangiku to get him so wasted he would forget he'd even visited. She of all people would understand his need to drink himself into oblivion after this. As he weeded his way through the crowd to get to the accident, he steeled himself. He hoped against hope that she wouldn't notice him and that he'd be able to just pass by without attracting her attention. But as he drew closer to the scene of the accident, her reiatsu only got stronger. And finally, at the edge of the crowd, he saw her.

Her red hair fell in a straight wave down her back, just like he remembered it. She had her hands folded behind her back, delicate fingers curling against her long, pale skirt. He figured she might have come out to heal the wounded, but upon seeing the crowd, decided not to discharge her powers. As he drew up behind her, towards the accident, he looked away, unable to keep his eyes on that nostalgic image for more than a few seconds.

"Hi, Kurosaki-kun," she said softly. He could tell by her voice that she hadn't turned towards him. It was a voice that he hadn't forgotten, even in the past ten years. He sometimes still heard it even in his dreams, calling for him. But it sounded different now - tired, weak, anemic, like she was trying to force a shadow of her smile into her voice.

Ichigo fought the urge to run, to turn right around and go back to Soul Society, konso be damned. How ironic that his prison had now become his refuge! But he couldn't. He knew he had to answer her greeting. He had to keep his voice firmly in check and not let his feelings show through it. He was a man now, dammit. This sort of thing happened to other guys all the time.

"Hey, In- Ishida...san." He had never been able to get used to thinking of her as an Ishida, as anything other than the person he knew in high school. So he had tried to scrub all the resentment out of his voice at her new name. He thought bitterly that he'd probably failed at that, too.

Strangely enough, though, she suppressed a small, strangled giggle. He thought it sounded different than it used to. Like her voice, it was cloudy, overcast with strain. This time, though, there was something else peeking through. Genuine happiness? ...Hysteria?

"Not... Not anymore," she replied, a little more brightly this time. Ichigo's eyebrow shot up unbidden. What did she mean? Had they divorced? Rukia and Rangiku hadn't told him that. They had to have known he would want to know that of all things. Maybe they didn't want to get his hopes up before it was finalized? There was no way they wouldn't have known.

Oddly enough, he couldn't even feel bad for his former friend in this instance. No, instead he felt his heart beat again for the first time in five years. It was hope, just a tiny spark; it was something he thought had died and would never be rekindled. But now it threatened to blaze up and engulf him.

"Not... anymore?" he echoed, his mouth too dry to do anything other than echo her. Finally, he thought he could look at her again.

Her face looked serene, more mature than she had in high school. Her eyes were sadder, staring out at the accident blankly, but were still just as lovely as he'd remembered them. The hairpins were there as well, although they didn't sparkle like they used to. As he watched her mouth stretch into a wide grin, the kind he used to see on her every day in class, he thought perhaps her mood had lightened.

"I guess I'm just really clumsy today," she said with a nervous laugh. Before Ichigo could wonder what she meant, he heard a tiny clinking sound, like the chime of metal on metal. It had been a long time since he'd heard that sound, and when he looked down to her hand, it was exactly what he feared it might be.

There, attached to her large bosom and dangling from her slender, pale fingers, were the remains of her broken chain of fate.

Ishida Orihime was dead.