Note: Sadly, this is the end of the story and it's the longest chapter I have ever made. Before I go into temporary hiatus, I needed to finish this one since it's almost finished already. Hope you guys enjoy this one.
Disclaimer: Bleach is Kubo's property.
Rukia carefully walked towards the mansion. She is afraid but she has no other choice but to do this. They hold her son as hostage. Barragan too. And while Rukia hated Barragan for being so much like her grandfather, she doesn't have a heart to abandon a life for hatred. She looked around the wide lawn before taking a deep breath and finally calming herself just as one of the strangers shoved her inside. She counted at least four of them. She saw some of the servants bound together and one of them was injured from the looks of it. It was Barragan's butler. She hurriedly rushed to them.
"Are you alright?" it was a stupid question but still the servants nodded. She glanced at the butler. "Where's my son."
They gave her a confusing look. "B-But your son never arrived here since yesterday, Miss Kuchiki."
She pushed herself up and saw the man responsible for her brother's death. He was descending the stairs in a regal fashion. No longer was he dressed in orange suit like the last time she saw him on television nine years ago. He's now clean-shaven and is dressed formally. One would never think he had it in him to have his niece dead with a single order. Though it utterly failed.
"Ah, so you took the bait," he sneered and studied her. "You really has grown. So much like Hisana."
Rukia remained guarded while standing on the same spot. "Where are Aleister and Barragan?"
"The old fool is up in his room, fighting for his remaining breath. He had served his purpose." He went to one of the couch and sat down comfortably. "Your son would be a much better choice to use against you of course. But everyone searched for the school he was enrolled into and he's not there."
Rukia silently prayed that someone hid her son, that he is safe from any harm. Noticing the desperate yet hopeful look, Kouga snorted. "I really don't understand – why would you choose to keep him? You were raped right? And certainly the father is a good-for-nothing jackass."
Angered and insulted, Rukia chose to remain quiet and let the man continue talking. He played with his small gun. He gave her a cold look. But what he said is probably something Rukia wasn't prepared to deal with.
"You are the reason your brother died."
She flinched and felt that familiar pain. Though not expressly said by Ginrei, she knew he blamed her somehow. Because of her, Byakuya died. And to get back at her, he molded her like he did to Byakuya – taking away the freedom she was supposed to have as an individual human being. She doesn't know if a lot of the Kuchiki acquaintances blamed her for his death.
Seeing that pitiful look, Kouga chortled and shook his head in amusement. "Byakuya was his favorite and Hisana came second. Ginrei had high plans for you but everything was ruined when he died. He's such a sorry bastard, ain't he, that Ginrei. To think he even thought of transferring all my inheritance to you."
Rukia could feel her body trembling with different emotions but most of them now are suppressed to give way for anger and bitterness. "I know Byakuya and Gin died protecting me. And I know Ginrei hated me for his death. I always saw it in his eyes. But you have no right to slap that truth to me when you were the one who killed them."
For a moment, Kouga looked away. "That boy is important to me too."
Rukia scoffed at the admission. "Then why did you pull the trigger even knowing it was him who is gonna take the bullet?" she cried out.
His eyes locked with her and she cringed at the lethal look. "That shot was meant for you and not for him." He stood up. "But that's water under the bridge now. You have some things I want you to do."
She stared at him defiantly. "If I don't?"
"Each one of the servants dies. And I will make sure your son will be last. You have no other choice. You took the bait."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to see Barragan."
He mockingly bowed down. "If you please."
Love waited for them at the airport. After contacting him again, they learned he was in Europe, staying in the house of a trusted friend. He did not waste any time contacting the authorities and informing them of a possible hostage-taking somewhere in Barragan's house. Authorities immediately responded and sources confirmed that Barragan's house is surrounded by suspicious men.
"Where's Aleister?" it was the green-eyed who asked immediately the moment they have spotted him.
"Thankfully, he is staying at Harribel's house. You know her, right?" he asked, referring to the one who owned the apartment where Ulquiorra had stayed into for three nights.
He nodded wordlessly. "Though there was never a formal introduction, these are also her friends who insisted on tagging along," he motioned a hand towards the small group. Everyone had chosen to come along with him despite his protest. The one leading the group is, to their surprise, Grimmjaw. It was as if this was the only way for Grimmjaw to atone for what he considered his sin – his sin being one who believed the lies about Rukia.
Love gave them a short nod. "There's a car waiting. The authorities are still trying to plan on how to capture the escapees without harming their hostages. Kouga is an American citizen and British officers do not wish to harm their very own citizens held hostage in that house. It was a good thing I managed to contact Tia before they could get a hand on Aleister."
"You should have called sooner, then perhaps, Rukia wouldn't be rushing on her own, thinking her son is in danger," Lisa snorted.
"I tried to find means of contacting you immediately. Before I knew it, Kouga managed to contact Rukia first before I could tell her Aleister is fine."
"Have they tried communicating with them?" Renji asked and walked beside Love.
"They will. They are coordinating with US authorities via teleconferencing. It's about jurisdiction etc."
"You think they will harm her?" Momo aksed worriedly, voicing every female's thought while the males refused to even acknowledge the idea.
Love stopped. "Not until he gets what he wanted. If there is one thing I know about Kouga, it's his greed. He'll probably be forcing Rukia to sign the deed of transfer of all Kuchiki wealth into his name."
They all climbed the van waiting for them and they rode in silence until Ichigo turned to Ulquiorra. "What are you thinking?"
"Lots of things," he answered curtly.
They did not ask him further, knowing he'll never share to them his thoughts anyway. However, Love does not know him too well so he asked instead. "Such as?"
"Things like how in the world did we not hear about her for nine years, how someone managed to ruin our relationship, how we were never there when it happened. I think it's only now that I understood why she hated us deeply." He glanced outside as Love drove quietly. "In her mind, she was betrayed because no one was there for her. She felt like we abandoned her."
Someone from the group, and Ulquiorra did not bother to look, was about to protest when he cut them off, revealing something he already knew. "We all agree that she wasn't responsible for that letter, right? What you guys probably did not know was the fact that she came here too weeks after that letter."
"What?" Matsumoto frowned.
Lisa, Love, Hinamori and Ishida all listened quietly as Ulquiorra tried to make light of Rukia's behavior towards them months ago. Inoue bit her lip. Ulquiorra continued, his eyes on the road ahead. "What we don't know nine years ago, she was told that I was cheating on her and she came to confirm it." A bitter chuckle escaped his lips. Damn, if only he knew who was responsible for ruining their relationship – he'd make sure he'll pay for every pain, for every tear she shed.
This time, Inoue felt herself tremble in guilt. She seems to know where he is leading. "S-She saw us," she concluded and the rest gave her a baffled look.
"More like she heard us talking," he corrected. "But if only she stayed a bit longer, then maybe she heard everything – the truth that it was still her." He did not care if his words hurt Orihime at the moment. Then again, Orihime always knew.
Love chose to clear his throat at that exact moment when everyone was so quiet, trying to imagine what would have been. "She only stayed in the university for two weeks when Ginrei-sama found out about her. Immediately, he had her papers processed, wanting her to become a Kuchiki. To his disappointment though, Rukia never truly wished to become one. For her, her family lives in Japan. Still, she politely declared that she wouldn't mind knowing who her real family was. So she was introduced shortly to Byakuya, Gin and Aizen – and all three were immediately so fond of her." There was a wistful look that crossed his eyes although they never did get to see it since he was driving. A wan smile curved his lips. "I would give everything to relive those days."
"So that's how Rukia got acquainted with Aizen," Neliel mused. She always wondered how and where they met and why they seemed so close.
"Yes. Then rumors reached Rukia about her boyfriend cheating on her. She had planned everything you know – she planned to come back here and give up her scholarship there. But Byakuya found out about it and proposed an alternative. He financed her expenses in traveling here." This time, he could not help but give the pale man a furtive glance, if only to see how he handled the other parts which Rukia refused to divulge to them. "It did not even take her a day of visit here when she called her brother and told him she'll come back. Gin fetched her from the airport and that was when we saw her truly devastated."
"Why do you know so much?" Toshirou asked.
Love tilted his head a little to glance at them. "I worked for the Kuchiki for years now, serving as the butler. And if there's anyone who can tell you how Rukia lived her nine years – that would be me. If there's one who knew the turbulent rigors of her life, that would only be me."
He curbed the car to the right road before he continued. "Unknown to her, Ginrei had already planned on transferring half of the Kuchiki wealth in her name if only to honor Hisana."
"Who is Hisana?" Grimmjaw asked with curiosity.
"She was the deceased sister of Rukia and Byakuya. It did not take long before Rukia consented on being made a formal Kuchiki but asked her family to hide it from public as much as possible."
"Maybe because if we realized she cut her communications with us, we'll try to find ways to contact her," Renji supplied.
"But no one bothered, right?" it was Hinamori who asked this time.
"I did. Apparently, I got the wrong information. After reading the letter, I immediately sought ways to contact her," Grimmjaw admitted shamefully. "Back then, I was so enraged that she betrayed us. And when I paid an investigator to look for her there, all he managed to gather was a picture of her and a dark-haired man."
"That would be her brother," Ishida adjusted his glasses. "Me and Hinamori were Rukia's classmates back in college by the way."
"Apparently, the investigator you paid was too dumb," Lisa snorted.
"Indeed," Grimmjaw grunted.
"So what happened next?" Ichigo demanded, annoyed that they interjected in the middle of the story.
"Do you want me to continue for you Love?" Lisa asked. "Although it wouldn't be as accurate."
"I'll tell them. Aizen decided to return to Japan to run his parent's business. What happened next you say? She was raped and left for dead in an alley. Thankfully, someone found her and immediately brought her to the hospital. But within that very incident, Rukia cracked. It did not even take long before Kouga had set his plans into motion. What happened next would forever scar Rukia's soul as she watched how her brother and his best friend died rescuing her."
He pretended he did not hear them gasp at the revelation. He continued and risked another glance at the green-eyed man. Judging by how he maintained his cool persona, he already guessed that this guy knew all about it. "Did you know she was called the Ice Maiden of the Kuchiki?"
"I read it from paper," Toshirou retorted. "I never thought it was her. Then again, I never paid much attention to it."
"Why and how did she become the Ice Maiden that she was known for?" Rangiku asked.
This time, Love was quiet for a moment as he stared ahead. "Ginrei-sama changed so much after Byakuya's death."
"He blamed her for it?" Renji growled in anger.
"He never explicitly said it but his actions always pointed to that conclusion. I myself believed it too – that he blamed her for it. Scarred from her double trauma, Rukia never had the time to even mourn for her loss. Ginrei subjected her in harsh trainings, training her to become an emotionless gal. He never realized he was doing the same thing he did to Byakuya. When Rukia was pregnant – a result from that rape – Ginrei ordered her to have the child aborted. Rukia refused and she fought for it. She threatened him that she'll end her life if he forced her to kill an unborn child. Not wanting his name tarnished, he sent her to Barragan and asked the man to have her pregnancy kept hidden and thus only a few knew about it."
"And when Aleister was born, they used it to manipulate her," Ulquiorra finally spoke once more – in an icy tone which made his friends cringe inside.
"They're terrible," Orihime said with rising anger. She reflected on how she was such a bitch towards Rukia and now she felt like her actions were unjust. Rukia never even deserved her anger.
"True. But while Rukia was treated so formally, Aleister was different. For some reason, Ginrei warmed up to him but still refused to transfer custody to Rukia. Instead, he let Barragan train the boy and allowed Rukia a few visits to him. It was like punishment for Rukia – because perhaps in his mind, it was her fault his heir died."
"Wasn't it his fault? If he'd only be fair and give Kouga his share, then it might not have gotten to that point," Toshirou argued.
"Hearing all of these make me want to beat Ginrei," Ichigo spoke harshly, his amber eyes reflecting his anger. "How dare he treat Rukia like that? The midget is a gem."
"Ginrei died a year ago. And well, I can't argue about your last remark. If only Ginrei saw beyond his anger and grief. But that wasn't the case." They parked in front of the apartment already familiar to Ulquiorra. Across it is a big house. Ah yes, that's where Tia lived. He remembered seeing her once or twice during his three-month stay.
They stepped down and looked around. A few seconds later, the group all turned to the sound of a voice that called Ulquiorra's name and they saw a young boy running towards their friend who immediately knelt down and held the boy in his shoulder, as if making sure he is indeed there.
"Whoa, that's a miniature Rukia save for the hair," Renji commented followed by a whistle.
Ichigo scratched his head, feeling a lump in his throat. To think Rukia endured all of it on her own – he felt like he failed her as a brother and he knew that once his family heard about this, they'll definitely feel the same. Hell, no one stood by her side for those nine years. They quietly watched as the boy threw himself at Ulquiorra after the inspection and held on to him for dear life. To their surprise, Ulquiorra held the boy protectively.
"He'll make a good father someday," Lisa commented.
"This is proof of how much he loves Rukia," Orihime let herself speak those words and with that acceptance, she knew she is ready to let go. "He loves everything that is linked to her."
She firmly grasped Rangiku's hand for comfort and the said woman squeezed her hand. Then they heard the boy talk, still ignoring those around him. "Love said that mom is in danger so I can't go see Barragan."
Ulquiorra released the boy and straightened, but his hand remained on his shoulder. "Yes and thank god you are alright."
"Will they hurt her?" he asked worriedly.
"I don't know. I hope they don't," he said in a steely voice. He turned to his friends. "You haven't met them before. These are her friends too – since high school."
The boy glanced at them. Though he wanted to grin and wave his hand, he couldn't bring himself to do it at the moment since worry is taking over his emotions. However, he politely bowed. "It's nice to meet you all. I'm afraid we have to meet each other at such a bad circumstance."
To say they were shocked was an understatement. "You talk like an old man. How old are you kid?" Ichigo walked towards him and Ulquiorra and he did not miss the scowl from the boy's face.
"I ain't a kid. I'm eight."
Ichigo ruffled his hair much to Aleister's chagrin. He helplessly glanced at Ulquiorra, his eyes pleading him to make the weird guy stop treating him like boy. But Ulquiorra wasn't helping at all. He was actually allowing it and Aleister had to remind himself that it was also Ulquiorra who told him he was a kid and he should act like one. He did not forget about it but after learning the danger his mother was in, he doesn't have the luxury to act like a boy.
To his surprise, he felt the guy with orange hair actually hold him in a tight hug and he was compelled to hug him back. "You – you just looked so much like her. I'm so sorry we were never there for her," Ichigo's voice croaked as he held the boy. "I wish I had known about it. My sisters loved her truly like a family and I do too. My name is Ichigo. I'd like to bond with you sometime after all of this is over."
"We are attracting too much attention as it is. Let's get inside. The authorities have called," a blond, dark woman spoke from a distance. She must have been there since a while ago. They all nodded and walked inside. One last glance at the boy and they saw how he tugged at Ulquiorra. They have a close bond.
"So the geezer is dead," Kouga spoke from the doorway as he watched Rukia holding Barragan's hand while crying. Rukia raised her head and gave him a loathed glare which the man practically ignored before pointing his gun. "Now that you talked to him, stand up. The papers arrived. I want you to sign them and this will be over."
Trembling, Rukia stood up. "Release the servants first. I know I have no say in this but I will not sign the papers until you release them. I don't want them involved in this."
He smirked at her and casually strolled inside. "If you're still that compassionate towards other people, then Ginrei did not train you well." His eyes sharpened. "I will not let them go. You see, if you refuse, then I'll have to kill them one by one."
Rukia bunched her fist and glanced at Barragan before she turned to Kouga once more. "I hope you rot in hell," she spat.
He sneered at her remark. "You've got quite a foul mouth. How about – "
He tilted his head towards the direction of the voice and saw one of his men in panic. "There are cops around the house. The captain wishes to talk to you through the phone."
He glanced at the window and wondered how the authorities knew about this. But perhaps someone tipped them off about them. He gave Rukia a cold look. "I told you not to even call for help – "
"It wasn't me," she cut him off icily though her eyes were mocking him. "You seem suddenly afraid."
It happened to fast and he slammed her on the wall, his fingers tightening around her throat. "Just because I allowed you the liberty to say things, it doesn't mean you'll mock me." He turned to his man. "Get the damn papers here and give me the phone."
He did not care if he was choking her. Rukia fought for air before she choked when he harshly released her. He waited and a few minutes, his man arrived and handed him a folder and a phone. He glanced at Rukia and scoffed as she continued choking. He stared at her as he spoke to the captain of the police.
"Kouga Kuchiki, an escapee from the US prison, please surrender now and release the hostages," was the first thing he heard.
"Surrendering was never part of my plan," Kouga scoffed. "I've lived a rotten life inside the prison for nine years. Listen, I will release the hostages one by one if you do what I ask. We need a chopper within ten minutes. If within that allotted time a chopper never appears, I'll kill one servant every damn minute."
There was a pause as if the man was deliberating over it. Kouga peered from the window and saw how they were truly surrounded. Not to mention that there are lots of people gathering.
"We need to confirm first that your hostages are alright."
"I already killed one, just so you know. And that means I am serious if ever you plan on playing with us. I will not hesitate to kill another one."
"We assure you we don't have any plans to play games with you. Is Rukia Kuchiki in there?"
At the question, Kouga tore his gaze away from the window and glanced at Rukia who now stood up. "Yes and she'll be next if there's no chopper." He ended the call immediately and handed Rukia the folder. "Sign those up and I'll let you all go free."
Not bothering to give him a glance, she reached for the folder and read the contents. She then raised her head and gave him a bitter smile. "It's all about money eh? You killed Byakuya for this."
He shrugged though there was a pained look that crossed his eyes. "Like I have said, that shot was meant for you."
She quietly signed the papers and handed them back. "In the first place, I don't think I need that wealth coming from Ginrei," Rukia said and sat down. "So, you're gonna kill me now?"
He actually cackled at the question. "I don't plan to but if they trick us, we have you as leverage." He walked towards the door. "I've been planning this for nine years you know. I always bided my time. While I initially wanted you dead before, it's different now. All I want is the Kuchiki wealth." He ignored the look of disgust and stepped out.
Rukia sighed and glanced at Barragan. She felt like crying and at the same time growling in anger. So it was him who ruined her relationship with Ulquiorra, upon her grandfather's request.
He coughed up blood. "There's something you need to know. That letter…"
Rukia's eyes hardened and she stared at him in disbelief. "Y-You did it?" she asked in anger and disbelief.
"He wanted you to cut your ties with them. He was enraged that you declined him and chose your family in Japan. Unknown to you…he had your background investigated and he knew just how to strike," he paused in his labored breath. "I knew someone from there and asked him to deliver a letter. It's always easy getting it stamped and making it appear like it was sent from America."
Angrily, Rukia glared at him. "You and Ginrei are so rotten to the core – going so far as stooping that low! Was it his pride that was hurt when I turned him down?"
Instead of answering, Barragan smiled faintly. "I liked him, that Schiffer guy. I always wondered why his name sounded so familiar until I realized why." He coughed once more. "I-In the d-drawer…y-you have custody of your son now. I signed the papers," despite her anger, Rukia still held him close while her tears furiously fell down. "…h-he gave back Aleister what we robbed from him – his childhood. Perhaps it is a dying man's wish…" his eyelids started to drop. "…but I hope you can forgive us someday…"
She wanted to hate her grandfather but she knew its pointless now. Everything was ruined thanks to him. She ran towards the window when she heard the sound of a chopper approaching. Before she could even think of a way to escape with the servants, Kouga appeared once more and dragged her out.
"They released the hostages one by one," Tia said from where she sat with the others. Although the cops prevented them from interfering, they still chose to tag along.
Everyone squinted their eyes to find Rukia but she was not with the servants. As the chopper landed in front of the mansion, Kouga and his accomplices stepped out from the house while dragging Rukia. "Rukia!" Renji growled.
"Like I have said, we don't want to hurt any of them. We got what we wanted so there's no reason to harm them," Kouga spoke through a microphone. The cops however do not buy his words and from a tree, a sniper aimed and shot. But it was wasted when Kouga bent down a little and the shot got through his shoulder.
Panic ensued as the men immediately climbed the chopper, dragging Rukia with them. "Officer, they've got her."
"That's taken care of," the captain calmly stated. "The pilot will not go down so easily." As the chopper started to rise from the ground, Rukia glanced at Kouga who pointed his gun at her.
"Sorry but like Ginrei, I hate you too," he said in scorn and Rukia pushed his hand away. Without second thought, his free hand slapped her rather forcefully, the impact surprising her and sending her down from the chopper to the horror of everyone watching.
Kouga looked down and shrugged. "Tch, she's stubborn. Look where it got her," he said as if justifying his actions. Then they all laughed manically, like crazed people finding amusement from such deed.
As the chopper flew away, medics immediately responded as the cops including the few civilians ran towards the house. The captain glanced up and estimated the height of the fall. He turned to his subordinate. "Have the satellite track the chopper down. They will not leave this area," he ordered.
"Oh my god, Rukia," Neliel knelt down at the limp body.
"Please step aside," the medics calmly ordered as they lifted Rukia from the stretcher. Ulquiorra glanced up and estimated as well before he stepped inside the ambulance much to the surprise of the medics. "Sir."
"Sorry but I won't leave her side," he said in monotone, his hands already reaching Rukia's. He turned to Ichigo. "Don't bring Aleister to the hospital yet. Let Inoue and Rangiku stay with him."
He was not at all surprised when Ichigo climbed the ambulance as well. "You forgot I am a doctor," he said and turned to Renji. "You heard the man."
The ambulance closed and Ichigo helped the paramedics as they checked on Rukia's vital signs. "It wasn't too high and wasn't too low either," Ichigo said after making sure Rukia is safe. "Had the chopper risen higher and she chose to jump, she'll be a goner."
One of the paramedics glanced at them. "How are you related to the patient sir?"
It was too white for her eyes. That's what she thought when she opened her eyes and realized she was in a hospital. She blinked and recalled how she ended up there. Ah yes, Kouga. To think she managed to survive after that fall – one would call it a miracle.
She tried to move her fingers and realized that something warm was holding her hand. Moving her head, she glanced at her right to find Ulquiorra leaning on his chair, his eyes closed but his hand held her tightly, refusing to let go. She did not question how he came to be here. She knew that once he learned about it anyway, he'll stop at nothing to get to her.
She squeezed his hands and waited for him to wake up which he did a few seconds later. "Hey."
She looked down and realized her left arm's in a cast. "Eh?" she blinked at him and he read her unspoken question.
"You must have cushioned your fall with your left arm. It's broken so you'll have to endure the pain for a while," he scooted his seat closer to her bed and a warm look crossed his eyes. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm thirsty," she admitted, feeling her throat dry.
He stood up and poured a glass with water before helping her drink. Setting the glass down at the bedside table, he sat on the bed and held her face for a while. All she could do was stare at him before she cried. Wordlessly, he pulled her towards his chest and she sobbed there.
"I was scared when I saw you fall down," he whispered while kissing the top of her head.
She held him tighter. "It was reckless of me but I thought – " her eyes widened immediately and she looked around. "Oh my god – where's Aleister? Have they found my son?"
"Calm down. Aleister is fine. Love moved quickly and asked Tia Harribel to fetch him from school. He was here an hour ago with the rest of the guys but I ordered them to go home."
She sighed in relief and held his hand. She remembered Barragan and so she stared at his eyes. "It was my grandfather who orchestrated our break-up."
He nodded. "I wouldn't be surprised. After hearing everything from Love, I came to that conclusion though I kept it to myself. How'd you find out?"
She sighed and released him to stare at her hands. She remembered her hands were quite bloody when she held the dying man. "Barragan confessed." She smiled bitterly. "Ginrei sure hated me so much."
He did not respond and simply pulled her towards him once more. "I know everything now Rukia. And I'm so sorry we weren't there."
She slowly closed her eyes to savor that moment as they held each other close. She could feel his body tremble in his quiet anger and knew there's nothing she can do to assuage his guilt even if she told him it wasn't his fault. He'll always blame himself. The others will feel the same way.
"It wasn't anybody's fault but Ginrei," she told him still. "Don't blame yourself."
He was quiet for a moment but spoke after a little while. "Even if you say that, I'll never forget. I don't think I will forgive your grandfather for what he has done. And I'll never forgive myself."
"Don't do that to yourself," she chided softly and pulled away only to kiss him passionately on the lips. Well, that came without warning, he mused as they tasted each other after nine years. If not for an intruder, they might not even pull apart. They both turned towards the door to find Ichigo grinning from ear to ear.
"Ichigo," Rukia muttered as a smile stretched from her face and she beckoned him to move closer. Ulquiorra gave way for the strawberry as the latter held Rukia in a crushing hug. She could feel his shoulders shake and she knew he was trying hard not to cry.
"You scared us! And you wouldn't wake up for three days," he scowled at her though she knew better than to scowl back. It was Ichigo's own way of dealing with the emotional strain. "It's a good thing Kouga was captured after a shootout."
Ichigo pulled away as the rest entered the room. One by one, they held Rukia. When it was Grimmjaw's part, he scratched his head before he sighed. 'I was a jackass. Sorry."
Overwhelmed with emotions, she only shook her head, her eyes telling him he's forgiven long ago. Then she saw Orihime reluctantly standing at the doorway. Rukia's eyes softened and she beckoned him to move closer. "Orihime."
To her surprise, Orihime threw herself towards Rukia and sniveled there. "I'm so sorry for everything. I really don't know how to make up for that."
Rukia's response was to pat her on the back. "In all honesty, I never held it against any of you. Perhaps I blamed you all at one point but that was my defense mechanism," she stated sincerely. She already concluded earlier that they all know about her past if Ulquiorra found out about it too. "I had my own fault too."
She couldn't ask for more. Sure, there was a crack on her relationship with them but they were all willing to fix it. It took forgiveness on everyone's part. In time, everything will return to how it was used to be. She felt a satisfied smile tugging at her lips when she was finally alone with Ulquiorra. It appears the rest are fond of her son and decided to tag him along as they tour around.
He was quietly peeling an apple when she spoke. "I think I am ready now. Nothing is holding me back anymore."
He did not bother glancing at her when he responded. "You think we'd hate you when we learn that you were raped and that Aleister was born from it." It was a statement and not a question. Rukia shifted from her bed.
"Somehow. Aleister does not know."
"He'll eventually find it out. He has the right to know when he grows older."
She smiled and closed her eyes. "I remember him telling me he loves you already," she stated with amusement.
"He's an adorable kid and I will give anything to make him my own," he said and leaned closer to kiss her lips. Rukia opened her eyes at his remark and their eyes met. "You know what that means – marry me."
She laughed. She did not laugh like this for so long and it felt good to finally laugh so freely. "You know, when we were younger, I always dreamed of a romantic proposal. But then again, I wouldn't ask that from you." Tenderly, her right hand held his cheek. "I love you so much. It never really changed."
A shadow of a young smile flickered in his face and Rukia was reminded of the boy that he once was. "I know," was the smug reply. "I'll take your words to mean yes."
She rubbed her eyes to actually wipe her tears and she contentedly leaned closer to him. "I love you endlessly." She hummed in reply and before long, she fell into slumber due to the effects of medical drugs injected on her. And although he knew she is asleep, he continued. "You and Aleister."
Aleister wondered why the old man was crying so hardly together with his two daugthers when his mother introduced him to them. To his embarrassment, he was enclosed in a crushing hug by the old man as he wailed while his mother actually laughed so hard as she sat with Ulquiorra. Across them sat Ichigo who was scowling at his father for his childish acts.
"A mini-Rukia male version," he sobbed and affectionately ruffled Aleister's hair.
"Uh, mom? Who are they again?" he asked his mother and turned to her.
Rukia smiled widely. "They're family. They are Ichigo's family and mine too."
"I can't believe it," Yuzu sniffled and held Aleister's cheek. "We never knew you had such a cute son."
"Well..." Rukia decided to tell them the truth the moment they arrived back in Japan and the sisters cried for her. Rukia was more than thankful to know that there were people who truly cared for her.
"Hey kid, want to play soccer?" Karin asked with a smirk.
Aleister's face lit up. "You know how to play one? I'd like to try. I never really played any sports."
Karin proudly grinned. "Then I will be taking much of your time. Rukia-nee, that's alright?"
Rukia nodded in glee. "Sure."
"Come on then kid, I'll teach you the basics right now," he said and pulled Aleister from her father who wailed like a child once again.
Ichigo snarled. "Will you quit acting like that? It's embarrassing."
"Ah but I'm just so happy that I'm a grandfather now." There was an evil smirk from his eyes. "How about I set you up on dates so you could also give me one?"
"Mind your business!"
"Perhaps he has a thing for guys," Ulquiorra suggested with a smug look. Ichigo turned to him harshly and growled. Rukia laughed. It was just like years ago. When finding the time to talk to him, Isshin walked towards Ulquiorra and gave him a soft pat on the shoulder.
"Take care of her. I'm glad to see her smiling and laughing."
They watched as Rukia hit Ichigo in the head when he called her midget. "Some things never changed," Ulquiorra commented. "Perhaps someday, he'll find someone like her. I'm sorry I took her away."
Isshin gave him an incredulous look. "Are you kidding me? She had always been head over heels in love with you. And I feel mighty proud that she did well on her own. Guess I'll be teaching that boy a lot of stuffs."
Ulquiorra gave him a slanted look. "Ah that's where I'll beg to disagree - no way will you be teaching him stuffs like you taught Ichigo."
The older man actually guffawed. "You've always been an interesting man. I never even thought you had it in you to humor me like that."
Thirteen years later…
"You've been bailed out Mr. Schiffer!" the cop informed said guy through a shout that is loud enough for everyone to hear as a guy with silver hair raised his head before finally managing to stand up and dust his pants off before walking out from the cell that held him there for three hours.
Without a word, he walked away and on towards the waiting area, expecting to see one man he hoped to see but to his dismay, it wasn't Ulquiorra Schiffer who came to fetch him. It was Aleister's favorite guy – Nnoitra Jiruga.
He was leaning on the wall with his arms crossed together. "You seem to start making this a habit, young man." He did not grin like he always used to. He was serious now as he stared at Aleister, a hint of disapproval shadowing his eyes.
"Where's dad?" he asked instead, ignoring the statement earlier.
"I was the one present when the cops called. Your father does not need to know what you are into the past few weeks." He leaned away from the wall as they both started walking down the steps, towards the December cold. Nnoitra handed him a coat. "Neliel asked me to give this to you just in case you forgot to wear your coat."
Aleister managed a soft thank you and wore the said coat, courtesy of his Aunt Neliel.
"What's your excuse this time, Aleister? This is the second time and you're lucky I was always the one able to learn about this," Nnoitra asked casually. He did not mention that it was still thanks to his connections in the street. He might have married a decent girl but it doesn't mean he had cut his communication with the other bikers on the street. It was thanks to them that he managed to learn what happened to this young man who was suddenly starting to get delinquent while his father was oblivious about it.
"Nothing. I just felt the need to beat someone," he answered grudgingly. Of course, Nnoitra already knew the real reason since the other bikers told him already. He just wanted to hear it straight from Aleister's mouth. But the boy – although not a son to Ulquiorra by blood – had the same attitude like the green-eyed who cannot be swayed.
Alesiter stepped down from the police station and held his hand out. And Nnoitra saw the wistful look on his face before he raised his head and looked up. "Mom loves the snow."
The younger of the two sighed then turned to Nnoitra. "You think dad will get mad if he learned about this?" his voice was uncharacteristically afraid and uncertain at the same time as he sought reassurance from Nnoitra.
Nnoitra tucked one hand inside the coat's pocket. "I cannot say he wouldn't but I think he'll try to understand why you are turning delinquent the past few months. As a matter of fact, I find it surprising that you only got yourself incarcerated twice even though it happened for a few hours only."
Aleister changed the subject as they walked along the road. "How come you were the one who received the call?"
This time, the infamous Nnoitra grin spread across Nnoitra's face. "Would you believe he suddenly left me in-charge of the office? There was an emergency situation that warrants his presence so he took the earliest possible flight for America. It seems one of the branches had suddenly shut down."
Disappointment washed the young man's face. "Oh, so it is work again." there was a hint of bitterness in his tone which did not go unnoticed.
Nnoitra patted his shoulder before he looked upwards. "There are different kinds of dealing with emotions and your father is certainly one who doesn't know how to express those whirling emotions inside him. He only felt himself raw and open when in front of your mother."
"I just wish he would talk to me too," he glanced at his watch. "Damn, it's Hisana's – "
"Don't worry about your sister. The butler had gone and fetched her from school."
"Tomorrow is the day isn't it?" Aleister asked and bunched his fist.
Kurosaki Ichigo whistled softly before he decided to head out, to stand beside the man who was looking at the vast ocean, both his hands were on his pocket as he stood, unmindful of the cold. "The rest of the group is inside," he said. By rest of the group, he meant Grimmjaw and Toshirou and Neliel. Before long, they have not realized that Nnoitra had become part of their small group of friends. And even those who had served under Rukia had been part of their lives already.
"I know," his friend answered without glancing at him, his eyes remained fixed on the waves that dances with the sand.
The orange haired sighed and looked at the horizon. "Talk to me man – to us."
"What's there to talk about?" Ulquiorra asked in soft whisper.
"Okay, you don't want to talk to us? That's fine by me but you seem to have forgotten that you have a family that needed to hear words from you as well."
The growl left Ichigo's face when he saw how Ulquiorra bunched his fist in controlled anger. According to Neliel, Aleister was arrested yesterday and his father was not informed about it. He wondered if that was the reason the man is irked right now.
His face softened. "Come on inside. We'll wait for the rest to come. This is a special day, remember?"
"There is a place I needed to go to. I'll be back in a few hours."
The young girl walked out from the school with her head bowed while her classmates were snickering behind her. She does not get why they were making a big deal just because she had been nothing but weird the past months already, always demanding where her mom is and at the same time, she remained focused on being quiet inside the classroom which was a big shift from her usually bubbly persona way back.
The greeting made her look up and her face brightened as she walked towards the waiting guy who was leaning on the gate. "Al!"
'What's with the sorry look, squirt?" he asked with a tease before turning to the small group of children who were whispering with each other. "They did something to you?" he asked in worry.
Her name is Hisana Rhein Kuchiki Schiffer, age ten. At a young age, her parent's friends always told her that she is growing up as her mother's spitting image just like Aleister although their major difference would be their eyes and hair. While Aleister had silver, she had raven. While his eyes were amethyst in color, hers were big emerald orbs. She shook her head at the question. "No. They just thought I was all weird because I don't participate in class anymore." But while she is indeed her mother's and Aleister's spitting image, she is nowhere like them. In fact, everyone had noticed that she had taken more from Ulquiorra when it comes to personality. Though not entirely the introvert part.
Aleister extended his right hand and his sister took it as they walked side by side towards his awaiting motorcycle. "Let's go for a ride."
He carried her up and mounted her on the motorcycle before he fixed the small helmet around her head while the onlookers watched with envy at the close knit relationship between the siblings. Those who already knew them knew how Aleister is fiercely protective of his younger sister who was showing signs of musical talent.
"Where will we go?" she asked as her brother fixed her bag.
"Let's go see mom," he answered and finally started the engine. They rode in silence due to Hisana enjoying the ride very much like she always does when he allowed her to ride on his motorcycle with him.
The ride took fifteen minutes before finally they reached the cemetery. Aleister stepped down from the motorcycle before he helped his sister down. The ten year old looked confused as she looked around. "Will mom ever come back?" she asked innocently as he held her hand and they walked together towards the stone that had their mother's name engraved on it.
"No, but I'm sure she's always watching us," he assured her with a gentle squeeze of the hand.
They stood there together, the young child still innocent to grasp the concept of death. "So if she does, will she look after daddy then?" her green eyes met amethyst and they were full of questions.
Aleister cleared his throat before a smile plastered his face. "I hope so," he sighed and sat on his knees, his sister following his action. He pulled his sister close to him, his arm draped around her shoulder and he smiled. "Happy birthday mom. We missed you a lot."
To his surprise, he heard Hisana sobbing softly so he glanced at her. "Al, does dad hate me?" she blurted the question which shocked the twenty-one year old guy.
"Why'd you think that?"
"Because when mom went away, he stopped coming to school to fetch me," she cried. "The girls in school said dad hated me now because he never came to fetch me."
Aleister felt his chest tightening and he tightened his hold on his sister. "Dad doesn't hate you, Hisana. He – "
"Loves both of you."
They turned in unison and found Ulquiorra standing there. "Dad." Al stood up and dusted Hisana's pants before he did the same thing to himself. The scene warmed Ulquiorra's heart.
"I just thought I'd come to greet your mom happy birthday," he said and took a few steps towards them before he bent down so that he could be eye to eye with his daughter. His left hand ruffled her hair. He heard the small talk between the two and he knew he had been neglecting them for eighteen months since Rukia passed away peacefully. "I don't hate you, Hisana. And I am so sorry that I never came to fetch you."
Hisana encircled her arms around his waist and cried there while Ulquiorra straightened up and met Aleister's eyes. "We are going to have a long talk later, young man."
Aleister looked away in guilt. They stood there in silence, the three of them and it struck the father that it was probably the first time in eighteen months that they stood side by side. Guilt fed at him. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to fetch you since," he said to his daughter.
"Daddy, do you think mom is happy?" she asked instead.
He stared at the stone which bore the name of Rukia.
Beloved Mother and daughter
Died Jul 2, 2011
"They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind
In those whom they have blessed they live a life again,
And shall live through the years, eternal life, and grow each day more beautiful,
As time declares their good, forgets the rest and prove." "
"Yes, I think she is. She died with a smile," he answered. He lifted his daughter up and carried her like he usually did before.
Aleister glanced at his father. "Do you miss her?" he asked.
"Terribly," he admitted. "We separated for nine years, and we only managed to live together for eleven and a half years. For me, I feel like the time was too short for both of us."
The younger man knew how Ulquiorra loves his mom so deeply. He grew up seeing it with his own eyes that sometimes he wondered how two different people could complement each other so much. He was witness to their devotion to each other. And so he knew that Ulquiorra would be the first man who would be devastated from his mother's passing.
And he wasn't mistaken. Although their mom passed away peacefully, Ulquiorra still took it hardly though it was very hard for the others to see that. He had been mostly quiet and talked less – even to them – and he focused more on the business empire that was left on his shoulder.
"It's been eighteen months since that day she went away but I still felt like it was just yesterday," Ulquiorra muttered, talking more to Aleister now than to his daughter who was simply listening there. "I know I had a lot of misgivings and I certainly could not atone for that. But I want the two of you to know that I don't hate you. I love you both. It's just that – "
A gentle look crossed Aleister's eyes and Ulquiorra seemed to be looking at Rukia. "You don't have to explain dad. You think I'm still too young not to understand you?"
A soft chuckle escaped his lips at his son's question. "No. You're grown up now."
Aleister sighed and stared at Rukia's name. "I just wished you would talk to me like you usually did. I know you can only express yourself to mom – you only allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of her, but I want to share that kind of connection with you too, dad. I really do." He risked a glance at his father's direction and saw him looking at him, his eyes dried with unshed tears. "You've grown old dad and I want to take care of you like you did to me and mom. I wanted to give something back. You treated me like I am your real son."
"You are my real son, regardless of the blood connection. Remember that," he said with emphasis before the older man shifted Hisana's position. "I took care of you because I love you and I definitely can never forgive myself if something bad happens to you."
Aleister remembered that it was Ulquiorra who was there for him when he started growing up bitterly after learning who his real father was. Ulquiorra always made sure to remind him that it was nobody's fault that he was born from such tragedy. In fact, he was the one who reminded him to be thankful of his mother because Rukia fought for him when ordered to abort her unborn child. Slowly and gradually, he forgot who his real father is and came to see Ulquiorra as the true one.
"I still have the two of you. I told myself that earlier and that is why I cannot grieve for so long. Son, forgive me."
"There is nothing to apologize for."
"There is and Rukia will not forgive me if I continue being like this."
At this, Al smiled. "You love her so much. I always knew this but it still amazed me how the two of you could love so intensely, so deeply. I wonder if I could ever find a girl I could share such kind of connection."
"You will and someday, if you ever found one, she's one lucky girl. You're a good man, son, and I am very proud of you."
"Have you forgiven grandpa?"
There was a small smile playing on his lips. "I did. I never met your grandfather when he was alive. I hated him for what he did – him being the reason why me and Rukia lost nine years of communication. But now that I think about it, I had Rukia back and that is enough for me to forgive a man I never met."
"I think he will have liked you if he was alive. Barragan used to tell me that you were like Uncle Byakuya so he too thought that Ginrei-sama may have liked you."
"That's water under the bridge now, no?" he asked. He noticed how Aleister was debating against something. "Is there something you wished to tell me?"
Reluctantly, Al scratched his head bashfully which reminded Ulquiorra of the boy that Al was when he first met him. "I was ah, wondering if you could come at my exhibit. That is if you're not busy."
An amused smile curved the pale man's lips. "I'd give everything to attend that. When will it be?"
There was a reluctant smile. "It's on the thirteenth of the month. And I learned you had a big thing coming there. So…really, I would understand it if you could not come."
"That can be taken care of." He gave his son a reassuring nod before once again looking back at the stone. Al watched his father closely while remembering that scene eighteen months ago. It was a privilege for him and Hisana then to witness how husband and wife said their goodbyes.
She lay on her bed, dying. That much everyone can tell just by hearing her labored breath. It was the same sickness that killed her sister – a sister she never knew. Hisana Kuchiki, the first born of the three siblings died the same way and just like her, Rukia learned she was sick when it was already too late for medications, for other alternatives. She doesn't remember having to feel the symptoms until it was already at a terminal level. A pancreatic cancer.
"Rukia," Aleister shifted from his position when finally, his father – although not by blood – had emerged from the door, exhausted from his trip abroad. Upon learning of her sickness, he immediately cancelled all appointments and did not give a damn about losing a fair number of clients.
Said woman opened her eyes and forced a smile on her pale lips. "Ulquiorra," she breathed, her eyes asking him forgiveness. She had been attending medication secretly, not bothering to tell her friends nor families about it, fearing that they would just worry about her. Even her doctor thought that she could be saved but it was too late when finally they discovered that she was already at a terminal stage and they all apologized for their inability to do anything to save her.
"Daddy," the eight and a half year old girl cried and ran to her father. Ulquiorra scooped her up into his arms and went towards his wife.
The first thing he heard her say was this. "I love you."
Sitting on the edge of the bed, he reached for her hand, uncaring if their other friends are around them, listening. "I love you more," he responded as he pressed her hands against his lips, tears threatening to fall down from his green eyes. Neliel called and told him everything already.
Rukia smiled gently at the devastated look from him. "Don't grieve for me. I am happy – even until now, knowing you loved me so much."
Tactfully, the group left and only Aleister and Hisana stood as witnesses to a talk that would be the last for husband and wife. Hisana looked up and saw his father crying and so she did what an innocent child would do, brushing it away while she cried confusedly.
"Just listen to me, okay?" she requested from her husband who managed a small nod. "I am sorry for keeping this from you. I learned it only a month ago. I wanted to live my remaining days with the rest of you without all of you thinking I would be gone anytime soon. I know it was selfish but I wanted to spare you that pain of…" she drew a deep breath. Hisana stepped down from her father's lap and went towards her brother who was clutching his hair tightly.
"Hush now," Ulquiorra spoke but Rukia shook her head.
"I've so much to tell you…Aleister, even until now, I am very thankful for the fact that you loved him as your own. And I wanted you to continue guiding him. And Hisana…" once again, she drew a deep breath as a sharp pain stabbed her whole being but she still smiled nonetheless. "Hisana…she always said she wanted to grow up like you…" her lips curved into a bright smile against her pale lips. "The two adores you so much."
"Mom…" it was Aleister who spoke this time in a croaked voice as he held his sister tightly on his lap, fearing that she too would go.
Rukia smiled tiredly and closed her eyes but she continued speaking. "It was too short for us but I treasured all our moments, the two of us and together with those we hold dear. I truly am happy…I love the three of you…"
"Hey Rukia, don't sleep on us yet…" Ulquiorra urged, a deep fear rising inside him.
"I won't," she whispered, her hands beckoning her children to move closer to them but her eyes were still closed. It suddenly became too bright for her to see. "Al, look after your father and sister okay? I trust you to do that."
"But – "
"No buts," she cut him off despite the softness of her voice.
"For the last time, let me hold your hands," she said as her left held Aleister's and Hisana's hands. Ulquiorra never let go of her right hand. "It still feels so warm…"
"We love you mom," Aleister cried.
There was a gentle smile on her face as she drifted back to sleep. Ulquiorra leaned closer and kissed her lips, passionately and with a pained heart. "I love you," he repeated the words solemnly. "Always you and will forever be you, Rukia."
She heard him because she whispered back. "As do I."
She slept back and six hours later, she passed away – her face filled with a contented and peaceful look.
Their conversation was short but Aleister read all the emotions that transpired between the two and he knew there will never be anyone who could replace his mother in Ulquiorra's heart.
It turned out that on that exhibit, Aleister's greatest pride was the family picture he had drawn. One was where the whole family was complete and the other one consisted only of his parents. The emotions reflected in their eyes were too real for the viewers to see and they were all drawn towards the work of art.
For his part, Ulquiorra could only stand there with his daughter, his heart swelling with pride as he stared at the painting of him and Rukia. He remembered that scene. It was during their fifth wedding anniversary.
"You've got such a talented kid," one critic approached him and shook his hand.
"He's got a promising future ahead of him. If you don't mind, Mr. Schiffer, I would like to employ him. People with such gifts are rare to find now and it would be a waste if he doesn't hone it even more," the critic urged.
Ulquiorra glanced at his son who was surrounded by hordes of viewers giving him their appreciation and love for his art. "I wouldn't mind but I think my son has a mind of his own. You can talk it out with him."
The critic nodded in gratitude. "Yes, yes, of course but I thought it best to seek your approval first. Everyone knows how fiercely protective you are of your family."
This time, Ulquiorra turned to the critic and spoke seriously. "I wouldn't really mind as long as people would not exploit and use him. That young man and this girl are my children and they are the only treasures left to me by my wife so I wouldn't really forgive anyone who dare fool or hurt them. I hope you understand where that protectiveness comes from."
The critic smiled reassuringly and cleared his throat. "Of course sir. You must love your wife so terribly."
"I guess that painting does not lie then. A pleasure talking to you, Mr. Schiffer and I guarantee you that I will look after your son should he accept."
Ulquiorra nodded. "I am in your debt."
"Daddy, Al's work is awesome, don't you think so?" Hisana tugged at him.
"Yes, he's awesome. And I heard you're also doing great in music."
Bashfully, his daughter smiled before she hugged him tightly. "I love you daddy."
"I know and I love you back," he responded tenderly.
Nearly fifteen years later, one grown-up girl and her brother stood side by side in front of the two stones that bore their parents' names. He went peacefully too. Three months ago, he went and died peacefully, satisfied that his children were doing well. Life moved on after Rukia's death. A few years after her death, Orihime and her husband died in a car accident which only spared the life of their fifteen year old daughter who was good friends with Hisana. Since then, she lived under the guidance of Neliel who was gifted with a son who was about three years older than Hisana. The rest of their parents' friends had their own children too and that Hisana is going on a date with Toshirou's son who was about the same age as Neliel's son.
"I can't believe he went away already," Hisana said in a croaky voice.
"He was happy Hisana," he pointed out and rubbed his eyes. Damn, he's already thirty six years old and he could still cry like a child. "He had always been the best father."
"You think he will approve of Uncle Toshirou's son?" she asked and looked up at him. "I haven't gotten the chance to introduce him formally as my boyfriend."
Aleister grinned. "He knew about it. We saw you with him once and he said he can be satisfied with Brigh."
Hisana smiled and knelt down so she could run her fingers over the names of her parents. "I can't believe I still miss mom despite the many years that passed by."
"We will always miss the two of them. You know that."
There was a wan smile playing on Hisana's lips as she settled her fingers longer on her father's name. "I grew up chasing his shadow and people always told me I am growing up like him yet it made me even proud hearing that." She sighed as a single tear escaped her eyes once more. "I always lived my life for him and I was happy doing that."For a moment, a shadow of a grieving smile curved her lips. "That was why it was too hard for me to let him go…"
"I think I can say that I am freed of his ghost and now I can say with so much resolution that I do not begrudge him of his rest."
Aleister placed a hand on his sister's shoulder and once again remembered – this time, the scene of his father's passing.
Neliel, already in her old age, turned to her husband for comfort as she watched the two grown-up children cry in front of their father. It's really amazing how two adults could suddenly become children once more in the eyes of many.
"Daddy, no, don't go yet," Hisana, ripe in beauty, pleaded as she held her father's hand.
A wan smile from the aged man. "Ah but my time has come, Hisana."
She shook her head vehemently and turned to her brother who was quietly keening just beside her. It was obvious in the eyes of those gathered around that the two could not take it. "Al," her voice was pleading… "Tell daddy not to go yet…"
It tore the adults' hearts to hear Hisana plead this way. This was what they have always feared knowing Hisana grew up chasing her father's shadow. She will take this the hardest.
"I wish I could. I really wish I could, squirt," Aleister, already thirty six and still single, said in a pained voice. He raked his hair painfully and shamelessly cried as he sat on his father's bed and held his one hand, the other one was held by Hisana. "Damn it…"
Ulquiorra cracked his eyes open and leveled his gaze with his children before an amused look crossed his eyes. "What's this? Already old enough and you both are still cry babies?" he asked in a lighter tone.
"It's so unfair," Hisana wailed like a child, unashamed of her actions even if in front of her father's friends.
"Life never is fair," Aleister spoke and rubbed his eyes. "You taught me this before, daddy. And I remember it still."
"I'm glad," he sighed and stared beyond, as if he could see someone there that no one else could. He gently squeezed Hisana's hand. "You have to let me go, child."
"No!" her voice had risen to a notch. "Don't do this dad…I…I don't want you to go yet. I mean, there are still a lot to show you, to learn from you…I wanted to make you proud."
"Ah, but I am proud of you both. You two made a name for yourselves in the field you have chosen," he said, his voice getting softer by the minute.
Hisana's shoulder shook as she cried openly while shaking her head in vehemence, as if by doing so would prevent her father from ever going. "Don't go yet, I beg of you daddy…what about me?"
Ulquiorra managed a soft chuckle. "I don't have to worry about you anymore. I saw you growing up so dependable, so independent of most things and thus I know you can survive in this world even without me anymore…" his eyes, unseeing, a bright smile curved his lips. "Aleister, you still have him and others who treasure you too."
He couldn't help it but a tear escaped his eyes and Hisana gently brushed it. He wistfully smiled. "I know I am being selfish but I longed to be with her…" everyone can clearly hear the strain beneath his voice and Neliel and the rest of their friends could only close their eyes, Ulquiorr's words tearing at their hearts.
Hisana screwed her eyes shut and tried to prevent her tears while her chest ache so much. To hear a man declare such words even after so many years since her passing, she couldn't help it. Such love for her mother. Aleister too had the same thought upon hearing that and he could not help but adore this man even more. Their mother was one lucky woman indeed when she was alive. To have loved a man who would love her so infinitely…so endlessly…
"I cannot let her wait any longer," he said once again. He unclasped his hands from their hold and sighed. "I don't have any regrets living the life I led. You two had been our greatest pride and continue looking out for each other," he whispered. He paused and after a long while, he spoke again. "Your mother is waiting, I cannot linger any longer. You must let me go child, the time has come for me to depart and be with her once more. I love you both."
He lay quietly for a while before he went with a single tear in his eyes."Rukia…"
The sudden cold made his children stiffen a little before they slowly and fearfully looked at their father's face to find him smiling in his forever slumber. "Dad…?" both said at the same time and when no reply came, they knew…he already went.
The two wailed and keened before Hisana wrapped her arms around her father's aged body. "I love you so much daddy. So very damn much…" her body shook as she shamelessly wailed, not caring if there are others who could see her in this state. Even the nurses assigned to her father could not help but cry at the breaking scene between father and his children. To have been loved like this, he must have loved them more, must have cherished them and must have reared them so beautifully.
Aleister, for his part, stood up from the bed and kissed his father's forehead. "It's painful but…have a goodnight sleep, daddy." His voice cracked there but he did not give a damn. He brushed his father's face tenderly and cried. Thirty six years old and still a crybaby, his father would definitely say that.
For his part, Ichigo went and gave his departed friend a lonely look and brushed his face in an affectionate and manly manner before clasping his hand. "Farewell pal. Tell those we'd loved together that we'll be there soon." For only a few of them remained. Renji died from a plane crash twenty months after Rukia's wedding. He was the first to go. Rangiku was killed by a crazed fanatic. Then there was Rukia, then Orihime, and now Ulquiorra. He turned to Aleister. "I grieve for him too. All of us. But I think it would make his passing acceptable if you guys let him go. He could only rest peacefully knowing you guys do not deny him of the one thing he asked from you – to let him go and be with her. With the rest of them."
And because of that love, the two could not begrudge him the request that they let him go, to let him finally reunite with the one he lost a few years ago. The two walked away from the two stones towards the waiting man who gave them the privacy they needed. Brigh stood there and waited patiently. Hisana chuckled a little and turned to her brother.
"I remember how we always set him up on dates," she said.
"And he always declined. He wasn't too old then and there were still many who fancied him," Aleister retorted amusedly. Then his eyes flashed a wistful look that was easily replaced with happiness. "But he remained faithful to mom."
Aleister shook hands with Brigh when they were finally in front of him. Hisana turned to her brother. "Endlessly. That's how he loved her." She kissed her brother's cheek. "I love you Al."
Said man ruffled her hair. "Love you back, squirt." He turned to Brigh this time when his sister climbed the car. "Thanks for bringing her here."
Aleister nodded. "I've learned so much from my father and I've taken so much from him as well – which means – I, too, am fiercely protective of her. She maybe twenty-five now but she still has a lot to learn."
Brigh read through the lines and smiled reassuringly. "Hey, your sister is a gem and I promise I will take care of her. You worry too much about her." He patted Aleister's shoulder in a friendly gesture. "Please entrust her to me."
The older Schiffer sibling stared at Brigh carefully before he nodded slowly. "I know you will take care of her. Still, I can't help but issue a threat just in case you dare hurt her in any way. Hisana – she's the only treasure left to me so please understand where that protectiveness comes from." He wasn't aware that this line was also delivered by his father before.
"What's taking you so long?" Hisana asked and peered from the car with a questioning look.
Al chuckled and walked towards her while Brigh watched with merriment at the siblings' closeness. The age gap didn't matter for the siblings. They grew up as best of friends. Many people commented on her strong bond with her brother and those who knew both Ulquiorra and Rukia could not help but comment on how well they raised their kids. So this is what it meant to have a sibling eh? Too bad he was the only child of his parents.
He kissed his sister's forehead. "Good luck for the tour abroad. I'm pretty sure it will be just a huge success like always."
She beamed though she pouted a little. "You never came to one of my concerts you know."
A soft laughter. "I guess I've too much on my shoulder now. I may not be there but hey, I'm one of your avid fans."
She wrinkled her nose. "Take care."
"I will. Hey Brigh, why don't you drive her away already before she starts crying over me again?" he suggested as he glanced at the other male who laughed at the remark before shaking hands with him once more and he too climbed the car while Aleister was left there standing.
"Do you plan growing up without a wife? Find a girl already, you're not getting younger," Hisana suggested and glanced at him worriedly. The line was familiar to her.
"Daddy, it's now me, you and Al against the world right?" the innocent child asked one time while they were eating together.
Aleister chuckled at the comment and turned to their father. Ulquiorra gave a soft laugh at her innocence. "I'm afraid it's not always us against the world, Hisana, I'm not getting any younger."
Even Aleister remembered that and grinned. "I've a woman you know but she's nowhere good as mom. But she's good enough for me I think. Now go away." He shooed them while Brigh drove with mirth at the exchange.
Aleister watched the car speed away before he once again turned to look back at his parents' graves. He will always miss them. He glanced at the clear sky and smiled. "Heh…I guess there really is an endless love eh?" His parents showed him that. He climbed his motorcycle and put his helmet on. He reached something from his bag - it was a novel written by Lisa. It was entitled 'Reclaimed Love' and it was Lisa's first novel.
It told the story of Rukia and Ulquiorra - from childhood until what happened and how they reclaimed the love that was lost for nine years. He remembered how the book sold out. Those who were familiar with the Ice Maiden title thought it an opportunity to unravel the person that she was behind the title and mask of an ice lady. He remembered how he was harassed by many questions from people who found out that it was his parents' story. Most were filled with awe while some envied the two. When he once mentioned this to his parents, they only chuckled to themselves and Aleister remembered his mother's words. Someday, you will create your own story too. That someday will come when you find the person you treat as the dearest to you - above anyone else. He always wondered if her words held some truth to it.
With their deaths, he knew he and Hisana are now ready to create their own story too. It would be Rukia and Ulquiorra no longer. This time it would be Hisana and him with their partners who will love them just as infinitely. He drove, his heart at peace knowing his parents are not denied of their rest. They will always remember the lessons that were imparted to them.
Hisana and him always believed that they will also find themselves the kind of love that kept their father going for fifteen years even without their mom and soon, when they find what that is, they'll have something to brag to them in the afterlife. Maybe it wouldn't be as intriguing as Reclaimed Love as Lisa claimed it but it would still be a story worthy to brag about.
There goes - many thanks to everyone who continued watching out for this story. And lastly, to those who reviewed - thanks: buchielle, kejora, onlyluna, SparklyColours, yuzy, Echo Uchiha, valkyrie-23, and whittney.