AN: I wrote the first sentence of this fic on February 3rd of this year. At that time, I had absolutely no idea where it was going, nor even how long the fic would be; I knew Ichigo would die, there would be at least one kiss, and there would be at least one big villain, and that was about it. And then I kept writing, and characters started to emerge, and with a good deal of help from my mother, I managed to get some sort of cohesive plot hammered into shape. She had no idea who the characters were, or really why I was writing this thing in the first place, but she listened to me agonize over plot holes and writer's block for ages and provided several very neat ideas that ended up in the final copy. I honestly have no idea if she'll ever even read this fic, but just in case—thanks, Mom! :D
The first draft of Deathsong, which was about 48,000 words, went out to my best friend and beta Jade Sabre (who has some amazing Dragon Age and Neverwinter Nights 2 fics on here, so go read them) at the end of March. I got it back not long after with pages of edits and an edict to add at least two more chapters. (I may have cried. May have. Just a little.)
God bless her, though, because she was right. This fic is ten times what it was without her help (and ten thousand words longer, jeez), and I can't thank her enough for suffering through my endless whining about present tense and pacing, and for so calmly nixing my excessive adoration of adverbs. I love you, Jadeykins.
I'd also like to thank y'all, readers, for being so kind to my..."erratic" updates. Your patience has been so appreciated, and your comments have made every frustrated moment worthwhile. Thank you for sticking around to the end.
Soundtrack for this chapter: The last one! Sailing on a Ship by Phil Wickham. And also for the final time: the link to listen online, is, as always, on my profile.
I hope you enjoy, and again, thank you for reading.
Ichigo wakes up in the early hours of the fourth day. He recognizes the narrow beds and the cool, clinical smell in the air, and realizes he is in the infirmary of the Fourth. The room is still dim; the sky is just beginning to lighten around the edges, and the only glow is from the muted yellow gleam of Orihime's Shun Shun Rikka where she bends over another figure across the room. Renji, he realizes from the bright red mop of hair that falls unbound over the pillow.
"Inoue," he croaks, his voice hoarse from disuse, and she glances up in surprise. The glow disappears back into her hands as she smiles; Renji lets out a grumble and rolls away from them both to face the wall, and Orihime makes her way over to an empty chair by his bedside.
"Welcome back!" she says in an enthusiastic whisper that won't wake Renji, and as the room slowly lightens with the sun, she tells him of what happened after the Fourth had arrived.
They'd been a sorry sight, the three of them, sodden and barely mobile—Ichigo had slipped into unconsciousness without the other two even realizing, and the Fourth's shocked emergency relief team had brought them and Edogawa directly to the intensive ward to be treated. There had been something wrong with the wounds to Ichigo's stomach and thigh that prevented Unohana's kidou from working properly—the last remnants of Edogawa's work, she'd thought—so she'd sent for Orihime, who'd had much less trouble. However, their injuries had been far too extensive to heal in a single session, so she'd been stopping by for a few hours each morning to continue working.
"But you know, Kurosaki-kun," Orihime says with pensive eyebrows, "your wounds didn't even open up until they got you here. I've seen a lot of stomach injuries and really, yours should have bled all over the place."
"Zangetsu," Ichigo realizes. That was where the old man had been at the end—if Edogawa had been willing to let Ichigo bleed out from his injuries, Zangetsu hadn't, and he'd been the one who had brought him back in the end, the one holding the wounds closed until help could arrive. Thanks, old man, he thinks, and he feels him rumble in response.
I helped, the Hollow says acerbically, startling the hell out of Ichigo before he remembers its freedom and their new and uncertain partnership, but the Hollow's voice is distant and faint in the back of his mind, and Ichigo suspects it is as tired as he is.
Oh, shut up, he thinks, and the Hollow laughs.
He opens his eyes—he hadn't even realized they'd closed—to see Orihime bending over him in concern. Oops. "Sorry, Inoue. Just straightening a few things out."
She sits back, relieved. "Oh, of course! Will you say hello to Zangetsu for me?"
"Sure." They fall quiet for a moment, and then a cloud passes over the sun, making Renji's hair the loudest thing in the room, and Ichigo realizes he has not seen Rukia at all. "Hey, Inoue, how is—everybody?"
Orihime smiles, and Ichigo knows she's seen right through him. "They will both be fine," she says, and a wave of relief crashes over him. "Abarai-kun is supposed to be released this afternoon. His wrist is almost all better, and he's only got a few scars. I think they look exciting! Like a pirate."
Ichigo snorts. "He couldn't pull off the eyepatch."
"Perhaps not," she says, giggling. "And Kuchiki-san is doing well, too. Unohana-san says she can go home in two or three days."
"Good. That's good," says Ichigo, trying for nonchalance and failing. Orihime smiles again, softer, and Ichigo feels a quiet rush of gratitude. "Thanks, Inoue."
"You're welcome, Kurosaki-kun. Oh, but I should tell you before I forget; you're not supposed to get up anytime soon. You keep opening wounds when you move in your sleep, you know, and then you start bleeding all over the place. It's really messy."
"Oh, yes. Internal bleeding, external bleeding," she says, ticking them off on her fingers. "Sometimes both! Unohana-san says she's requested that you remain under her care until she personally discharges you." Her eyes brighten with amusement, and she adds in a mock-whisper, "I don't think it's really a request!"
Ichigo winces, and Orihime laughs. "Guess I better not take off, then." He thinks of the last time he'd slipped away from Unohana and its disastrous results—and then a thought occurs to him, sapping his humor and reminding him how he'd come to be there in the first place. "Hey, Inoue—what happened to Edogawa?"
Orihime hesitates, her own smile slipping, and her fingers fidget in her lap. "Unohana-san says they've taken him into custody."
"He survived, then," Ichigo says with a mixture of relief and muted irritation. "Did you fix his hands?"
She looks down at her fingers, and it seems to take a conscious effort on her part to still them. "I…he wouldn't let me. He said he didn't want to be touched by Hollow sympathizers."
Ichigo doesn't know what to say, but before he can stumble through any kind of apology, her head comes up again, and her face is calm and unhurt. "I think," she says, her voice thoughtful, "that something went wrong in his mind when he lost his fingers." Her eyes go distant, as if she is replaying the scene in her head. "He was raving, you know, while the Fourth was working on him. I wanted to help, but every time I got close with the Shun Shun Rikka he became so angry. And then they took him off for questioning, and he confessed before they even got started."
Ichigo blinks. "He confessed?"
"Mm? Oh, yes! Twice, actually." Orihime pats his arm. "The captains have already confirmed your innocence. Ukitake-san gave a wonderful speech for you."
He lets his head thump back onto the pillow, bewildered and relieved. Something heavy seems to have lifted off his chest, something he hadn't even realized was there—but before he can dwell too long on the sensation, Orihime stands to go.
"School," she reminds him with a little laugh and with only the slightest hesitation, she squeezes his hand, snatches up a bag he hadn't even noticed, and whisks out the door, and Ichigo, feeling wonderfully light, allows himself to doze off into a proper sleep.
When he wakes again, the sun slanting through the window tells him it is barely past noon. He hears a rustling noise and looks over to see Renji pulling on his kosode with a wince. Ichigo catches a glimpse of the dressing on his hand and he remembers the torn tendons.
"How's the wrist?" Ichigo asks, and Renji cuts his eyes at him as he tugs his sleeves into place.
"Sure not as shitty as you look."
"Bastard." Renji stalks across the room and stares down at him for a moment. Ichigo isn't sure what he's looking for, so he waits—and then Renji drops his loosely-folded blanket on Ichigo's face. "I told you not to be a damn martyr."
"Wasn't. You wouldn't let me," Ichigo says, muffled by the blanket until he pulls it down from his face.
Renji slings a small bag of medicines and bandages over his shoulder. "Not for your lack of trying. Don't hang around here too long or I'll tell the captains you're shirking your duties."
"Thanks a lot." He means it to be sarcastic, but Ichigo suddenly thinks of Rukia, and when he speaks again, he is entirely sincere. "And Renji…thanks. For—yeah."
Renji glances at the east wall, and Ichigo knows Rukia must be sleeping on the other side of it. "Could've done a damn sight better."
"Could've done worse," Ichigo reminds him, and Renji silently allows him the point.
There is a short pause before Renji stirs. He thumps a fist on Ichigo's shoulder, making him yelp, and with a shit-eating grin and a wave, he heads for the door. "I'll see you, Ichigo," he calls over his shoulder, and then he rounds the corner out of sight.
Just as Ichigo is beginning to contemplate shredding his blankets out of boredom, he hears a rustle of cloth in his doorway, and when he rolls his head over, it is Rukia, standing there with serious eyes.
She is almost as swathed in bandages as he is; he can see them on her shoulder where he'd stabbed her clean through, wrapped around the thick padding that pokes out from under the collar of her yukata. There are more bandages on her wrists and hands and fingers; blood has leaked through the wrapping on her thumb, a slice that apparently refuses to heal, and a half-dozen butterfly strips are scattered across her cheeks and forehead. Bruises have blossomed between the bandages on her hands and forearms, and Ichigo can see her leg swollen up past the plaster that coats her ankle even from across the room. His guilt swells up so fast he nearly chokes on it.
She closes the door.
"Hey," he says at length, and Rukia crosses the room with an unsteady gait until she reaches him. "You're still limping."
"I am not yet supposed to be out of bed," she admits.
Ichigo shifts, almost entirely suppressing his grunt of pain, and makes room. "Sit," he says, and she does.
It is a narrow bed, but Rukia is a narrow sort of person, and as she perches easily with her hands braced on each side of her, an easy quiet falls over the room. He feels like he should say something, but his mind is blank, and she seems content to simply sit on the edge of his bed with her heels swinging in the silence. Then Ichigo sees that her thumb has started bleeding again, threatening to stain the blanket, and without thinking he reaches over and draws her hand into his own. They both look down at his thumb as it brushes over hers, but as Ichigo opens his mouth, Rukia cuts him off.
"If you are preparing to apologize again, please close your mouth."
And he does, with a clack and a bewildered look. There is silence in their little space, and then Rukia's hand presses down on his as she turns to face him.
"I think," she says, "that now we are even."
Ichigo wants to snort, but he doesn't—he is the one who owes her, here, and if she refuses his apology, then he will not force it on her. "It's not a competition."
"No," she says thoughtfully as her eyes drop to the thick dressings on his chest, "but I think we are, all the same."
She raises her eyes to his, and he thinks, then, of the circle they seem to keep spinning round, savior and saved, and Ichigo realizes what she means. They have made their choices, both of them, and he will not cheapen what she has chosen to protect.
He knows how it feels to decide to save someone, after all. "Yeah," he says, and she smiles, and Ichigo feels something loosen in his chest.
The room falls still again. Ichigo can hear Fourth division members calling to each other amid the general bustle in the hallways; a bird chirps briefly outside his window, and for several minutes they are both content to watch the sunbeams inch their way across the walls.
And then an entirely ridiculous thought occurs to him and he can't help but voice it. "You know, my feet are a matching set now."
Rukia blinks at him, nonplussed, and Ichigo twitches the blanket up until his bare feet are exposed. His right foot holds the scar Byakuya had given him—Rukia knows that one, of course—but on his left foot there is a new and shiny stripe, a matching twin courtesy of Tensa Zangetsu. Ichigo can see only the back of her head, but he knows the instant she understands what he means because she rolls her eyes so hard her head tips over.
"You are an idiot," she says as she faces him, smacking him across the chest—lightly, he notes, but she is smiling, and Ichigo grins.
"Yeah, well. I've heard that before. Get some new material, why don't you, or the next hundred years'll be damn dull."
Rukia's smile widens. He expects a retort but none comes, and then he realizes that she is smiling because there are years ahead for them both, despite everything; her eyes are shining, and Ichigo can't wait any longer, so he props himself up on one elbow to reach a hand to her head and pull her down, and she laughs all the way into his kiss.
There are dust motes glittering golden in the afternoon sunlight shafting through his window, alighting on the dark head of hair that is nested next to his own, and in the last moments of half-waking dreams, just before Ichigo falls asleep, Rukia's soul sings home.