Twenty-seven-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki breathed out a long sigh.
Tucking his hands into the pockets of his long white doctor's coat, he started stepping up the pathway leading to the large sky-blue building before him.
A large colorful banner hanging outside read the name of the school.
Children of all colors and flavors littered the front yard of the school, all clad in the white and navy blue uniform of the Karakura Pre-school. Some were playing child's games amongst their peers, laughing and giggling in delight as they ran and hid and tagged one another. Others ran into the arms of their waiting parents, come to pick them up in this summer afternoon. Their high-pitched carefree laughter filled the entire scenario like background music.
Ichigo was probably the one person scowling in the entire place.
It wasn't that he was angry or anything, he was just always naturally scowling. However, that fact didn't stop the little red-headed boy who happened to cross his path in search of a rogue paper-plane to get a glimpse of his intimidating face and run away crying.
Che. Kids. Ichigo thought, shaking his head.
Ten years ago the very thought of having them would have chilled the orange-haired boy to the bone. But of course, things change; people grow and one's hopes and priorities often are far from anything you could have imagined.
A ghost of a smile graced Ichigo's lips as he remembered the person who had changed his entire life, and the cause for why he was here today, walking into a school to pick up his offspring.
Said girl turned quickly at the sound of her name.
"Hey, Ichigo." she greeted as he came up to her on her spot on the roof of their school.
"Yo." he said back. "Mind if I join you?"
The raven-haired girl patted the empty space beside her as invitation. Ichigo quickly flopped down beside her. Rukia leaned her back against the fence that surrounded the edge of the roof, and Ichigo quickly followed her example.
As he watched, Rukia opened her lunchbox and extracted a Ziploc bag with two napkin-covered triangles inside. With practiced, meticulous movements, she unzipped the bag and extracted the objects, revealing them to be a two halves of a sandwich.
Without pausing, she held out one triangular half to the boy beside her. "Want some?"
Ichigo eyed the sandwich in her hands and raised a questioning eyebrow at her.
"Peanut butter and jelly." she answered his unspoken question.
"Strawberry." she answered without missing a beat, easily understanding her best friend's questions almost before they left his mouth.
Ichigo grinned and happily accepted the food. For a moment he marveled at the easiness of their relationship.
In a matter of weeks, Rukia had become his…well actually, he didn't know if the term 'best friend' was accurate enough for them, but for practical manners, they had long ago decided to just skip the explanations and they assumed the label of best friends.
It was hard to believe it was only three months ago that he had met Rukia. She was an exchange student in Karakura High, new this year. Ichigo, as was his costume, had not really paid much attention to the 'new girl'…Well, no, that's wrong; the truth was, he hadn't even known the girl existed for the first month of school. Sure he had heard talk about the 'new girl' from most of his friends.
'She seems pretty cool.' Tatsuki had shrugged.
'She is fairly intelligent.' Uryu said, fixing his glasses as he spoke.
'I like her! She's really nice.' Inoue had beamed.
'She's pretty cute. If she were older…' Mizuiro had looked up from his ever-present cell phone to say thoughtfully.
'Oh she's the most beautiful creature I have ever laid eyes on! I'm going to ask her to marry me!' Of course, that had been the enthusiastic Keigo.
Despite all the buzz, Ichigo hadn't spared a second thought to this girl. That is, until he actually ran into her one day…
And by 'ran into her', he met literally. Rukia and him had actually met for the first time one day when Ichigo was just strolling down home from a quick trip to the grocery store -his sister Yuzu had said she was out of flour to bake some charity cake- so he was on his way to his house with two bags, heavy bags, of flour for her. But then, out of freaking nowhere, this dark-haired midget pops up and slams into him with the force of two fire trucks, which was kind of hard to believe from such a tiny girl. The force had been enough to actually knock both of them down, causing the flour bags hanging from Ichigo's hands to fall as well, somehow manage to rip up and shower the two of them with the white powder.
Needless to say, that had ensued in the biggest yelling match Ichigo had been in a while. The two had just about ripped each other's throats out that day before finally going their separate ways, not expecting to ever see each other again. But fate had had other plans. The very next day at school, he bumped into no other than the violent midget herself, and after another, loud yelling match that landed them both detention, he learned that she was indeed Rukia Kuchiki, the exchange student everyone had been so crazy about.
He hadn't known what was all the hype back then, in fact, he was sure he hated the girl's guts and forever would. It might have been that way too, if only that afternoon, as the two sullen, bickering teenagers left school after a long detention period, something happened that forever changed their relationship.
They had been yelling at each other and arguing over something trivial and irrelevant, they happened to be headed in the same direction towards their respective homes (Ichigo would later learn that she was actually staying with a family who lived a couple of houses away from his family's clinic, eventually this would come in handy for all the lazy afternoons spent together at each other's houses). The pair had headed towards an intersection and were at this point truly angry and yelling their guts out, when Ichigo, angry and frustrated, huffed his way across the street, not even bothering to look to see if any cars were coming. It was too late by the time Ichigo saw the van speeding his way; he remembered closing his eyes as he waited for the impact. The blow that hit him came from the wrong direction and, although it left him breathless, was not anywhere near fatal. He had opened his eyes and blinked many times; he was on the floor, and a few feet away lay the petite girl that only moments earlier he had been yelling at. The van that would have surely run him over had skidded to a stop, the tire-marks on the pavement tell-tale signs of its violent halt.
Ichigo would never forget the blood. He had jumped up and immediately realized what had happened; she'd saved him. Rukia Kuchiki had just saved his life. He ran over to her to find her covered in her own blood. He had frozen at the sight of it and quickly knelt before her, gently turning her over to see her face while he yelled at the gathering crowd for someone to call an ambulance.
What he would remember most from that day, however, were Rukia Kuchiki's words as he cradled her up, battered and bloodied;
Bringing himself back to the present, Ichigo looked to his side as the very same girl now sat beside him, trying futilely to poke a straw into her juice box. Apparently they didn't have those in the country she'd come from.
Ichigo snatched the juice box and straw from her hands and proceeded to poke in the straw himself, handing it back to her casually. He was used to doing things like that by now. After the whole saving him from getting run-over thing, they had quickly formed a bond like no other. Ichigo had ridden in the ambulance with her to the hospital, and stayed with her for hours before her brother had finally shown up -apparently he had adopted Rukia and brought her from whatever country she had been born in to live with him- from his work and seen her. It hadn't been too serious, the doctors and police had determined that it would have been much worse if he had taken the blow.
The rest, of course, was history. Ichigo and Rukia had become inseparable after that. Sure they still bickered more than they actually talked, and she would first kick him in the shins than hug him, but they were still closer to each other than anyone else, and they cared and protected one another fiercely. Ichigo had taken it upon himself to teach Rukia the workings of Karakura, to help her familiarize with this new country; and she, in turn, had -consciously or not- started to break away at the wall Ichigo had built around himself ever since his mother's death.
"What are you staring at?" Rukia asked sharply.
"Your ugly face." Ichigo retorted, trying to cover up his flustered state at being caught spacing out while looking at her.
"OUCH!" Yeah, of course he should have expected that. He sullenly rubbed the soon-to-be bump on his head.
"Serves you right." Rukia said, casually taking a sip from her juice box. "So," she started, pausing to take a bite out of her sandwich. "To what do I owe the displeasure of your company this fine lunch?"
Ignoring her remark, Ichigo took a huge bite out of his own sandwich and said, "What? Can't I join my crazy midget friend for lunch once in a while?" he asked, only his mouth was full and it sounded more like 'Voat? Con't I youin ma cwazy miyet fwend fo lonch wonce in a weil?' At seeing her confused look, he swallowed and repeated himself.
Rukia gave him a sweet smile. "No." she deadpanned.
With an exasperated sigh, Ichigo caved in. "Fine. I came because," he paused and turned his eyes away from hers, focusing on an incredibly interesting cloud above. "Well, it's because…"
"Spit it out before I digest."
He paused to glare at her for an instant then went on. "Everyone at school is talking about us, you know, being a 'couple'!"
Rukia looked at him with her large violet eyes and raised a delicate eyebrow. "So what else is new?"
"Wha-?" he gaped. "Doesn't it bother you?"
Rukia shrugged as she bit into her sandwich. "Not really. And since when does it bother you?" she inquired.
She had him there.
True, since they became friends rumors flew all over the school about them being an 'item' due to how much time they spent together, but really, Ichigo never thought much of it. Frankly, he could care less what people said or thought about him. If they wanted to talk, then by all means let them talk.
At least, that had been how he'd thought before… But, it was just that… "I don't know." he answered Rukia's question. "I just…"
'It's in the way you look at her.'
Those had been Tatsuki's words yesterday. His group of friends had been harassing him to 'spill the beans' about his relationship with Rukia, but of course there was nothing to tell. Ichigo had denied any and every rumor and dismissed it as he usually did. His friends eventually gave up and left disappointed. It was only Tatsuki, his oldest friend, who lingered behind.
'What?' he'd asked, annoyed.
'There's no use denying it, Ichigo. I know you care about her more than you let on. I see it plainly written on your face. It's in the way you look at her…You're probably too stubborn and stupid to even realize it yet. Just make sure you open your eyes before it's too late.' With that, Tatsuki was gone.
Ichigo had openly gaped. Of course his initial reaction was to be incredulous. He brushed it off as more delusional thinking of his friends, but something about her words struck a nerve…
'You're probably too stubborn and stupid to even realize it yet.'
The words echoed in his head like a scratched record. Damned Tatsuki and her speeches. Now he, try as he might, he just couldn't stop thinking about it. He knew Rukia and him were just friends -well, okay they were more than friends but there was nothing remotely romantic about their relationship-. He knew that! So why was this bothering him so much?
Ichigo had felt stupid and angry for thinking about it so much. He figured Rukia would laugh if she saw him. And that's when he decided, it was time to ask her about it.
"Well, Tatsuki said something…" he muttered hesitantly. Why oh why did this have to be so awkward? Asking Rukia about it was a lot better in theory than actual reality.
"What did she say?" Rukia encouraged.
'Just make sure you open your eyes before it's too late.'
Shut up! He ordered his inner thoughts.
Ichigo took in a deep breath. "She said that…I might have…feelings…for you." he avoided eye-contact like the plague right now. "…And that I just don't know it yet."
He closed his eyes and waited for the burst of laughter.
One second, two seconds, three…
He nervously opened one eye, to see Rukia looking at him just…looking at him. Normally. Like he hadn't just suggested something so…Gah!
He opened his other eye and looked back at her, waiting for her reaction. She didn't seem at all fazed by this. Did that mean she truly didn't care? That the idea was just so preposterous and impossible that it wasn't even worth considering?
He felt an unbidden twinge of something akin to pain at the thought. Why? He had no idea… Did he?
"Rukia…?" he asked nervously, the tension consuming him.
"Mmm." She folded her arms over her chest and assumed a pensive expression. "So, you're afraid she might be right?"
Rukia looked at him and saw in his expression that she was on the right path. "Well, if you're so worried about it, then we should just solve this the easiest way possible."
Ichigo blinked. She had a solution? How? "And how's that?" he asked, half way, half eager.
"We go on a date." she stated simply.
Ichigo crawled backwards away from her, looking at her like she had just grown another head.
Rukia, completely unruffled by his outburst, rolled her eyes and said, "You heard me. Let's go on a date. That way, we can prove or disprove whether we have feelings for each other or not. One way or the other, people will stop talking, you'll stop stressing, and I get a free meal. Everybody is happy."
Ichigo continued to stare. He blinked a couple of times. She just sounded so damn logical and casual…How could she sound so casual when she was suggesting the unthinkable? Ichigo taking her on a…on a date!
The worst part of it all, though, was…It actually made sense.
"What?" Ichigo asked, dumbfounded.
Rukia huffed in clear annoyance. "Are we going on a date or not? Hurry up and answer I was supposed to meet Inoue five minutes ago."
Ichigo looked away, scowling deeply. He scratched the back of his head awkwardly and tried to hide his reddening cheeks.
"Yeah, I guess…"
Ichigo chuckled deep in his throat. He shook his head as he reminisced on the day where his relationship with Rukia took a turn into the unknown.
Who would have thought he'd end up here?
A huge grin lit up his entire face as he opened his arms and caught the little projectile that jumped into him and threw him up into the air. "Hey there, sport."
A pair of small hands encircled his neck and Ichigo held the boy well above the ground in a hug. "Dad, you won't believe what Matsumoto-san did to Hitsugaya-sensei today!" The young boy pulled back to look at his father excitedly.
"Oh really?" Ichigo inquired. "I can't wait to hear all about it. But come on, we don't want to be late." He started, setting his son back on his feet. "We're going to see Mommy today."
"Mommy?" The boy's smile widened impossibly at this.
Ichigo couldn't help but smile himself as he looked at his son.
Mamoru Kurosaki was four-years-old now; he had a head full of messy ebony hair, and a pair of large violet eyes. His skin was fair and his small frame betrayed his strong and energetic nature.
He is the spitting image of you.
Ichigo thought, his smile not wavering, but his amber eyes gaining an odd glimmer.
"Yeah," Ichigo said softly now. He held out his hand for Mamoru to take. "We're gonna go see mommy."
Mamoru happily took his hand and immediately started pulling Ichigo towards the car parked outside.
Ichigo shook his head, grinning.
He is just as enthusiastic as you too.
For a moment, he let his thoughts carry him to the past once again.
Ichigo sat in the chair before his wooden desk, nervously tapping his pen against his open and ignored History book.
He jumped out of his chair and was at the door of his dorm room in a heartbeat. After practically ripping the door off its hinges in his haste to open it, he stood looking down at the petite girl before him.
"Yo." he greeted her, the corners of his mouth automatically going upwards.
Rukia stood with her arms crossed over her chest and a stern look in her purple eyes. "Where's the blood?"
"The blood. Where is it?" she repeated, seriously.
Ichigo opened his mouth and furrowed his brow. "Err…what?"
Rukia looked at him with that 'why are you so stupid?' expression. "You must be bleeding profusely from somewhere and be inches away from death to have called me over at this ungodly hour." She took a step forward and raised her face until it was inches from his. "Or so help me God I will make sure you are within the next ten minutes."
Ichigo gulped and chuckled nervously. "Umm, no. I'm not dying, but close."
Rukia's glare did not soften.
"Come in?" his offer came out like a question, but Rukia accepted anyway and walked into the confines of his dorm room.
"You see," Ichigo started, leading her towards the desk where his History book lay. "I've been sitting here for over five hours, trying hopelessly to study for the History final on Monday, but not a single word I've read has stayed in my head. And well," he turned to look at her. "I thought, since you're better at History than I am and all, that maybe you could, you know…help me…"
Rukia's face was downwards, her eyes shadowed by her bangs; unreadable. "Ichigo Kurosaki," she started in a low voice that was almost a growl. He swallowed nervously. Then suddenly Rukia lifted her fiery gaze to his. "DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry! It's just-"
"IT'S WELL OVER ONE IN THE MORNING!" She furiously shouted. "I COULD BE-"
Her yelling was muffled by Ichigo's hand suddenly clamped over her mouth. She tried to wiggle away and pulled at his hand while he urged, "Ssh! Do you want to wake up the entire dorm? YOUCH!"
His hand was suddenly in his mouth as he sucked on the red bite marks decorating his palm now. "You bit me!" he accused.
Rukia, completely ignoring that remark, went on in her rant, albeit more quietly. "It's over one in the freaking morning! I could be sleeping right now and you called me down here, saying it's an emergency, to have me help you study?" Her hands were fists at her sides as she glared daggers at him. "This couldn't have waited 'til tomorrow?"
"Err…yes." he stated. "But in my defense, I did ask you if you were busy first."
The look she gave him could have melted steel. Ichigo thought maybe he should have hidden any knives or sharp objects around the room before she got here. Just as he thought he could kiss his life goodbye, Rukia spoke.
"What. Chapter?" she ground out slowly between gritted teeth.
Ichigo let out a triumphant smirk and turned away before she could see it and murder him. "Twenty-two. The Revolution."
And just like that, Rukia was pulling a chair up to his desk and sitting beside him, eyes focusing immediately on the book while she read over the words and began explaining everything to Ichigo.
This was their last year in college. Both Ichigo and Rukia had enrolled into the same university (pure coincidence, of course) and resided in the same dormitory building (more coincidences). The pair had been dating since High School, and their relationship, while it may have seemed odd to most people, was going on strong. Visits to each other's rooms were not uncommon, seeing as how she lived just one floor above his, and weekends and holidays were spent strictly together. Even when going back to their houses, being neighbors and all, they still spent basically all their time together. Most people might have been bored by now, but things were never boring with these two.
"…and in 1875 the emperor gave up the kingdom- Ichigo are you listening to me?" Rukia looked at him sharply while pointing at a paragraph in the book.
"Huh? Oh- of course I am." He assured. "Now…where were we?"
Rukia let out an exasperated sigh. "Ugh. I swear, no wonder you couldn't get anything done! You space out every five minutes! How do you expect to learn anything like this?"
"It's not my fault." he defended. "I just hate History. It's so pointless and boring." he whined.
"Yeah, well if you don't pass the 'pointless' and 'boring' final on Monday you're not graduating. Now, I'm loosing precious sleep time to help you, so you better-" she was cut off as Ichigo placed a kiss on her cheek.
He sat there, grinning widely at her with gleaming amber eyes. Rukia's cheeks were tinted pink. "I know. Thanks, Rukia. You're the best."
"Y-yeah." she stuttered and cleared her throat. "You'd do well to remember that the next time I call to invite you to dinner with Nii-sama."
Ichigo continued to grin as Rukia turned away from him, fighting to keep her face stern as she went back to the History book between them. "So," she cleared her throat. "…After the emperor surrendered his-" she trailed off again as she felt Ichigo's eyes on her. "Ichigo would you pay atten-"
This time she was cut off by his lips on hers.
Ichigo took a hand to her face and held it as he kissed Rukia deeply, feeling her surrender into his kiss. When he pulled back, he was smirking playfully. "You were saying?"
If it wasn't for the lingering red on her cheeks and the bright sparkle in her eyes, Rukia's glare might have actually looked threatening. "I hope you didn't lower me here under false pretenses, Kurosaki."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
"Good. Then let's get back to the lesson."
However, instead of turning back to the book, Ichigo reached out and placed his hand behind Rukia's neck, then used it to pull her forward until their lips met again in an even more heated kiss. Despite her earlier protests, Rukia did not resist and kissed him back with as much fervor.
In a few minutes, the History book lay once again forgotten and Ichigo and Rukia contentedly made better use of their time.
"Rukia," Ichigo breathed as they finally pulled back and stared at each other.
Rukia smiled warmly at him.
"I love you." Ichigo found himself saying as he gazed into those beautiful blue-violet orbs of hers.
Rukia seemed only slightly taken aback by his sudden statement, but she quickly recovered and her smile widened. "I love you too, Ichigo."
Her words sent a flurry of butterflies in his stomach. His heart beat faster and he said the only thing he could think of that could possibly make him any happier.
Ichigo buckled his seatbelt on and looked in the rearview mirror to see his son do the same.
"You ready to go, Mamoru?"
"Yep!" he sang happily.
Ichigo shifted gears and pulled out into the road. He drove easily, keeping his eyes on the road until he slowed to a stop at a red light. His eyes lingered on his hands, set on the steering wheel, and the gold band that decorated the third finger on his left hand.
A smile traced his lips before he was even aware of it. He clearly remembered the night he had proposed. There were no flowers, or music or candlelit dinners. Hell, he hadn't even had a ring ready. He had just looked at her, gazed into her deep eyes and blurted out the big question.
He couldn't remember a time where he had felt his stomach drop so fast, and then, almost immediately after, felt his own chest explode with a joy he hadn't known he could feel.
At first, she had only stared at him, stupefied. He had berated himself for his own idiocy. How could he have just asked her to marry him like that? He thought for sure he had just blown it, now she would surely break up with him and never want to see him again. The mere thought made him feel like someone was tearing the contents of his chest out and crushing them with a hammer.
But then…Then the unthinkable happened.
She said 'yes.'
Her whole face had lit up and with one simple world, Ichigo's world was sent in a whirlwind of happiness. He'd stood from his seat and gathered Rukia in his arms, twirled her around on the spot, and proceeded to kiss her senseless.
Ichigo mindlessly twirled the band on his finger.
Damn. Things were never normal when it came to you.
"Daddy, the light!" That exasperated voice from the backseat along with a loud honk made Ichigo finally tear his eyes away from the ring and focus back on the road and the green light.
"Jeesh! What's their hurry?" he huffed in irritation as he went on driving.
"Dad, you're so spaced out." a semi-annoyed voice told him in a very familiar tone.
"Shut up." he said mildly.
They lapsed into silence after that for a while, before Mamoru spoke up again.
"Dad, can we stop here?" in the rearview mirror, Ichigo saw Mamoru pointing at a roadside store.
"Mamoru, you know the rules. No potty breaks until we're there."
"DAD! I don't need a potty break!" he yelled back, clearly embarrassed. Ichigo smirked. "I just want to stop to get Mom something."
Ichigo paused to consider this for a moment. He didn't say anything as he turned the steering wheel and drove up to park outside the store.
He took the keys out of the ignition and pushed open the door, Mamoru doing the same behind him. As Ichigo pressed the button to lock his car, Mamoru wasted no time in running into the store.
Ichigo was bout to follow him when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. It was a couple of people: a woman, clad in a light dress, and a casually dressed man.
The man had one arm around the woman's waist and another held her hand as he helped her out of the car she was in. The woman in question had an obviously protruding round belly, and when she was finally on her feet, she looked at the man and smiled. The warmth radiating from them was palpable.
Ichigo felt a twinge in his heartstrings as a breeze ruffled his orange spikes. His gaze lingered on the pregnant woman and her presumed husband.
He cringed at the sound of his wife calling. Not an unusual reaction these days.
"Yes, dear?" he called back, nervously.
Not a moment later, a short, dark-haired woman waddled through the doorway and entered their living room. "Where the hell is the strawberry ice cream I asked for an HOUR ago?"
"Ice cream? But you asked for chips!" he accused, raising the see-through shopping bags in his hands with family-sized bags of potato chips in them as proof.
"No." she ground out slowly, dangerously. ". CREAM!"
Ichigo knew that Rukia was well into her last term of pregnancy, he knew her hormones were raging, and he knew that carrying a baby inside her was no easy feat. So he was usually sensitive to things like her cravings and mood-swings. But still, even he had to reach a boiling point sometime…
"YOU DID NOT! YOU CRAZY MIDGET! YOU ASKED FOR POTATO CHIPS AND I GOT THE DAMN POTATO CHIPS SO SHUT UP AND EAT THEM!"
He knew that probably wasn't the best thing to say, but still…
"DON'T YELL AT ME YOU INSENSITIVE DUMBASS!" Rukia, pregnant or not, could be one scary woman when she wanted to. Ichigo resisted the urge to run for cover. "Maybe I wanted chips earlier, but now I want strawberry ice cream! WHY THE HELL CAN'T YOU JUST BE A GOOD SUPPORTIVE HUSBAND AND GET IT FOR ME?"
Ichigo felt several arteries twitching. "I have been NOTHING but a good fucking husband! I've spent the last nine months running to the store like a madman every time you get a damned craving, only to come back so you can tell me you want something else!" He pointed to the kitchen counter a few feet away from the living room where they stood, where stacks of half-eaten, and even some unopened bags of everything from cookies, crackers, potatoes, fudge balls, hard candy, chocolate bars, ice cream and several fast food take-out bags cluttered the area.
Rukia's glare fired up and he suddenly knew he should have written a will. "YOU-" Whatever she was going to yell at him was cut off by a sharp intake of breath. She put a hand to her rounded belly and doubled over, an expression of pain twisting her face.
He was at her side in less than a heartbeat, concern written plainly on his features. "Rukia, what's the matter? What's wrong?" he asked hysterically as he kneeled before her and grasped her shoulders, looking at her face.
"Ichigo!" she hissed out, putting a hand on his shoulder to support herself. "The baby is coming!"
Blinking himself back to reality, Ichigo shook his head and stared away from the couple, who now stood gazing lovingly at each other.
He walked up to the entrance to the store, which he now could see was some sort of gift shop, or just one of those random places that sold just about every worthless item you could think of at an insane price.
Sighing, he went inside and began his search for the raven-haired munchkin. "Mamoru!" he called. No one answered. Ichigo exhaled. Whenever that boy got excited about something he just went ahead not bothering to see if you kept up with him. Plus his diminutive, even for his age, size made him all the harder to find.
Why did he have to inherit your midget size?
He smirked and could almost feel the kick he should have received to the shin.
"Looking for something, sir?"
Ichigo whirled around to face the elderly man standing behind him. He had white hair and a matching mustache, he was slightly hunched over and his kind eyes were framed by round wire-framed glasses. His visible laugh lines added to his friendly aspect.
"Uh, actually I was looking for my son." Ichigo said, sheepishly scratching the back of his head.
The man smiled understandingly. "Ahh." he said simply.
Trying to avoid the sudden awkward silence, Ichigo shoved his hands in the pockets of his white coat and looked around.
"Are you on your way somewhere?"
Ichigo turned to look down at the man again. "Oh. Err, well kind of…"
The man quirked an eyebrow and looked at him curiously. "Kind of?"
"Yeah…I'm gonna go see my wife."
"Oh, of course." The man nodded. "Are you here to buy her something?"
Ichigo thought it over for a moment before nodding.
"Well, we have lots of things. Come, follow me." The man merrily started walking deeper into the store.
"Actually, I-" Ichigo trailed off. He looked around. Still no sign of Mamoru. "O-okay." he surrendered and followed the man.
"We have jewelry and candy and chocolates and stuffed animals…" the man droned on as he led Ichigo into the store, the latter not really paying attention but keeping an eye out for his elusive son.
"…and, we have these." The man finally came to a stop, and Ichigo came to a halt behind him, almost crashing into the man for not paying attention. "They came in only this morning. They are quite beautiful, deserving of someone truly special."
Ichigo looked down at the thing the man spoke so highly of, and gaped at what he saw.
They were flowers.
A small, delicate arrangement of exquisitely beautiful and exotic white flowers, with violet ones thrown in here and there. His breath caught and he was immediately thrown back into another memory…
Ichigo paced up and down the aisle outside the room where they were keeping his wife. The fluorescent hospital lights, which he should have been used to by now -being a doctor and all- seemed harsh and cold.
Ichigo had brought Rukia in here over a half hour ago. He had been carrying her bridal style and was yelling at every being who crossed his path to get him a bed for his wife who was in labor. When a doctor had finally shown up to attend them, he had brought a wheelchair and had taken Rukia into a room. Ichigo was about to follow, saying they had already discussed that he would be present during the birth, but the doctor asked for a few minutes with Rukia to run a few tests and take some necessary procedures before the birth began.
"What the hell is taking so long?" he growled, inadvertently scaring a pair of nurses who happened to be crossing his way.
Like magic, as soon as the words left his mouth the door to the room opened and out came a man wearing scrubs and a white coat. Ichigo immediately came to a stop and looked at the man. "How-"
"Mister Kurosaki," the man swiftly cut him off. "Come inside so I may speak to both of you at once."
Ichigo nodded, swallowing. He didn't like the tone that man used, or the look on his face. It was a tone and look he was very familiar with in hospitals. It never meant anything good.
Was something wrong with the baby? Was he damaged somehow? Damn, Rukia would be devastated if anything happened to the baby…
Ichigo shook his head to clear such thoughts as he near ran into the room, immediately seeing Rukia. He saw the slightly confused expression on her face lift as he came inside.
"Ichigo." she was sitting on an inclined bed, wearing a mint-colored hospital robe and a plastic bracelet on her wrist that read all her basic information. Beside her, on a side table, there was a flower vase holding a small bouquet of white and violet flowers.
"Rukia." he breathed, hurriedly making his way over to her and almost instantly taking hold of her hand as she scooted over and he sat on the bed with her. "Is everything okay?" he asked.
Rukia furrowed her brow again and shook her head. "I don't know, the doctor asked if I wanted you to be here when he told me…"
"Told you what?" Ichigo felt his stomach dropping. His hold on her hand tightened.
"I don't know." she said, Ichigo saw the worry on her face and he quickly put a hand on the side of her face.
"Don't worry." he said softly, ignoring his own tight knot of concern as he looked deeply into her eyes. "Everything is gonna be okay. You'll see."
Rukia nodded and Ichigo leaned forward to place a quick kiss on her forehead. He wrapped an arm around her, not letting go of her hand and she leaned into him.
Footsteps announced the doctor's return. He was a middle-aged man with dark hair and a kind, yet tired face. He wore blue scrubs under his coat, and a customary stethoscope was wrapped around his neck. He had one hand in the pocket of his coat and the other was out holding a clipboard.
"Mr. and Mrs. Kurosaki," the doctor started. Ichigo and Rukia both looked up at him, Ichigo not loosening his hold on Rukia, and Rukia not leaning away from him. "I'm afraid I have some bad news."
Ichigo could feel his world begin to collapse at those words. For a moment, a quick flash of himself standing at the backyard of his house, tossing a baseball at a little orange-haired boy went through his head, then shattered.
He felt his chest tighten, but he didn't show it. He quickly looked to the side at the flower bouquet and silently strengthened his resolve. He had to be strong. Both for himself and for Rukia. No matter what happened.
He gently stroked Rukia's arm with the hand he had around her as he felt her breathing quicken as he looked back to the doctor.
"What is it?"
Ichigo swallowed, pulling himself out of the memory before it went any further. His eyes were locked on the white and violet flowers.
"Would you like to buy these for your special lady, sir?" the kind old man offered.
Barely aware of his own movements, Ichigo nodded dumbly and pulled out his wallet.
'Everything is gonna be okay.' His own words rang in his head, teasing him.
Ichigo banished them away.
"There you are you little munchkin!" Ichigo looked down at his son, making sure to blink away any unwanted moisture in his eyes.
"Ooh!" Mamoru's eyes widened and sparkled as he saw the old man wrapping a ribbon around the bouquet. "Are those for Mom?"
"Yep." Ichigo confirmed, taking the change the man gave him and tucking it and his wallet away.
"She's gonna love them!" Mamoru beamed.
The old man smiled at the pair and handed Ichigo the flowers. He quickly thanked the old man and handed the flowers to his son. "Here." he told him. "You're in charge of the flowers until we get there."
Mamoru took them and saluted Ichigo. "Aye aye, Sir!"
He smiled and led Mamoru back to his car. They both climbed in and left without further ado.
Ichigo drove for a good fifteen more minutes before finally arriving. He parked and, as usual, Mamoru was out of the car and on his way before Ichigo had even finished unfastening his seatbelt.
Ichigo started to climb out of the car, his movements slower and almost hesitant. He took a deep breath as he inspected his surroundings.
A warm breeze ruffled the leaves on the trees around him and his own hair as his son's already distant voice urged him on. "Dad! Move it!"
He is always so excited to see you.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Ichigo started the walk he'd done plenty of times before, allowing his thoughts to turn back to old memories again as he moved.
"What is it?"
The doctor took a deep breath. "I'm so very sorry, but… I ran some tests, something seems to be wrong. I don't know how or why, everything had seemed to be going perfectly before…"
"Spit it out already." Ichigo said, his irritation not wholly covering his worry.
The doctor sighed once more and looked over the contents of his clipboard before meeting Ichigo's eyes, then switching to Rukia. "The pregnancy is now high risk. I won't go into technicalities right now but, I'm afraid, at this point, if you go into labor, Mrs. Kurosaki…you won't survive."
Ichigo felt something inside him drop. He felt like he was freefalling with no parachute on his back. He knew at once if he had been standing his legs wouldn't have been able to hold him up. This time, it was Rukia who tightened her hold around his hand.
"W-what do you mean?" Ichigo burst out, rage masking his face. How dare this man tell him something…something like that?
"I truly am sorry. But you only have two options. If you give birth, chances are nearly non-existence that you will live. However, you may choose to abort the baby; that way, your life will be saved."
Ichigo, for a second, felt like he was drowning and a lifeboat had been thrown at him. She could still live, there was a chance-
The single word had been steady, calm and final.
"What?" Ichigo turned on his wife, gaping down at her disbelievingly. "What do you-"
"I said no. I will not abort the baby." she looked at him and her voice never wavered.
"I'll leave you two to discuss this in private." the doctor's voice fell on deaf ears as he left.
"Rukia! Are you insane? What the hell are you thinking? You can't have the baby!" Ichigo said hysterically, his voice rising dangerously.
Rukia looked at him steadily. "I'm not aborting the baby for my own sake, Ichigo. I'm having this baby and that's final."
"YOU CAN'T!" Ichigo felt himself beginning to loose it. What was she talking about? Rukia was calmly discussing her own death? Never! Unacceptable! "No! I won't let you die!"
"It's not your choice to make!" she said defiantly.
"Yes, it is! I'm not letting you throw your life away!" he said fiercely.
"And I refuse to live at the expense of my son! Our son!" she said just as fiercely.
Ichigo was about to yell back, when Rukia's face suddenly softened. "Ichigo," she spoke quietly and brought a hand to his cheek. He could see the unshakable resolve on her eyes and felt his chest tighten.
Rukia smiled at him. It was a small, bittersweet smile. "I'm sorry." she whispered, stroking his face with her thumb. Ichigo brought his hand up and put it over hers, leaning into her touch. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat, to no avail. "I'm really sorry." she repeated, her eyes beginning to glisten with unshed tears. "This isn't how I wanted it to be. I thought I would get to see him. I wanted to be able to raise this child, with you." she gazed deeply into his eyes, her voice becoming choked with tears. "But you have to understand, I have to do this."
Ichigo shook his head, keeping his hand over hers on his face, grasping onto the feel of her for dear life. "Rukia," he whispered, surprised to hear how tight his voice was. It took every ounce of strength he had not to break down and cry right then. But he knew he couldn't; he had to be strong, she was being strong for him, the least he could do was return the favor. "Please, Rukia…" he pleaded, already knowing her choice was made. There was no going back.
He saw the first glistening tears roll down her cheeks, but she bravely kept her smile on. She let out a sound that was halfway between a cry and a laugh. "I really wanted to do so many things. I wanted to see our son, I wanted to hear him say 'Mommy' for the first time, or teach him how to ride a bike. I wanted to have another child so he could have a brother or a sister. I wanted to watch him grow up and graduate high school and college…" she paused and looked straight into Ichigo's amber eyes. "I wanted to grow old with you, Ichigo…" she made that half sob half laugh thing again. Ichigo could literally feel his heart shattering. "I really did."
With that, Rukia threw herself forward and buried herself into him. Ichigo wrapped his arms tightly around her as she cried, he rested his cheek on her hair and felt his own tears falling now. He held her shaking form and grasped her tightly, never wanting to let go. He couldn't let her go…
He held her even closer to himself, if that were possible. "Rukia," he choked out. "Please don't leave me."
"Dad, I'm gonna go to the bathroom now." Mamoru announced.
Ichigo looked down at his son and nodded. "Yeah, I'll be right here…"
"Okay." he said, and with that, he was off again.
Ichigo looked down in front of him.
Ichigo stood straight as the blood-covered doctor walked up to him with a bundle in his arms. The man handed the bundle over to Ichigo, who took it readily in his arms.
"It's a beautiful, healthy baby boy." the man announced proudly. "What is his name?"
Ichigo never took his eyes off the bundle. He looked at the black tuffs of hair on his head and felt a strange warmth enter his chest.
"Mamoru. Mamoru Kurosaki."
Ichigo fell to his knees without even realizing it.
"Yo." he greeted, his lips curving into a warm smile. "I hope you like the flowers." he said, eyeing the white and purple bouquet that lay between him and the headstone.
Beloved wife, mother and friend.
Ichigo ran a hand through his orange spikes as he looked at his wife's grave.
"Geez, Rukia. Things have been crazy since you left. Mamoru has been growing up like crazy. It seems like just yesterday I held the little baby in my arms. He's kinda short for his age, though. I guess I have you to blame for that." he smirked and went on.
"But man I wish you could have seen him! He's so much like you, Rukia. He has your hair and your eyes, and your enthusiasm…He draws better than you, though. I always knew five-year-olds could draw better than you." He grinned as he spoke.
Then his smile softened. "He really loves you, you know. He never got to meet you, but I've told him a lot about you, and he's seen pictures and everything. I know that doesn't come close to the real thing but…It's the best I can do." a trace of sadness laced his voice now.
"You would have been a great mom." he smiled, a sad smile, and he let his fingers trace her name on the headstone. "Five years since you've been gone…It feels like so much more. Hell, five days without you felt long!" He chuckled and began to feel the familiar ache in his chest. "We've been holding up, though. I've been holding up. It's not east without you, you know…And looking at him, at our son…he just looks so much like you. It hurts sometimes but then it also helps; I'm able to see you everyday through him. I'm really grateful for that."
Despite his attempts, Ichigo felt his eyes stinging with inevitable tears.
"I miss you." he said, a lump in his throat making itself known. "I miss you so much." his hands tightened into fists at his sides.
"And the pain," he felt warm streaks on his cheeks and knew the tears had started flowing. "It never really goes away." a sob escaped his mouth and he pushed it back. He didn't want to break down in front of her. "I put on a brave face for Mamoru every day. I know it's what you would have wanted, and…And I really try to be there for him, I try to be as good a dad I can be but…I just wish he could have a mother. I wish he could have you." Another cry shook him. "I wish I could have you. Damn it Rukia I miss you so damn much."
Ichigo finally gave into the pain in his chest and fell to his hands on all fours, and he cried. He didn't know for how long, it didn't matter. He spent all his days being strong, for himself, for her, and for their son.
"I love you." he choked out.
He cried desperate, broken sobs.
Ichigo led a normal life. He raised Mamoru as best as he could by himself, and always made sure he knew about the wonderful mother he'd had. Whenever he asked why his mom couldn't be with him, Ichigo always assured him. He told him how much she had wanted to be with him, but she couldn't, but her greatest wish had been for him to live and be happy. Ichigo made sure he did, and seeing his -their- son be happy and healthy, it truly made him happy.
But he still missed her. He wondered vaguely if this had been what his own dad had felt like after his mom died. His respect for his old man grew as he thought about it.
"Rukia," he said her name, pouring all his love and his aching for her into one word.
A shy voice spoke from behind him, and Ichigo took a deep breath and straightened himself before looking back at his son. "Mamoru…"
Said boy looked at him with glistening violet eyes for a moment, before his face suddenly twisted up and tears started flowing down his face. The boy ran into his father's waiting arms.
Ichigo held the boy tightly against him, feeling his shirt become soaked in tears. He let himself cry as he hugged his son and together, they mourned the woman he loved most.
They stayed like that for a while.
By the time they let go of each other, the sky above them was black and thick with rain clouds.
"Dad?" Mamoru asked softly, wiping at his red puffy eyes.
"Is it my fault? That Mommy's gone?"
Ichigo felt his heart tighten as he looked at his son. "Listen to me." he said sternly, but not harshly. "Don't you start thinking like that. If your mother were here and heard you talking like that she'd kick my ass and then yours. Trust me, I know." he said securely, Mamoru started to smile and a soft laugh escaped him. Ichigo reached out and wiped the remaining tears on his son's face while swallowing his own. "Rukia, she was the woman I loved -still love- most in the world. She was the type of woman that would die to protect the ones she cared about."
He put a hand on his son's shoulder, still kneeling to stay at eyelevel with him, but also not entirely trusting his legs to hold him up. "She died to give you a chance to live. Don't waste that chance…Or else she'd be pissed at me. So, live well and live long, Mamoru. On day, when your time comes, you'll finally meet your mother."
"You promise?" he asked, his eyes filled with hope.
Ichigo nodded and smiled. "Of course, I promise." he gathered his son into another hug before finally saying. "Come on." he stood up at last. "Let's go before it starts to rain. We'll come back next week."
Mamoru nodded. They both took a step away. Just then, Ichigo felt a warm breeze, it caressed his face and ruffled his clothes almost playfully. Mamoru had already started ahead, as usual.
"I'll be right there, go ahead." he said, and watched his son run ahead before turning back.
He stood there in silence for a moment, looking down at the headstone as he spoke. "So, they let you come, huh?" With that said, he turned to face the new arrival standing at his side.
He let himself become lost in those beautiful violet pools and milky skin. "Rukia."
"Ichigo." she gave him a warm smile that was only his. She wore black robes and there was a sheathed katana at her hip.
"How'd you get them to let you come?"
Rukia shrugged. "They let me come over to the World of the Living under the condition that I stay focused on my Shinigami duties. They never said I couldn't come see you, though."
"Do they know I can see you, yet?"
Rukia shook her head. "Only Captain Ukitake knows." she smiled at him again. "Is that all you're going to talk to me about now that I'm not just a headstone?" she was teasing, but her face softened as she saw his pained expression.
"I'm sorry." she said quietly.
"That's okay." Ichigo said. He looked up at her and met her violet gaze. "I'm just glad you're here." he smiled, a smile filled with warmth and sadness.
Rukia returned the smile. "I can't stay long…"
"Mamoru is so big…"
"I wish he could see you."
"Me too. But I guess it's better this way."
Ichigo gazed at her, he took a step towards her. "I really miss you, midget." the moisture in his eyes betrayed his playful words.
Rukia chuckled. "I miss you too, idiot."
They stood in silence, a thousand unspoken words passing through their eyes.
A beeping sound broke through the night. Rukia pulled her gaze from his to take out a beeping cell phone and looking at it while biting her lip. "…I have to go."
Ichigo tried not to look too disappointed. "When will I see you again?"
Rukia stayed silent. He nodded in understanding.
"I love you. We both do." Ichigo said, motioning to the direction in which Mamoru had gone.
"I love you too. Both of you." Rukia said, her eyes glazing over slightly.
"…See you on the other side, then?" he choked out in a tiny voice, knowing if he spoke any louder his voice would break.
Rukia nodded, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. "I'll keep an eye out for you." she assured him.
"See you later, Ichigo."
"See ya, Rukia."
A/N: Aww I teared up a few times while writing this. I hate myself for killing Rukia, but it was just for the sake of the story! I know she's alive (in one sense anyway) and Kubo would never kill her! Anyways, hope you liked the story. Reviews are appreciated :D