Chapter 6: Resolve
Note: Everyone is in their own bodies now!
"Shut up! Just shut up!" Ichigo yelled back," Don't you think that I want to rescue you just as badly… maybe even more than I want to rescue Inoue?"
There was an awkward silence.
Rukia looked at Ichigo in surprise, though he didn't bother to look up, in his mind he could already see Orihime's tears flowing down her face.
"Kurosaki-kun…" She whispered, "I'm sorry."
Lots of things ran through Orihime's mind, though it was her heart that ached more than anything. What he said was a flat out rejection; she knew he already made up his mind, even though he wasn't going to fully admit it. Tears trickled down her cheeks, something that she knew happened way too often. Was it because she wasn't strong enough?
"I'll be strong… I can be strong," she muttered to herself.
Suddenly a bright light flashed across the chest of the boy who held her captive. Blood gushed from his chest, resulting from a deep slash by Tsubaki. The boy fell to the ground like a rock. The hold on Inoue disappeared and she fell down.
Ichigo was ready to catch her when he heard Rukia's agonizing scream. He whipped around.
"She must die now, for you have chosen." The little girl said.
Without hesitation, Ichigo flash stepped to the little girl and ran his sword cleanly through her belly. Rukia nearly passed out from lack of air, when the invisible hand disappeared around her as well. Ichigo pulled his sword out of the now deceased arrancar, and caught Rukia easily with his free arm. The little arrancar fell backwards, her eyes wide open, and landed heavily on the pavement, crushing the ground underneath her.
"Are you guys okay?" Orihime called out, her Shun Shun Rikka dissolved as it gently let her down onto the ground.
Ichigo looked at her in sadness, as he descended from the sky. Her eyes were still fresh from tears. He looked away quickly, and placed Rukia gently onto the yard of the missing store.
"Kurosaki-san," Urahara's voice sounded, as he approached the teen. "That was quite a battle, are you alright?"
"We're fine. Explain to us what happened." Ichigo said. As dense as Ichigo usually was, he realized that most of the things that attempted to hurt any of his friends all came from him and his experiments.
"I can explain that." Isshin interrupted. The teens looked at the shinigami father in mild surprise. Urahara just stared indifferently at his old friend. "I helped you realize, Ichigo."
"What?" Ichigo asked, his tone sharp.
"The two 'arrancars' you nearly killed were Ururu and Jinta, Urahara's underlings," Isshin answered.
"You mean I injured those kids?" Ichigo yelled. Orihime turned pale at the thought of her outburst.
"They'll be fine, Urahara's watched over them for so long after all."
"But… I stabbed her cleanly in the stomach with my sword," Ichigo muttered, covering his face with his hand.
"They'll be fine Kurosaki. We have Inoue-san's extraordinary powers to heal them," Urahara added.
"Ah but – I – the little boy –" Orihime stuttered. Urahara simply shook his head.
"You did what any person would do, well a person with powers such as yours, I'm proud of you Inoue-san." Urahara said.
As Orihime healed the two knocked out children, Urahara took the opportunity to ask her about the brain-switching pills.
"It didn't hurt while I was sleeping. The pills themselves actually worked very well! You're very good at what you do, Urahara-san!"
"Ah well… I won't say no to that," the shady shopkeeper answered.
"Hmm," Rukia started, upon hearing Urahara's question, "I know the product you gave Inoue and I was experimental but, the timing was very off."
"Yes I am aware, I'll have that fixed in the end, maybe you'd like to be my subject again," he grinned behind the notebook in his hands.
"Don't even think about it," Ichigo interjected upon hearing the conversation while clearing some pieces of wood nearby. "I've had it with your experiments Urahara, you could have at least gotten permission from them."
"Well, they should know better than to trust Urahara," Isshin added with a snicker.
"Shut up dad! You nearly got them killed!" Ichigo exploded.
"You know, those invisible hands were only rieatsu tricks, I learned to control them because of Urahara's special pills," he grinned, the statement resulted in a piece of jagged wood crashing into his face. "OW! Oh Misaki! How our son hurts me!"
"Shut up! You got two kids killed and all for some sort of choice?" Ichigo retorted.
"It could have been avoided," Isshin said seriously.
There was an awkward silence; all one could hear was the hammering of wood by Tessai as he worked on the shop. Ichigo looked away in pain.
"I'll be back," Ichigo muttered before he shunpo-ed away.
"Should we go after him?" Orihime asked, looking around worriedly at the others who were looking on.
"No," they said nearly simultaneously.
"Leave him," Rukia finished, "he needs some time to think."
After saying a lengthy goodbye and accepting an apology from Urahara, Orihime walked home alone that evening. The sun was setting slowly and the air was still, as if letting Orihime's thoughts settle in her mind.
"I… did what I had to, right?"
She sighed. Her mind was racing a hundred miles per hour when she pulled out her attack fairy. She wanted to help Ichigo. That slight hint of desperation in Ichigo's voice rang like a foghorn in her ears. After years of wanting to aid him, she was finally able to show it on the battlefield. However, she was not relieved.
"Kurosaki-kun loves Kuchiki-san and…" she whispered, "I should not get in the way."
Her voice cracked, the pain in her chest interlaced her usually cheerful tone.
"I helped him rescue her… I should be proud…" She froze in the middle of the sidewalk.
Tears fell. They fell stronger and quicker than ever before. Her heart pined for relief, for the aching to be numbed. She didn't want to stop loving him, looking back at her life; she saw what made her become who she was at that very moment. Him. It was all him. Nearly her entire life revolved around him. He was like a drug that she couldn't quit.
"I guess that's why they say 'falling in love'," she laughed weakly as she wiped her tears away. "You've got to be brave Hime," she said matter-of-factly, the image of Ichigo's back appeared in her mind. "You have to be strong and amazing," she continued, this time Rukia's confident smile shining in her eyes, she took a deep breath in and began to walk at a steady pace once more. "But you can't be her," she saw Ichigo holding Rukia with a worried expression he never usually wore for her. At this her eyes watered, her breath shortened, her pace quickened, and her heart ached. "You can't be her!" She exploded, crashing onto the floor on her knees, her frustration echoed through the empty streets.
"Inoue?" A voice sounded.
Her eyes widened, she had gone too far. She quickly wiped her mess of tears away and dusted herself as she stood up.
"Ah, yes?" Her cheery tone sounded. She looked up and saw Uryu, his face full of worry and shock.
"Was that you? I heard you down the street and –"
"What do you mean Ishida-kun?" She laughed awkwardly. "That couldn't have been me, I was humming while walking down the road a few minutes ago."
There was a brief silence as they stared into each other's eyes.
"It sounded exactly like you, though. I heard you from a few blocks down and followed your rieatsu… as creepy as that sounds." He looked away, and then looked back into her grey irises. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she replied, "I'm going to go now, I'll see you at school Ishida-kun!" She flashed a smile, and walked off as casually as she could.
Uryu watched her walk away, not knowing what to do.
"Thank you, though, Ishida-kun," Orihime added while walking away.
She felt warmth in her hand and turned to see Uryuu turned away and attempting to hide the blush in his cheeks.
"I know there's something wrong," he muttered, letting go of her hand, "you don't have to tell me, just know that I'm here… supporting you." He turned to her with a smile, but was met by teary eyes. There was a small pause as Uryu wiped her falling tears away.
"I know," she smiled weakly. "Thank you Ishida-kun."
Ichigo was sulking. He sat with his knees up on the roof of an unknown building, which he chose when he felt he was far enough away from the commotion.
The weather around him was gorgeous, the darkness of night beginning to flood the pink sky. It was beautiful, and yet he was sulking. He rescued his friends, though he wasn't able to rescue Inoue at the same time. There were many things running through his mind. Firstly, he felt bad about not being able to save Inoue; he found it too hard to choose. Not only that, he totally forgot that Inoue had the power to save herself, why didn't he trust her? He was too aware of her weakness, the lack of battle in her blood; he was too self-absorbed in his so-called 'rescue'.
"I'm such an ass sometimes," Ichigo muttered, sighing while running a hand through his mop of hair. "And I blatantly yelled out that I wanted to rescue Rukia first… I don't know what came over me."
It wasn't like he didn't want to rescue Inoue either; they were pretty much on par. The fact that Rukia was coercing him into rescuing Inoue first… it pissed him off.
"She doesn't fucking understand that I…" he paused. "I…" he looked at his feet as if he had grown a sixth toe.
His heart seemingly stopped, a contraction occurred in his chest, and a warm tingly feeling spread all over his body. Was that what his old man endangered his two friends for? Was it really for something so utterly stupid?
"I wanted to rescue Rukia first to shut her up! She's so annoying, can't she worry about herself once in a while?" Ichigo grit his teeth, clutching his head. "Annoying." He whispered, letting his hands drop.
Rukia came out of a steamy bath dressed in a pure white towel wrapped around her thin frame. After rubbing the condensation away from the mirror, she brushed her teeth for bed, she wondered where Ichigo ran off to, and then wondered if it was any of her business at all. She spat out the foam of her mouth, and gargled some mouthwash.
"All clean," she smiled at herself in the mirror, and then left the bathroom.
She walked into the sisters' room first to grab her nightgown, but couldn't find it in the closet Isshin made her. Sighing in frustration, she walked down the hall and opened the door into Ichigo's room. She rummaged around his closet and pulled it out triumphantly. She unravelled her towel half way and slipped an arm through one of the sleeve holes.
"And I thought you were good at sensing rieatsu," he said with a scoff.
Rukia wrapped her towel around her again in a flash, but ripped the back of her nightgown in her rush.
"You fool! How long were you there?" She exclaimed, the tone of her voice sharp yet panicky. Ichigo laughed.
"Don't worry about it, I don't wanna see you naked anyway," Ichigo snickered some more. "Hurry up and put your clothes on, I'll have my eyes closed."
Rukia turned around with a glare, and saw that he was already in his body, his eyes covered by the palm of his hands. She slipped on the nightgown, unaware of the rip.
"Okay you can open your eyes now, idiot," Rukia stuck her tongue out at him. Ichigo glared, and stuck his tongue out as well.
She then turned to the open closet to make sure she hadn't forgotten any other clothes in it.
"Rukia," Ichigo muttered.
"Be patient, I'll be out in a moment," she replied, gathering the shirt and shorts she'd been looking for the past week.
Ichigo stood up silently, taking soft steps towards the small girl. The back of her gown was ripped, and the seams opened in a clean V, showing off her porcelain back. He was tempted to touch her, and stroke her skin. He stood behind her closely, hoping she wouldn't notice, and lined his finger down her bare back.
Rukia jumped and couldn't hide the shiver that followed his touch.
"What are you doing?" She asked harshly, she didn't want to turn and show him her flushed face.
Ichigo didn't answer and gathered three of his fingers together down her back once more. Rukia didn't know what to say, or what to do, her natural reactions stopped at his touch, she relished them, as strange as that sounded. Ichigo leaned down, and kissed the back of her neck.
"Ichigo-" Rukia started, but she was cut off by his swift hands slipping under the straps of her dress, and the soft tug of material down her shoulders. Goosebumps ravaged her body; the tension in the air grew thicker. "Stop it," Rukia tried to look at him, but Ichigo pulled her back into his arms, wrapping himself around her frail frame.
"Why would you want me to rescue Inoue first?" Ichigo whispered, slightly bent over, into her ear.
"She's fragile, Ichigo," Rukia explained.
"You know her better than I do, you knew that she had her Shun Shun Rikka to save her," Ichigo answered, his voice now raised to a mutter.
"I knew that," Rukia answered. Ichigo stayed silent.
"Then why would you ask me to save her first?" he exclaimed, slamming Rukia onto the door of his closet.
"Because Ichigo," she replied calmly, now thoroughly used to his sudden outbursts. "Inoue is weak, she doesn't know when to save herself."
There was a pause for a few seconds.
"Do you realize how badly you just judged her?" Ichigo asked, looking at Rukia with a slight pain in his eyes.
"I'm sure you've gone over that reason many times," Rukia said simply.
Ichigo sighed and backed away, he sat on his bed and rubbed his face. "Should I apologize?"
Rukia sat down beside him and put a hand on his arm, "You shouldn't have to, for you helped her out more than you think."
He looked at Rukia with a relieved look, though some pain was still visible in his eyes.
"Well, good night," Rukia smiled, and she stood up. Ichigo watched her disappear with a soft close of his door.
Inoue woke up a little earlier than usual. She felt like having some soup before starting her homework that weekend. She glanced out the window; the sky was still draped in a midnight blue though the feel of dawn swept over the sleepy town. Sighing, she downed her soup with no trouble, thoroughly enjoying the hotdogs and seaweed taste mingling in the liquid. She realized that if she were Rukia at the moment, she would be sound asleep in Ichigo's house… so close to him… so needed. As she placed her bowl down, she let out another heavy sigh.
She spent a lot of time crying in her room the night before. Her eyes were puffy and sore. She knew that Ichigo wasn't interested in her – she was quite comfortable being infatuated with him though she constantly faced his back. But once she heard his confession, it was like her entire world shattered. What weak foundation and imaginary walls she set up had fallen in the span of a few seconds.
There was a knock at the door. Orihime was stopped mid-tears to see who it was. She looked through her peephole and was shocked to see Ichigo waiting outside patiently. She gasped inaudibly, wondering whether or not she should open the door.
"Inoue, I know you're in there – just hear me out," Ichigo said through the door. Inoue had no choice but to let him in.
"What is it Kurosaki-kun?" Inoue wore her well-practiced smile. Ichigo looked at her with guilt in his eyes.
"I'm sorry about not being able to rescue you, I-"
"No, really, it's okay," she waved her arms back and forth with an awkward laugh.
"But you could have gotten hurt… what am I saying – you did get hurt," Ichigo ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry Inoue, even though I promised to protect you."
"You don't need to protect me anymore Kurosaki-kun," she smiled. Ichigo looked at her in question. "I… the fact that I was able to rescue myself was very exciting! Especially since I was able to help you… so really what you should be saying is thank you!" She laughed. Ichigo stared at her, bewildered for a few seconds, and then heaved a sigh of relief.
"You're right," a slight smile replaced his scowl. "Thank you Inoue."
"Yes- ah… don't mention it," she answered, her voice cracking. Ichigo waved goodbye as he turned to leave. "Kurosaki-kun!" At this Ichigo turned, his face gentle and patient. "Thank you! That is… for protecting me all this time… thank you," she smiled genuinely. Ichigo nodded and continued home.
As Inoue closed the door, a tear slid past her smile. She was glad. The fact that Ichigo came all the way to her house just to apologize reminded her that she wasn't forgotten. That even with Rukia in his life, she had her place in his, even though if it was only as a friend. What little strength she had, she found a new source… to be happy for herself. Maybe along the way she'll find someone who can take care of her, and whom she'll love more than she did Ichigo. But those words always scared her.
"I need to move on…" she whispered shakily while hugging herself, "thank you, Kurosaki-kun."
Ichigo walked into the house and saw Rukia sitting in the den, watching a fashion show and scribbling down notes in her sketchbook. He smiled and walked over silently; he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek, only to receive a blow to the face.
"You!" Ichigo exclaimed and Rukia whipped around with a glare.
"Don't surprise me!" She spat, her face flushed. Ichigo glared back, as he rubbed his sore cheek. "Did you get to apologize?" Rukia asked, the edge in her voice completely gone.
"Yeah… sort of," Ichigo replied, and dropped his hand. "My friends don't need me anymore, do they, Rukia?" Said girl looked up at him in surprise, and stood on the couch to be level with him.
She slapped him across the face, and Ichigo cursed at her, with a soft smile she said: "Of course they do, however there are certain times they don't. They're fighting their own battles, and when they need you, they'll call, and you'll be there in a heartbeat."
Ichigo smiled, his eyes relaxed, "How is it? Being my height?" Rukia narrowed her eyes and grabbed Ichigo in chokehold. Ichigo cursed, and tried to escape her strangle.
"Why, it feels amazing Kurosaki-kun! Like I'm on top of the world!" Rukia laughed.
"Let go of me!" Ichigo managed to say. Rukia laughed and unwrapped her unexpectedly strong arm from his neck. The orange haired teen stroked his throat, trying to ease the pain.
Rukia sat down on the couch, and turned back to her TV show. Ichigo sat down beside her and watched as she doodled away.
"Were you ever jealous when I was with Inoue?" Ichigo asked. Rukia stopped her doodling and looked up at him.
"To be honest, I was. But I realized how much you ignored her, how insignificant she must feel to be around us." Rukia sighed. Ichigo looked at his feet.
"But she seemed happy, after I thanked her. I guess I underestimate my friends."
"Finally," Rukia laughed. Ichigo looked over with a scowl, but smiled immediately after. "Thanks."
"I'm telling you, those are of your efforts not mine, so stop thanking me," Rukia said.
"No… not that," Ichigo looked away for a moment, "I mean thank you, for always being there."
He leaned in slowly, looking into her violet eyes. Rukia didn't know what to do, but followed his motion, leaning in to meet lips as well. They met in the middle, and their entire beings shook from the long anticipation of an equally shared emotion. Ichigo hesitated, but slowly wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her onto his lap. Rukia pulled away for a moment, and shifted her position so that her legs extended from either side of his abdomen. He gave out a soft smile, and she returned it, as he leaned in for another kiss. Their hearts pounded madly, but their minds were calm and bright. Rukia could feel Ichigo's smile as he kissed her, and he broke away, then kissed her on the cheek.
"My old man was right," Ichigo muttered as he buried his face in her shoulder. "He did help me realize."
"You're not the only one, Ichigo," Rukia whispered into his ear, smiling as she hugged him.
A/N: FINALLY. HOLY CRAP. LOL. Sorry for the long wait guys. :) Hope you enjoyed the final chapter – if there are any questions or plot holes that I may have left wide open, feel free to leave a review and I'll reply! (So it doesn't help if you're an anon and you ask me a question that I can't get back to you.) Note: as pointed out to me by a recent review, I did say five years in the previous chapter – so just know they're in university/college now.
I hope you all see my view on this relationship with Inoue now in the picture. I really think the girl can find someone better for her. Ichigo's too rough, and she can't even keep her own emotions in check.
I may be coming out with a one shot in the near future, following Rukia's disappearance in chapter 423, I can't wait to see what Kubo does concerning their relationship and Ichigo's development without her. The new arc starting though seems to be really really really annoying. xD
Thanks for your support guys! I enjoyed writing for you! Until next time. :)