33...Black Fang, White Moon
"Ichigo! Ichigo you're going to be late for school!" A bright little voice called from some faraway place. Ichigo opened his eyes and looked around at his bedroom. The sun was pouring through and it blinded him. With an irritated groan he closed the blinds and stumbled over to the door. He struggled his way through getting dressed, his shirt half buttoned up and his pant leg dragging behind him, he staggered across the landing to the stairs, tugging at his clothes and fitting them better before descending to his awaiting family.
Yuzu and Karin were eating breakfast and Goat-chin was pouring himself a cup of coffee. Karin rolled her eyes and muttered slyly, "Sleeping princess is finally up..."
Ichigo rubbed the back of his head and collapsed into a chair, gulping down the cold toast and dried up eggs Yuzu had left for him. It tasted so good, fit for a king. Ironic that it was served to a simple teenager. When he had his fill he moved to leave, but he froze in the doorway. He turned back to his family and smiled. "Yuzu...Karin...I missed you..."
"Huh?" Yuzu frowned, "Missed us for what?"
"Yeah," Karin nodded, "When did we ever leave?"
Their behaviour brought warmth to Ichigo's heart and he moved to hug them, but as he reached them he fell to the floor. Their laughter made the pain in his face go away and he slinked off to school blushing.
The streets were filled. Cars drove to school or work or the markets and students lined the pathways as they braved the morning sun on their trip to school. Ichigo joined their ranks, marching with them, unusually glad to be surrounded by people.
"Hey Ichigo," A distantly familiar voice called from behind. Ichigo spun on his heels and almost bumped into Tatsuki Arisawa. She stopped short of colliding with him and scowled. "Watch where you're going. You almost knocked me out!"
Ichigo laughed. He couldn't control it or suppress it. He just needed to laugh. Tatsuki eyed him curiously and shook her head.
"Honestly you worry me sometimes. Anyway, Orihime and I were going to the movies tonight, wanna come with us?"
"Sure, sounds like fun." Ichigo looked up ahead and found Inoue Orihime running towards them, singing happily like a junior student. She skipped up to them and gave them a beaming smile. "Orihime..." Ichigo muttered, "You're okay..."
The cheerful young girl cocked her head inquisitively. "Hmm? What do you mean?"
A silence ensued between them, awkward but delightful. Ichigo sighed and waved his hand. "Never mind. It was nothing."
As they neared the school they saw a cloud of dust spreading out behind another familiar face. "I-Chi-Go!" Keigo raced towards him and Ichigo struck his leg out to stop him, but Keigo did not fall. He ended up beside his old friend with a wide smile on his face. "Couldn't catch me that time could you? Ha!"
"Oh shut up Keigo!" Tatsuki snarled. "You're way too energetic for this early in the morning."
The group moved on, reaching the gates of the school. Ichigo felt compelled to run to class, maybe because he was excited, or maybe because the bell wailed like a hungry child. Either way, Ichigo bolted for the classroom. He dodged students in the halls and raced on up the stairs, moving so fast it felt like he was running through people.
The door loomed ahead. He placed a hand on it and shuddered. It was cold, really cold. He pushed the door open and there were students everywhere. A group of girls sat in the corner giggling to themselves. The delinquents at the back of the class boasted about imaginary exploits just to inflate their egos. People sat in their seats, fixated on their phones, texting and laughing. It was just like it always was. It felt like home...It felt right.
Ichigo sat down at his seat and watched as his friends dragged themselves through the door, panting like overworked hounds.
"Why did you make us run?" Tatsuki asked.
"Yeah, PE is tomorrow morning." Keigo whined.
Ichigo apologised and sat back in his chair, staring out at the bright blue sky outside the window. There were clouds in the sky...Birds too. It looked like a painting, otherworldly beautiful. It was so real, and yet it felt like it wasn't there...
Ichigo sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them again someone was leaning over his desk, her face pushed close to his. Her eyes were the deepest ocean blue and her shiny black hair swept over her shoulders with the grace of waves. The sight of her brought on a stirring feeling of joy so overwhelmingly strong that Ichigo felt his heart racing within his chest. He could barely breathe.
The girl fixed her gaze on him and spoke in a voice as soft and gentle a silk, "Hello Ichigo. Feels like forever doesn't it?"
Ichigo felt tears welling up in the corners of his eyes and he rose from his seat unannounced and lunged at her. With a cry of joy Ichigo wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tight burying his face in her shoulder and laughing hysterically.
"Rukia...Rukia...Rukia..." he sobbed.
Everyone around him laughed and cheered and Ichigo felt a warmth greater than the sun coursing through him. It was the most wonderful feeling he had ever experienced in his entire life and he didn't want it to stop.
"Ichigo," Rukia whispered, "Open your eyes."
Ichigo let go of her and opened his eyes as she asked. It was then that the laughter stopped and suddenly the warmth faded. Ichigo looked around the classroom and found it empty, devoid of any life. Papers were scattered on the floor, torn and faded. The students all over the room were gone, leaving silent, empty space behind. Tatsuki, Keigo and Orihime were gone, nothing more than ghosts from the recent past. The sights and sounds of life disappeared as if they had never been real from the beginning. Lost forever and soon forgotten. The bright light of the sun had been replaced by a dull grey haze and the sky outside looked as bland and dead as the classroom, void and colourless.
Ichigo frowned and leaned against the windowsill, gazing down at the dead brown grass outside and the skeletal timber frames of trees. The realisation that everything he had previously seen was but a dream from his grief-stricken mind sunk in and wore him down. Heart-wrenching sadness overcame him and his lungs tightened, sucking the air out of him and leaving him breathless. His chest hurt and it felt incredibly heavy. A sinking feeling swept over him and the Kurosaki boy leaned heavily against the windowsill. He cradled his head in his hands and wept for the world he had lost, the world that existed only within his memories and nothing more. The world he had loved and protected was now reduced to scattered remnants of reminiscence. Ichigo tried to think hard, to make the ghosts return but they did not. The blank, dead world remained the same now...
"Ichigo..." That voice whispered. That voice that warmed his heart. That voice that could break through the darkest night and still be clear as day. That voice that he had cherished...That voice he had yearned to hear on those long nights alone. That voice he wished he could reach out and touch. To hold and embrace...That voice...
Ichigo glanced over his shoulder to see Rukia standing beside him. She looked unsure of herself, as if she wanted to say something but didn't feel confident enough to say it. She shuffled awkwardly on her feet and averted her gaze, but she was compelled to look at him once again and when she did their eyes met. Their final moments together were but a blur of sadness of pain. Their last encounter had been one of nightmares, regardless of the moments they shared. Now seemed a better time than ever to reinforce their feelings and make amends.
"Ichigo...I...I always loved you..." She blushed and forced a weak smile.
Ichigo strode purposefully towards Rukia and embraced her. He looked deep within her eyes and spoke with all the passion in his soul, "Rukia, I love you. You are worth more than the world to me. Let us spend eternity together...Just us...Forever..."
The two held each other and cried. None ever existed to hear them, nor see them. The winds had died long ago and the world remained still. The sun never showed, instead the sky remained grey. Night was the purest of darkness and no light ever shone on the frozen corpse of the earth. Shinigami, hollows...They were nothing more than a tale, a legend never to be passed down, forever entwined with the last remaining survivors of the apocalypse.
Ichigo and Rukia accepted their fate, to bear the burden of humanity's downfall and live for as long as time itself, forever haunted by the ghosts of their lost world. Every face, every voice. They played within their heads for all time, endlessly bringing sadness and pain.
Ichigo had sacrificed everything that ever was to be with Rukia, and in that overwhelming sacrifice there would forever be the doubts that gnawed away at the fabric of his conscious. "Was it all worth it?" He would often ask in the back of his mind but as soon as he saw Rukia he would answer the same as he always had. He realised he had failed to create a better world and that he had let countless innocents down. He also knew that he had doomed every living thing on Earth to an abrubt and unjustified extinction. These failures were insurmountable and nothing would make amends for the tragedies that had befallen him, but to have Rukia's shoulder to cry on meant more to him than the world ever did. The pain never went away and the terror and guilt of what he had done remained a part of him for his eternal existence. Together they bore the burden of the death of their world.
And every time a tear dropped from their all-seeing eyes they would confide in one another, the final consolation, the only consolation for the Adam and Eve of a stillborn existence. The new King had no throne, no castle, no guards, no followers. He merely had another unfortunate soul to bury his sorrows.
His fangs grew blunt over the course of time and the Black Fanged beast became tamed by loss. The shadows of damnation crept ever closer but they never reached due to the soft trace of light from the White Moon. They suffered the encroaching darkness together...
Together until the end of time.
(10/10/10 - 11/6/11)
Thank you so much for reading and reviewing, it has been with your constant support that I was able to write this harrowing tale. Special thanks to Darklover, Omaomae, Shannon Hitsugaya, Mari Kia Resha Aishiteru, falconrukichi, Wulf 4 Life, kicyslawa, Yami-no-Tamashii, YuukiCross5 and Aizawa Li Syaoran Vessalius for your many kind comments and unending support throughout. I might be forgetting some people and I apologise if I am but know that I am grateful for your time and I really hope I have entertained you over these eight months. Any final thoughts would be most appreciated.
Till next time, keep reading and once again; Thank you.