Everlasting Bonds

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

Disclaimer: Don't own Bleach…if I did there would have been some pretty serious Ichiruki romance in chapter 423…and it wouldn't have made me almost cry! Still, after reading that chapter, followed by several dozen fics related to it, this came to be. Hope you enjoy.

Invisible Binds

Ichigo was hurriedly packing his books, the last bell of the afternoon had sounded less than a minute ago and he seemed to be about to burst for some unknown reason.

"Kurosaki-kun!" He heard a voice call him.

It took three tries for him to answer to it, it wasn't that he hadn't heard her the first time, not really, the thing is, hers wasn't the voice he wanted to hear so, honestly, he hadn't paid that much attention to it.

"Inoue." He finally acknowledged her, schoolbag over his arm already.

"Hey, Kurosaki-kun." He called with an overly-bright smile. "We were all going to go together for some dinner. Wanna come?"

"Sorry Inoue, I'm in a hurry." He answered her with as much politeness as he could, he wanted to leave already!

"I see…" But she didn't, obviously not.

"Maybe some other day." He replied unthinkingly on his way out. "See ya Inoue!"

As he said that, for just a fraction of a second, there was a half smile on his face, a true smile. Inoue Orihime caught sight of it right before he disappeared down the hallway, and was so shocked that for a few minutes she couldn't move at all.

"Inoue-san, are you alright?" Ishida's deep voice asked her from behind.

"N…Yes." She answered, softly, her eyes still fixed on the same spot Ichigo had been right before disappearing from her sight. "Something's changed with Kurosaki-kun…"

"So you've noticed it too, huh?" Ishida spoke, calmly.

"So you did notice!" She spun around, looking at him.

"Yes, I did." Uryuu nodded. "Since the morning actually. While he may no longer have any reiatsu, his essence was still in turmoil, it was pretty noticeable, had been that way for months. And yet, it wasn't that way this morning, instead there was something else in him, like some kind of peace…acceptance maybe? I don't know. I just know it has changed."

"What do you think that may have happened?" Inoue asked.

"Honestly. I have no idea." The Quincy admitted. "I hadn't felt him this calm since the Winter War began…"

Inoue considered correcting him, but chose not to. In the end, it wouldn't change a thing, no matter how much she might want to lie to herself she knew the truth, and maybe he did too; Ichigo hadn't been that bad during the Winter War, true, he was in turmoil, but it was never as bad as it had been the last few months…since she'd left.

'I don't know what's changed…' Inoue whispered to herself, sad acceptance in her mind voice. 'I just hope that, whatever it is, it will stay that way. I hope you'll be happy, that you'll move on…even if it's not with me…'

.-.

The evening on the Kurosaki home left almost as many shocks as Ichigo's hurried departure and unexpected half-smile had in his classmates.

The orange-haired youth had arrived right on time, evaded his father's rather 'unorthodox' welcome fluidly and without a single word being said, tapped his dark-haired sister's head before gently kissing the auburn-haired girl's brow and calmly asking what was for dinner.

Dinner went by in almost total silence, broken just by polite questions between the children about each of their days. The father was way too shocked to say anything, stupid or otherwise, to any of his children.

As soon as dinner was over Ichigo kissed his sister's goodnight, evaded his father stupid antics once again and hurried to his room. The last thing any of them heard was the ominous click of his bedroom door lock as it was secured.

As soon as he was inside his room Ichigo dropped his schoolbag on a chair, hurriedly got off his uniform and into a pair of sweatpants and a loose shirt, and went to lay on his bed. He focused on relaxing his whole body limb by limb, before finally closing his eyes and allowing a tentative smile to appear on his face, as he pronounced the one name no one had heard him so much as whisper in months, a name that was to only be pronounced in that room, in the security of his solitude:

"Rukia…"

.-.

When his eyes opened again, what seemed like mere seconds later, for a second all he could see around him were flashes of white, red and black, almost like strips of some unwoven cloth floating all around him. He blinked, and then his surroundings changed once again, this time into what looked like a clearing in the woods, right above him towered a bare tree, icicles hanging from its branches instead of leaves, all around him there was snow, and a few feet away from him, a lake that had been frozen and now resembled an ice-rink. It was like the ultimate sight of the winter season, and yet he didn't feel any cold, even though he was wearing nothing more than a plain white yukata, he felt fine.

Ever so slowly he sat up, brushing off the snow that had begun to gather on his hair and his clothes, not even when touching it directly with his fingers did he feel cold. In fact, if he didn't know it was absolutely impossible he would even say the snow felt almost warm to the touch.

Slap!

He was still deep in his musings when quite suddenly a rather hard slap to the back of his head made him double over slightly.

"What the hell?" He cried out as he jumped on his feet. "Midget…"

"Idiot!" A female voice he knew way to well yelled at him. "What do you think you're doing, acting like a fool all day?"

He couldn't help but chuckle, even when she was chastising him, or downright insulting him, he loved hearing her voice so much he just couldn't find it in himself to care.

"If you keep acting like that they're going to start worrying about you, even more than they used to, they're going to wonder what's wrong with you and…"

She couldn't finish her rant, for suddenly she was being held tight in his arms, her feet barely touching the ground as he held her to his body with as much strength as he dared.

"I missed you…" He whispered into her hair, softly, his voice almost breaking.

"Fool…" She whispered, this time as softly as he. "You saw me just last night…"

"I know." He nodded, still not letting go. "But even this morning I couldn't be sure it was nothing more than a wonderful dream…It had been so long…all these months…I began fearing I would never see you again."

It was so unlike him, to admit to any weaknesses, fears, so openly. But then again she was the only one there, to hear his confessions, to see him break down; and she had known for a while now she was the only one he didn't even try hiding from. This made her feel many things, honored, touched, and yet also afraid, the last thing she wanted to do was fail him.

Ever so slowly he eased his hold on her, and once she was steady on her feet again she pulled him to the ground with her. After a few motions he ended up sitting against the nearest tree, with her sitting on his lap, sideways.

"You know if you hadn't buried yourself so deep in your brooding we would have been able to meet before, right?" She reminded him softly.

Brooding, that's what she called what he had been doing for almost half a year since her departure, it was easier than admitting just how bad his depression had actually been, and not just his but hers as well.

"I know." He mumbled in a low voice, his arms snaking around her again, but not as tight this time. "So many months I…we lost. I was so stupid. Will you ever forgive me?"

"I told you yesterday, and I'll tell you again today, and as many times as is needed, there's nothing to forgive." She assured him. "You were feeling down, we both were, it's to be expected that you would have trouble remembering that goodbye didn't have to be the last."

"I know. But still, it didn't take you as long. Just to imagine how long you must have been waiting for me, how many times you must have come, waiting for me, only for me not to come. I really am sorry Rukia."

"Stop it Ichigo, I told you already I forgive you. I knew it would take some time for your mind to clear, for you to remember there was a chance for us to meet again. At least it took you just a few months and not years like I feared it would…" this time it was her voice that broke.

"Rukia…"

"That was my fear. That you wouldn't remember we had this chance, not in time. That you would move on and by the time we met again it would be too late…"

"I would never have moved on, not without you Rukia, never. You must know that, must know that I l…"

"Sh…" She placed a finger on his lips. "I know. And as joyful as it makes me, I can't help but feel that I'm only making things harder. I should just have left you to your life, allowed you to move on, as a human should."

"Please Rukia, we both know I'm not a normal human, powers or no powers, I'll never be normal. Even if my father weren't a shinigami, I just am different. And I like being who and what I am. I'll never regret anything, will never regret having been a Shinigami, no matter for how short a time…"

"What about the war you got dragged into?"

"I wasn't dragged into it, I chose to be a part of it. For you. I thought it was obvious."

"Have you never wondered what your life would have been if we had never met, if you had never had to shoulder so much responsibility, the fate of two worlds…"

"Well, most likely, I would be dead."

"Ichigo!"

"It's the truth, even if that hollow hadn't done it, some other, the following day, or the one after. My reiatsu was out of control, all the time, and without shinigami powers I would just have been an easy target."

"Shinigami or no shinigami I doubt very much you would have been anything close to easy."

"Maybe, but that's not the point. I don't regret what your appearance into my life has brought me Rukia. Because even with as hard and as bad as some of the things were, the good is so worth it." Before she could say anything he shushed her and went on. "You are the good Rukia, everything related to you. I told you once that thanks to you the rain had stopped, but it's more than that. You didn't just push the sadness away, the feeling of uselessness of worthlessness; you gave me the drive to move forward, to become a better brother, a better son, a better 'protector. It's thanks to you that I am what I am. So there's no way I could ever come to regret any of it. Even…even if this were to be the last time I ever see you in this life, in all my lifetimes, I could never regret it."

"It should be the last time…I really shouldn't continue interfering with your life…"

"You're not interfering midget get it through your thick skull!" He couldn't help but yell at her, then, in a more sedate tone added. "How can the very best part of my life be a bother?"

"Ichigo…you need to understand, you're human, you need to have a normal life!"

"There you go again. I already told you nothing is normal in my life! And I like it that way thank you very much!" he sighed, a hand going through his hair. "You think I don't know there's still something going on? I may have lost my spiritual senses, but I'm not stupid. I can see the way Inoue and Chad tense every once in a while, sometimes Tatsuki, or Keigo or even Mizuiro too; then there's the way Ishida's continually going on bathroom breaks, or to the nurse. And lets not get started on Karin! I may no longer be able to see or feel the spirits, but it's impossible not to notice the way all my friends, and my own sister act some times."

"It's nothing you need to worry about. Just the usual hollow going through the transient world looking for something to eat."

"But of course I need to worry about it. Rukia, I may no longer be able to make a difference, no longer have the ability to stand next to you and fight, but that doesn't make me worry about you, about anyone, any less. If anything it makes it worse, because there's nothing I can do to help, I most likely would end up being a bother if I even tried."

"Do you wish to forget? You know that is in my power. I can make sure you won't remember any of this, of hollows, shinigami, Soul Society…"

"No!" He practically screamed that word as he held her by the shoulders almost too tightly. "Never, I'll never forget. And you better not make me. Promise me Rukia! Promise me you won't do anything to make me forget. I've already lost too much. My memories, it's all I have left, I can't lost that too. Promise me you won't let that happen Rukia…"

The way he spoke, so passionately, with something so close to despair, broke her heart. It made her realize that no matter how hard it may be to deal with life without his powers, he would rather hold onto those memories. He was truly terrified of losing that, of losing what little connection he had left to that world…to her.

"I promise Ichigo."

"I've already lost too much…" he mumbled, crushing her to his chest. "I won't lose you too."

Before she could say anything, to reassure him, to joke with him, suddenly he had crushed his mouth to hers. And then nothing else matters.

'Even if this is all I have left, these moments between unconsciousness and awareness, I'll treasure them; because they've brought me a piece of you, to keep with me, always…'

.-.

What seemed like hours later, though it would have been impossible to tell really how much time had passed, or if any time had passed at all, Ichigo and Rukia were walking around the lake, holding hands, in comfortable silence.

"You know, I think I really shocked Inoue today." Ichigo said out of the blue.

"I know." Rukia nodded, her expression showing she wasn't sure if she should chuckle or berate him a bit more. At his raised brow she explained: "I didn't have much work to do today in Seireitei and decided to look around Karakura. I even got to kill one hollow, low level, before Ishida got there."

"Is he going to get in trouble for taking over the hollow hunting?" Ichigo suddenly remembered a worry he'd been having a few weeks now.

"You haven't noticed then?"

"What?" Ichigo asked, confused.

"Ishida has some new kind of arrows, he can purify a hollow, just like u…like a shinigami."

"Really? I didn't know that was possible."

"Me neither. In any case, it's good, he's taken over guarding Karakura and no one can complain because he isn't upsetting the balance."

"Yeah, it's good. That other shinigami, the one with the afro, is no good at job. Karin told me once how she's had to help Don Kanonji, Ururu and Jinta handle the hollows a few times and that he never seems to be around when needed."

"That's no good. I didn't know it was that bad. I thought Ishida just preferred handling things himself. I'll have to bring it up with Ukitake-taicho soon."

"And how are you gonna explain knowing about this? Because I have a feeling you haven't told anyone about these meetings of ours."

"It isn't like we've been meeting like this that long. And in any case, no, I don't plan on telling anyone. I'm not even sure they would understand…In any case, I'll tell them I came to visit the others and they told me. That's close enough to the truth."

"Yeah…" Ichigo nodded, and suddenly seemed to notice something. "What do you mean they wouldn't understand? I mean, I realize why Ishida and them wouldn't, but I thought this was related with being shinigami…"

"Yes and no. It's not exactly about being shinigami Ichigo, if it were it wouldn't be possible for us…" she sighed and ducked her head. "I'm not sure how to explain it. You'd used this method before, to find me, when no one else so much as remembered I existed. I guess you could call it an invisible bond…"

As she spoke, for the shortest time, just a fraction of a second, a braided ribbon seemed to appear around their clasped hands, in a mix of white, red and black. A moment later everything was the same way as before.

"How long do you think we'll be able to keep meeting like this?" Ichigo questioned.

"I don't know. For as long as we want to, I guess." She shrugged. "You know Ichigo, if one day you finally decide to move on, I won't hold it against you. You have a right to live your life, your human life, free of this, free of my world and its troubles."

"Never gonna happen, I told you already. Stop insisting midget."

"I just don't want you to put your life on hold because of me."

"I won't. I promise to you I'll live my life, however long or short it might be. I'll keep going to school, hang out with my friends, eventually graduate, get a job, my own place, and all that. Still, I don't think I'll ever stop coming to see you. I'll do it every night, until you get tired of me." He half-smirked.

"Never. I'll never get tired of you."

"There's something…" he began, suddenly unsure. "I don't know if I should…no…"

"What is it?"

"Nothing."

"Ichigo!"

"I just…wonder if you'll wait for me? But no, I shouldn't be asking this. Who knows how long it'll take for me to die? I shouldn't chain you to something like this, I…"

"So it's alright for you not to move on, to keep holding onto what's really nothing more than a dream, a beautiful dream, granted, but not truly real; and yet you won't allow me to do the same for you?"

"I…"

"I promise Ichigo, I'll wait for you, for as long as you wait for me."

"A lifetime." He whispered, almost wistfully.

"A lifetime then." She nodded. "And afterwards…"

"We'll have forever."

With that, and before he could say anything else, she jumped him. He fell to the snow with a soundless thud, before having his mouth claimed by hers.

They didn't separate until they had to take a breath, and only long enough for that, before claiming each other again in a very passionate kiss.

And then, suddenly, it was as if the same plaited ribbon unraveled, as everything around them vanished, only half a second before they themselves did.

.-.

"I-CHI-GO!"

The aforementioned teen still could taste that kiss in his mouth, the mix of lilacs, vanilla, ice and something else that was uniquely Rukia.

At the sound of his father's yell he rolled out of bed, just in time to evade his dropkick, then jumped onto his feet and punched the older man out of his room in a fluid motion…all this while still having his eyes half-closed and not being fully awake.

"Good morning my son!" The old man continued yelling from outside. "Rise and shine my boy, it's a new day and…"

And the orange-haired tuned him out, as great as his sleep might have been he was in no mood to deal with his father that morning. The last thing he wanted was to have his day ruined by the stupidities of the man.

Still half immersed in the memory of his dream/vision/whatever, Ichigo took a shower, got dressed in a clean uniform, shouldered his bag and after going through the kitchen to pick up a piece of toast and a bit of juice he left the house.

Mizuiro was, like always, waiting for him outside. It had become so usual that Ichigo no longer had to wonder if he would be there.

"Hi Ichigo." The other boy greeted him with what seemed like a careful attitude.

"Hey Mizuiro." Ichigo answered him with a nod. "Lets get going."

Mizuiro nodded and they both got on the way. Still, Ichigo could notice the way the other boy wouldn't take his eyes off him, as if he were measuring each and every move of the orange-haired teen.

"Mizuiro, stop it." Ichigo told him shortly before they got to school.

"Ichigo?" The boy pretended to be oblivious, but it was no use, and he knew it.

"Stop looking at me like I'm some kind of fragile sculpture that's gonna break down at any moment." Ichigo half grumbled at him. "I'm fine."

And for the first time, he meant it, something Mizuiro nodded; it seemed to be enough to make the boy lay off him.

As they entered the classroom Ishida and Inoue seemed to eye him speculatively, Ichigo just waved and got to his place, he would allow Mizuiro to get them off his back.

'One lifetime…Just one lifetime to wait; and then we'll be together forever…'


Hope you liked it. I just really, really had to write this, after reading that chapter of the manga, and the fics some people have made. If you want one really great fic go look for one called "I remember" it's definitely the best 'Chapter-423' related fic out there.

Now, this was originally intended as a One-Shot, I actually have a few ideas that could be used to turn this into a series of One-Shots. All of them Ichiruki, and at some point maybe small mention of other pairings (though Ichigo and Rukia will never be with anyone but each other). If you wish for me to make more chapters tell me.

I also take this chance to greatly thank everyone reviewed and favorited my other Bleach fic "Choices of Life and Death", I'm delighted you liked it, I just hope if I could possibly get a few more reviews in this one, please. As great as being favorited is, I'm afraid i just love reading reviews too much...jejeje.

So, I'll be waiting for your response.

Ja ne!

P.S. Kubo Tite, take pity on us, and please, please get Ichigo and Rukia together already!