Here it is, the end to a fantastic, delightful and truly bizarre journey. Several times I wondered how I was going to do it, the "Some time..." fragments were truly a headache to write, even to plan, considering I had to be careful not to give too much and have you discover everything too soon. True, some of you discovered who several people were before I said it, and to be honest, I was glad about that, because I see it as meaning that I was good enough in their portrayal that you couldn't help but seeing it was them. (And lets admit it, Ichigo and Rukia were pretty obvious from the very beginning). I did the things I did, because I just love stories where Ichigo has that kinda destiny, but I wanted to handle it in a way no one else had before (at least, I don't know of anyone who has done it before, if it's been done, let me know, I would love to read the fic!).
Oh, and for those interested, I'll say it again, the song that's become a sort of theme for this fic, and which lyrics will appear fully in this finale is "Neverending story" by Within Temptation.
This is it. The Finale! Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
We're part of a story, part of a tale
We're all on this journey
No one is to stay
Where ever it's going
What is the way?
~Some Time, Some Place~
Ichigo stumbled into a place he couldn't actually recognize and yet found perfectly familiar. It seemed like a perfect mix of a forest and a city of towering skyscrapers, and in the very center of it a frozen lake, there was snow falling all around, and yet it wasn't actually cold, and there were little to no clouds in the perfectly blue sky, allowing the bright stars and the full moon to be seen shining brightly on top.
"Where am I?"
It took a second for the orange-haired to realize he hadn't been the only one to speak, and then, on the opposite side of the lake, he could see her: Kuchiki Rukia, his fiancée, the love of his existence, his soulmate…
Soulmate, suddenly that small word seemed to carry a world of implications he couldn't have imagined ever before.
"Ichigo…" He heard her whisper.
She'd just noticed him.
"Rukia…" he couldn't help his automatic reaction of whispering her name in return.
Not quite conscious of their actions they both stepped into the surface of the frozen lake and began walking to the very center of it, somehow not slipping on it. Soon enough they were standing before each other, a pair of orbs the color of melted chocolate and another that looked like two perfect amethysts met, and suddenly there was a different word, a different name in each of their lips…
A hundred questions and answers passed between them with one look. Ichigo had just died that very morning, if Rukia hadn't found him in time he would have totally disappeared; he'd learnt that the two sides of his power had been living in Rukia's inner world for the last nine years and he'd finally gone back to being a shinigami; he'd arrived to Soul Society for the first time as an actually dead man and for some not-quite-known reason Kuchiki Byakuya had offered him a room in the mansion, until he found a more permanent residence; several people seemed to be aware of the fact that there was a connection between the two of them, and they even seemed to know more about the whole matter than even the two of them did. They had gone to sleep in their respective rooms and, unexpectedly their whole lives had changed in a matter of a few hours, and for the looks of the world around them it was still changing.
"I think this is actually m…y…our Inner World." Ichigo commented.
Rukia knew he was right without actually having to think about it, the place was a perfect blend of both of their inner worlds, even when the skyscrapers were no longer horizontal.
And yet, that wasn't the only change, or the biggest one, there was also the fact of the years worth of memories that were now in their heads, several lifetimes worth of them.
"I died…" Ichigo gasped disbelieving. "Killed by an imperfect arrancar."
"I fell off a cliff, and lost all my memories." Rukia added.
They began talking in turns, faster and faster as all the facts got straightened up in their minds. It wasn't just their respective memories they were remembering, but also things from the other's point of view. It was a rush, it made them dizzy, and yet so many things seemed to be falling in place, finally…
"Oyaji, Karin-chan, Yuzu-chan, and…and kaa-san…" Ichigo mumbled in shock. "I…we…we knew them all before, a long time ago."
"Kaien-dono…he knew me too…" Rukia continued in the same shock. "And Nii-sama…"
"She wasn't actually my sister…and Ichimaru…"
"He was just following orders…our orders…"
"We came to stop Aizen before he got too far, yet we failed…"
"And not just us, the Nakama, our Nakama…"
"We came, from another plane…"
"The Royal Dimension…"
And right then, their minds suddenly synchronized, as they reached the same truth at the exact same instant.
"We were…no…we are Kimera…the King and Queen of Soul Society…"
It didn't matter how insane the mere idea sounded, because deep in their souls they knew it to be true. They were the most powerful beings of the Soul Society, as well as its rulers. It was their throne Aizen had wanted to claim…
The pair heard three voices addressing them as one and turned to see their zanpakutou spirits as well as Shiro himself nodding respectfully at them (Shiro in a much more dramatic pose than the other two).
"What is the meaning of all this ossan?" Ichigo asked, half-confused, half-frustrated. "How can we…? How can we be who we remember being?"
"I believe you said already Heika, reincarnation, loss of memory." Zangetsu replied honestly.
Ichigo would have wanted to ask what was with the 'Heika' part, but knew it was a pointless question, since a part of him knew already, just like he had also known the answer to his previous questions. Zangetsu was a no-nonsense person, and Shirayuki too in her own way, the last thing they would want would be for him and Rukia to make useless questions, they had to stop and actually think about what was going on…
"You know…you knew." Rukia spoke seriously, it wasn't a question. "Long before either of us had the slightest idea."
Ichigo did a double-take at that, but even before he could form words to express any kind of disbelief, a part of him made him realize it actually fit.
"The way you always seemed to know so much, about the Soul Society, about the shinigami, Rukia, and especially myself…" He realized.
"I told you, repeatedly Ichigo, we are your power," Zangetsu reminded him. "But not only that, we're also a part of you."
"I know that." Ichigo snapped. "But I thought you meant it in the same way all zanpakutou are a part of their shinigami!"
"You know that's not entirely true, otherwise the tragedy of Hitsugaya Toushirou and Kusaka Soujirou would have never happened." Zangetsu pointed out.
Ichigo had to grudgingly admit Zangetsu had a point.
"If Zanpakutou aren't really created from a shinigami's soul, then how?" Rukia wanted to know, really curious.
"That's not entirely true either." Shirayuki pointed out. "Zanpakutou Spirits are a part of the Shinigami's soul; but it's a bit more complicated than just that."
"In ancient times, Shinigami fought with their own powers." Zangetsu explained. "Zanpakutou spirits only came to be when a shinigami's fighting instincts warred with the rest of his personality, separating it, giving an independent form to his desire to fight. After that, such occurrences became more and more common, and then it was just considered normal. Young ones were even taught in the Academy how to separate that fighting instinct and give it form. They weren't searching for their zanpakutou spirit, they were creating it, from their own soul."
"The tragedy of the young 3rd Ouhei and his friend, it was a very particular situation." Shirayuki said compassionately. "It happens sometimes, when a hopeful shinigami isn't capable of breaking his soul to form a zanpakutou spirit, either because he cannot separate that desire for fighting from the rest of him, or he just isn't powerful enough to survive such a thing. I think Kusaka's case was actually the first, he was one who liked fighting too much, it was such a deep part of him, he couldn't separate that instinct from the rest of him. Still, he had the power to create a weapon for himself, and he couldn't help but replicate the one closest to him: Hitsugaya's Hyourinmaru. The kind of duel the two were set on, there was no way he could have ever won it, because with his education, Kusaka believed he actually needed to have a Zanpakutou spirit to win, he didn't know otherwise, he didn't know he could focus his soul on his blade without actually breaking a piece of it off. So, his blade was empty, and he lost."
"If that is true, what about us?" Rukia was curious. "Because my memories are telling me that before we forgot everything you didn't exist."
"We didn't." Zangetsu admitted. "You created us. Rukia created Sode no Shirayuki in the Academy, when she was instructed the same way as any other shinigami, as she'd forgotten she didn't actually need to create her to fight. Then, when she gave you her powers, Ichigo, it was actually Shirayuki you wielded for those first months. Until Urahara used his unorthodox methods for you to find your own power. By then you had already heard of Zanpakutou Spirits, you believed you had to have one to be a proper Shinigami, so you created me. At the same time, after the threat Urahara had issued that you could become a hollow, a part of you ripped off further, creating Shiro as well. I was your resolve to fight, while he was the despair you felt when you couldn't fight or weren't strong enough. It is the same reason why Rukia doesn't have a hollow, she doesn't have that despair, but that doesn't mean she couldn't access that same kind of power."
"You mean I could call on hollow powers if I wanted?" Rukia wasn't expecting that.
"You may not have a dark version of yourself, but the power is still at your disposal." Shiro gave his own input. "After all, both of you are Kimera."
It was the truth, they both had the same power, it was what made them so special, and part of what made them so perfect together.
"What about what you told me that day, right before the final confrontation with Aizen?" Ichigo asked soberly. "We fought for my right to use the Final Getsuga, and then when I finally learnt my lesson you told me I would lose all my shinigami powers if I used it. And yet…and yet you weren't lost, you were in Rukia's soul, both you and Shiro, all along you were there, all those years. Yet for some reason I never saw you, even when I entered her Inner World every night, I never knew you were there. You didn't allow me too. For all those years, you lied to me!"
"It wasn't a lie, as much as keeping the truth from you." Zangetsu pointed out.
"A lie is a lie, no matter how much you may want to embellish it, damn it!" Ichigo hissed.
"Told ya…" Shiro couldn't help but chuckle.
When everyone turned to look at him while still glaring Shiro raised her hands in surrender.
"When you left us to follow Aizen, after your training, Tensa Zangetsu and I talked." Shiro elaborated. "We talked about what would happen when you lost your powers fighting Aizen. How if the others didn't act fast enough you would die. What we would do to make sure we didn't disappear…I also told him I knew you were going to find out the truth one day, and that you weren't going to like it. He insisted you would understand."
The hollow version shook his head, he still thought Zangetsu had been too hopeful when he'd said those words.
"Why would you lie to me Zangetsu?" Ichigo asked his zanpakutou ignoring his dark double's comment. "Why when I trusted you so much?"
"Like I said before, it wasn't exactly a lie." Zangetsu insisted. "Ichigo, your father expected you to learn a final technique, the same that caused him to lose his own powers. I couldn't teach you such a technique, because we don't have one. Ichigo, my name may be Zangetsu, and my abilities may seem similar to Isshin's own Engetsu; but we're not the same sword. The only reason we even seem that much alike is because, at least in this life, he is your father, you now carry a trace of his reiryoku in you, a trace that influenced in my own creation."
"So you don't actually have a Final Getsuga." Ichigo deduced. "Mugetsu doesn't truly exist? Why lie to me?"
"You needed power." Zangetsu explained. "You believed Mugetsu to be that power."
"What exactly did I do then?" Ichigo was curious now. "I mean, if there's no such thing as a final Getsuga and all that."
"When Shiro and Tensa Zangetsu fused, they, we, were your whole potential." Zangetsu explained. "We then allowed you to access your whole power for a short period of time. That's why you became a transcendental, why you transcended even Aizen and all his evolutions with just that one change. Because you've always been beyond him. Going back to infancy, both you and Rukia, allowed your spirit to adapt better to your power, it'll also allow you to keep existing in Soul Society without reality tearing apart; but that doesn't mean you can't reach the same level you were in back when you were known as Kimera, that name, that power, it's your transcendental state, and it's at your reach at any moment." He sighed. "Back then, you were too young Ichigo. You needed your full power, but your body was still too young to handle it. That's why I allowed you to believe in the Final Getsuga, and that it would cause you to lose your power. Releasing so much power would make you go into shock, would make it so you couldn't use any power for a long while, until your spirit healed. The consequences were exactly the same, the details were something you didn't really need to know, not then, it wouldn't have made a difference."
Ichigo sighed and closed his eyes, it seemed that, like all the other explanations, this too made things all clearer. Like why he'd been unconscious for a month after that battle, why he'd felt exhausted even for several more weeks afterwards. But the thing that had intrigued him the most back then, the reason why he hadn't actually fallen as soon as the technique had been over, why he'd been able to remain conscious and well as he talked to Urahara, and then his friends. It hadn't been until minutes later that he'd suddenly felt an awful pain fill him and he had collapsed, shaking and screaming. Now he knew his body had gone into shock, after having all that power running through him.
Ichigo just didn't know what to say, it seemed like even as he ran the risk of disappearing, Zangetsu had done his best to protect him. It was like Tensa Zangetsu had said back then…
"What I wanted to protect…was you…Ichigo…"
"Thank you…ossan…" Was all the orange-haired could whisper.
Silence lasted for several minutes, it wasn't really an uncomfortable silence; there was peace, and calm all around them, as the truth finished sinking in for all of them.
Eventually they all ended up in different positions near the edge of the frozen lake. The girls laying down in the not-cold snow, Zangetsu and Ichigo laying against either a tree or concrete, while Shiro kept fooling around.
"We're the King and Queen of Soul Society." Rukia declared after a while as she turned to look at Ichigo. "Do you know what that means?"
"That if people find out it'll be worse than if they find out about my father being the head of the Nagaken Clan?" Ichigo asked.
He really wasn't looking forward to that. He hated formalities, and nobility meant nothing to him; and yet, that didn't change that his father had been a part of all that, and if…or most likely when, that was found out…
"No idiot!" Rukia snapped with a chuckle. "I meant in regards to our bond…"
As she spoke she twirled her hand several times in the air, until suddenly a red energy thread appeared from thin air, and it bound her and Ichigo together.
"The Akai-ito…" Ichigo whispered.
He watched attentively where the other end of the thread went around his own hand.
"You said it before." Rukia whispered in awe. "You said it felt like we had been bound for a very long time. And we have, we've been together for over a lifetime; and we'll remain together one way or another no matter how many lifetimes we live…"
"Together…" Ichigo realized where she was going then. "For all eternity."
"Eternity…" Rukia repeated with a smirk. "That's a pretty long time. Think you'll be able to handle me strawberry?"
"I think I'll manage midget." Ichigo smirked back at her.
Rukia moved to kick him in the shins, like was usual for her. Ichigo evaded her before hugging her tightly enough for her not to be able to hit him.
"I'll always love you." He whispered into her ear. "Come what may, it's a promise, Luna."
"Me too." Rukia replied back in the same tone. "Till the end of time, Sol."
That night, everything changed, not just for them, but in a way for everyone; even if the rest of the world wouldn't be finding out until a year later…
We're part of a story, part of a tale
Sometimes beautiful and sometimes insane
No one remembers how it began.
Ichigo was pacing from one side to the other of the office, several people had already tried talking to him but it was useless. The Head of the Nagaken-Kurosaki Clan and the Spiritual Council was too wound-up to see reason.
It continued like that for a while longer until his wife Rukia entered the room, hands on her hips and in her most serious voice spoke to him.
"Ichigo!" Rukia called loudly. "Stop your pacing already, you're scaring the servants. And your reiatsu is beginning to leak a bit too much. If you keep things this way you're gonna make everyone suffocate!"
"Rukia…" Ichigo's face showed he was very stressed. "I…"
"I know how you're feeling Ichigo, I care about Yuzu too, you know?" Rukia chided him, more gently this time. "But you acting like this isn't gonna help anyone."
"Why can't I go Rukia?" Ichigo asked, finally stopping his pacing. "This is my sister we're talking about! Why can't I go look for her myself?"
"Because you're the King of Soul Society Ichigo! You have a duty to do, and it never stops, not even because of family emergencies."
"Family will always be more important than duty."
"I know. And if we had some reason to believe she's in any real danger you know I wouldn't just not stop you, I would even join you. But she isn't in any danger…"
"Then why haven't they found her yet?"
"Have you considered the possibility that she may not need to be found, that she could possibly be on her way already? You said it Ichigo, she is your sister, she is Kurosaki-Nagaken Yuzu. It doesn't matter if she was the last one of all of you to gain, or regain, her powers, they are as much a part of her as they're of all of you." She held him by the arms. "Trust me Ichigo, and trust your sister. She's alright…"
For all answer the orange-haired young man let out a sigh and allowed himself to fall onto the closest sofa, where his obsidian haired wife immediately climbed onto his lap, holding him. She knew he was worried, so was she, but they had to hold on. They were the King and Queen of Soul Society and had an image to keep. Things had been tense since the news had come in half an hour before, but they had to stay strong…
The news, there had been a car accident in downtown Tokyo a couple of hours before, a bad one, several cars had crashed into each other in a mayor crossroad. Yuzu had been in one of the cars, along with a couple of her coworkers, they had been there to attend a Medical Congress, as they were all nurses at different hospitals. While the crash itself had been bad, all Yuzu had had to show for it had been a minor scratch in an arm, and seeing how bad things were, and that traffic was likely to delay the ambulances she had set to work helping whoever she could as they waited. One of her coworkers who was still conscious but had a broken ankle had been giving orders to the voluntaries who approached her on how to treat those who could be treated or make sure the rest would survive. Their last co-worker had a bad concussion and could barely be kept awake.
Despite all their efforts several of the people had died in the hour they had had to wait for the ambulances to arrive. They began taking the victims away as Yuzu and her coworker, Sachiko, indicated. With Sachiko herself being in the last; apparently it hadn't been until that ambulance had arrived to the hospital that they had realized Yuzu hadn't been in any. All the paramedics had seen her moving from one place to another, helping people, they had thought she was another one of them, or even a voluntary, never guessing she'd been a victim of the crash herself. As soon as Uryuu, who was there for the same Congress, had learnt of this, he himself had rushed out in another ambulance, by the time they got there it was too late. They'd found Yuzu's body on the ground, two blocks away from the crash site, apparently when being left behind she'd tried to walk herself to the hospital, only to collapse a couple of blocks away. Uryuu had known the truth even before the paramedics had done anything, his nakama's sister was dead.
According to the medics who had checked over her after arriving to the hospital she had hit her head hard in the crash, that had caused several of the blood vessels in her brain to burst. Yuzu had been so focused on helping everyone she hadn't realized her dizziness wasn't because of the scare, but because she had internal wounds. Eventually it had been too much pressure for her brain and she'd just collapsed, dying almost instantly. Even if she'd made it to the hospital, the surgery needed for such a wound was likely to have killed her.
It was official then, Kurosaki-Nagaken Yuzu was dead.
But that wasn't the part that was stressing out Ichigo, Rukia and nearly every person who had ever met the sweet and caring brown-eyed and auburn-haired woman; what had everyone stressed out was that Yuzu couldn't seem to be found. Shinigami had been combing Tokyo for over half an hour, even the humans in the known had joined the search, yet none of them had seen the spirit of the thirty-two year old woman yet.
The endearment, called in such a low tone most wouldn't have even heard it, was enough for Ichigo to jump from his spot instantly, barely having the mind to hold his wife to him before she crashed to the ground.
"Yuzu!" Ichigo and Rukia cried out at the same time.
Rukia was still being held in Ichigo's arms when they both embraced the younger woman.
Yuzu giggled seeing the scene, her brother, half carrying his own wife as they both embraced her tightly.
"We were so worried about you…" Ichigo began in a rush.
"Yes, worried enough that he was driving the servants crazy with his pacing, and his reiatsu was beginning to smother a few of them." Rukia told her in a conspiratorial tone.
"Ichi-nii…" Yuzu repeated the endearment, this time in a chiding voice.
"What?" Ichigo pouted. "I had all the right to be worried. You died! Without anyone knowing! And then you went and disappeared from the place you died in! I've had shinigami combing through all of Tokyo for the last 45 minutes at least, even Uryuu, Orihime, Tatsuki, Chad and Keigo are out looking for you!
"But…I don't understand…why?" Yuzu seemed honestly confused. "Why would anyone need to go looking for me?"
"To get you here!" Ichigo cried out.
Suddenly realizing where Yuzu was going, Rukia couldn't help it, she laughed out loud.
"Rukia?" Ichio asked, now confused himself.
"Ichi-nii." Yuzu spoke in a very serious tone. "I am your sister, I am part of the Kurosaki-Nagaken Clan, a healer both in the Human and Spiritual Worlds, and I'm also a part of the Spiritual Royal Court. Thanks to each of those details I'm more than capable of getting myself into Soul Society. I'm not a defenseless soul in need of konso!"
Ichigo hunched up, smiling sheepishly. He knew how special his sister was, he had just been so worried about her he hadn't stopped to consider the possibilities.
"I'm sorry Yuzu." Ichigo apologized honestly. "It's just, you need to understand me. I know you're all a woman now, a successful healer in both worlds, and powerful on your own. I just…to me you're still my little sister. I have the right to worry about my sister!"
"Of course you do, but there's no need for you to drive Rukia and all your staff crazy." Yuzu replied with a smile. "Now go and tell the shinigami, and your friends that I've been found. And you better apologize for sending them in an unnecessary mission!"
"Yes, yes, I'm going." Ichigo grumbled as he let go of the two women.
The two women waited until he stepped out of the room, one of the latest cellphones already in hand, before breaking into laughter.
"Well, you're here for good now Yuzu, any plans on what to do with your afterlife?" Rukia asked her sister-in-law interestedly.
"I have a few plans." Yuzu half-admitted. "Nothing definite yet."
Unknown to the older yet shorter woman, as Yuzu held her hands behind her back, she was playing with the simple yet beautiful diamond ring in the third finger of her left hand…
The room was totally silent except for the rustle of clothes as most of the ones who had been there for the last several hours left by the doors behind their seats. In the end, the only ones remaining in the extremely big room were Ichigo and Rukia. They sat in a couple of elaborate chairs in one of the four sides of the room, with two chairs on each side, reserved for the Nakama, even though with them still being alive it was actually rare for them to be in such meetings. A few steps beneath them there were other six chairs, for the Court, specifically the Otomes and Kakkas, whose council was greatly appreciated during the same meetings. Even when usually only four of them were filled, as the two Kuchikis had other positions to fill.
"Explain to me again how, after all the times we agreed we didn't want this kind of power and responsibility, we ended up in this very position anyway?" Ichigo asked tiredly.
He wasn't actually expecting an answer, and it wasn't like it was the first time he asked that very same question; and yet his wife still answered him, and she would continue doing so until he fully accepted the way things were.
"Because it was necessary." Rukia reminded him. "The Chamber 46…they were doing more bad than good. I don't know if it was just this generation, and the one Aizen destroyed, or if it's always been that way. But we both know that, given the chance to make things better, there was no way we would let them get away with things. The situation with Amagai-taichou and the Kasumi-Ouji family only gave us the opportunity we needed."
And what an opportunity it had been. A mid-level Noble Family creating way-too-dangerous weapons, a man trying to overthrow the head of his own clan for evil purposes, a young girl being targeted by assassins because she's the only thing standing between the psycho and his own plans. And in the midst of it all a man working both sides while trying to get revenge for the death of his own father…and Ichigo thought his life was a soap-opera!
They had first become aware of the situation when the Ishidas had accidentally found the Kasumi-Ouji heiress trying to hide in the Material World. Afterwards it had been a disaster after another. No one could actually complain over them interfering, since they weren't actually affiliated to the Gotei and therefore didn't have to follow their rules, and everyone knew that, if necessary, they would have the backing of the King and Queen. The shinigami themselves couldn't get involved in the matter due to some archaic rules put into place by the Chamber of 46, where they weren't meant to interfere in Noble Clan's matters. Ichigo thought it was stupid, but even with his and Rukia's powers, they couldn't change the law in the middle of a conflict, so they had to help the Ishidas and their other human friends discreetly as they handled things. In the end they had come very close to losing a good man and superb captain simply because he was trying to take revenge on the wrong man. In any case Ichigo was sure the experience might have helped remind Yamamoto he was still as human and prone to making mistakes as the rest of them. The orange-haired still believed that being in the same position, the highest military position for so long had gotten to the old-man's head.
Which is why he no longer had that kind of power. With Ichigo and Rukia back as King and Queen they were the highest authority in all aspects, leaving Yamamoto on the same level as all the other captains.
"We solved the situation to everyone's satisfaction, dissolved the Chamber of 46, and then created the Spiritual Council to take its place…sort of." Rukia finished.
Sort of, because the Council wasn't really the same thing as the Chamber, it was much more ambitious in more ways than one. The Spiritual Council was divided in four groups, and they had their places in each of the four sides of the room. One was formed of course by the King, Queen, Nakama and their Court. A second was for the representatives of the Gotei 13, one for each Division, most of the time it was either the captain or lieutenant, but sometimes it was a different person. Another side was for the representatives of the Noble Clans, the four High Families at the top, and the rest a level beneath, though they all had the same right to speak. The last one was reserved for a total of 32 representatives of Rukongai, one for every ten districts in any given direction.
It was that last part that made the Council so different from the Chamber, the opinions of everyone were being listened to. It wasn't easy, there were many in Rukongai who still didn't believe in Ichigo's and Rukia's good intentions, many nobles who didn't like the fact hat those from Rukongai were being involved in the matters of Seireitei, and those who simply didn't believe such a things could be done. All Ichigo and Rukia, and most of those working with them wanted was to make Soul Society more like the heaven it was supposed to be.
"You know…sometimes I can't help but think that if Aizen had been a bit smarter and somewhat less psychotic he could have managed all this…" Ichigo couldn't help but comment out of the blue. "And probably with even less trouble since everyone loved him already."
"Ichigo, you know everyone loves you." Rukia insisted.
"Except the Lower Nobles who don't like the fact that a half-human is above them, and the Higher Nobles that think exactly the same, the Shinigami who even today think I have all this because of my nobility, those from Rukongai who still aren't satisfied with the changes or just don't care for them." Ichigo began enlisting sardonically.
"Well, you can't make everyone happy." Rukia shrugged. "But where did the comment come from? You hadn't mention Aizen, any of the Aizens really, in years. Ever since we finally finished the investigation concerning them."
"I do sometimes think about them, about how close they came to destroying everything we worked for our whole existences." Ichigo admitted. "About all the people that was hurt, directly or indirectly by them, and how different things might have been if we had caught them before. I mean, how many people died because of those three? Kaa-san, Toushirou, and the loss of them hurt Oyaji, Karin, Yuzu; and then there was Byakuya, he might not have been killed, but in a way it was worse, it affected Miyuka greatly, and then there was the whole mess with Hisana…so much that could have been prevented if we had been more efficient about dealing with the situation."
"And how do you propose we should have done that?" Rukia inquired.
Usually she would have just told him to deal with his regrets and move on, that no matter how much he tortured himself with ideas and plans and what ifs they wouldn't change the past a bit. But in this case…it was different, Rukia thought that to get him to move on, first she had to understand why the whole thing kept torturing him so much even a decade after the last Aizen had died.
"Why did we allow Daisuke to have a position in Court, as one of the Hakkas, when we didn't even know him?" Ichigo questioned.
"We knew hardly anyone aside from the Nakama." Rukia reminded him. "We accepted all of those Yamamoto sent us, they were supposed to be the best, after all. And we mostly saw the whole thing as protocol. We didn't take the fact that we had become King and Queen serious enough until most of the possibilities had already been taken away from us. Like the law that only allowed us to interfere if events threatened the Eternal Balance."
"So many lives were lost over that, because we couldn't interfere in time to make any actual change." Ichigo nodded.
"But we were talking about the Aizens." His wife reminded him.
"When Kaa-san was murdered, we should have investigated deeper. Been more insistent about checking everyone in the Palace." Ichigo continued.
"That day was one of connection with the Soul Society, practically everyone in the palace was actually at the communications' station to talk or visit with the families and friends they left behind. We were led to believe that the killer had infiltrated the Palace during that time; and we bought it, because so many of the guards were away from their posts, that there was no way to know better."
"When Daisuke tried to assassinate us, and Arquero stopped him, we shouldn't have killed him so soon, we should have interrogated him first."
"He was trying to kill us! Arquero acted instinctually to protect his wife, and the rest of us. And even if he hadn't, there's no guarantee Daisuke would have told us anything, or that he wouldn't have led us into a merry chase. Whatever anyone else may say, I still believe he was as or even more insane than Momoko."
"And yet we allowed her to live, even after what she did to Toushirou, and possibly Byakuya."
"She was just a little girl in our eyes, and we all were far too forgiving back then. Doesn't mean we ever made that same mistake again. And Karin dealt with her just fine already. What is really bothering you Ichigo?"
"We should have known who it was…" The orange-haired admitted after a while.
"Huh?" His wife was confused about that.
"When we first came to Soul Society to stop the storm, we should have known who was behind it. The clues were all there, he was an Aizen just like Daisuke and Momoko, we knew they communicated regularly, and there were enough inconsistencies in regards of how he was advancing in rank, all the shinigami that seemed to conveniently disappear or retire…Yet we still didn't know, not until we met Gin and he pointed us in the right direction. We didn't know it was him, but he did know about us. He did something, I don't know what, that forced us to land farther from Seireitei than we had planned, and also made us split, he might or might not have arranged the attack that made Hisana lose her memory. Then that day, the Hamen that attacked us, he allowed it to enter Rukongai, and to go unchecked until it found us, until it killed me…"
That much they knew for a fact, they had found some secret archives of Aizen Sousuke, it talked about the conversations he'd had with his older brother: Daisuke. The older brother had wanted to be King, not believing the Kimera to be worth their title because they looked too young and were pacifists. When Daisuke had failed, Sousuke had made his own plan to achieve the very same thing, going as far as using his own niece for his plans. He was a genius, capable of discovering a way of knowing when a Senkaimon was opened between the Royal Dimension and Soul Society, that was how he'd known when the four of them had made their way there, and been able to interfere. When his first and possibly second interferences failed to be enough he'd arranged for one of his first Arrancar to get into Rukongai unnoticed long enough for it to track whoever had the highest reiatsu in the area, and that obviously was the two de-aged royals.
However, judging for the way Sousuke had reacted and spoken during his last fight with Ichigo it was safe to say that he'd believed at least both royals to have died that day, and he never expected them to com back. It was why he'd been so shocked when Ichigo and Rukia had shared hollow powers. About Kaien, regardless of if he'd believed him dead or known him to be alive all along, Aizen had still discovered, or at least suspected of the Shiba enough to send yet another of his hollows after him and his wife.
And there were other things Aizen hadn't known either. Ichigo could still remember what the crazed shinigami had said as his father battled him in the Fake Karakura; Ichigo himself might have been a bit busy dealing with Gin, but in a place so empty their voices carried, enough to allow them to listen to each others' conversation, speeches, and in Aizen's particular case, his delusions of power, his and everyone else's.
Aizen had claimed that it had been the Hougyoku that had given Chad and Orihime powers, but then what about Tatsuki? And even Mizuiro's, Keigo's and Chizuru's spiritual awareness. It had been so easy for the traitor to take credit for something like that; and it is possible that, in other circumstances, things might have worked as he'd claimed; but not then. Because Aizen hadn't known something very important: that Orihime and Chad, as well as Tatsuki and Uryuu, they were all Nakama. The Hougyoku didn't grant any of them their powers, because they had already been theirs, they just hadn't manifested before, possibly because they hadn't needed them. The Nakama's powers, and even Uryuu's true potential, hadn't manifested until Ichigo needed strong allies, until he'd unconsciously called them back. Just like the memories of the four of them had begun returning, slowly, after Rukia's and Ichigo's own.
Aizen had believed himself to be a genius, all known, someone who deserved to be a god…the truth was, he knew very little, and what he did know, he had tried to adjust into his plans in his own ways…in the wrong ways. If he had realized before the true nature of their powers, especially Ichigo's and Rukia's…who knows what would have happened?
But he hadn't realized, it wasn't until the very lst seconds of his existence that he'd even suspected what it meant that the two of them could share power, and by then it was already too late, for him that is. In the end he'd lost and died, just like his brother and niece; they had died, Ichigo, Rukia and their Nakama had won, and with them all the Worlds…
They were truly lucky Gin was working for them, or they might have never known everything Aizen had done throughout the years, especially after he'd gotten rid of Kaien. Even when Gin had acted against them all, had attacked Ichigo and his nakama, psychologically tortured Rukia, tried to kill her and badly wounded Byakuya, he was doing it all for the mission, and in the end he was the only one to die…and even then, he'd managed to find his way back, to Soul Society, and to Rangiku…
"Sol…" Rukia couldn't help but whisper her endearment to him as she caressed his cheek. "We did the best we could. They say hindsight is 20/20, and while I agree we could have done some things differently, what guarantee do we have that it would have truly made things better in the end? I mean, look at things from this point of view: it is true that the Aizens hurt many people, but your parents are back together again, as are Byakuya and Miyuka, and Toushirou and Karin; Gin, Kaien and his wife are all here and just fine as well, all the Aizens are dead, everyone who was once unjustly condemned is free, all our nakama are seen as Heroes, and we're on our way to make Soul Society a true heaven. Do you honestly believe things could have turned out any better than this?"
Ichigo sighed as he closed his eyes, he had to admit his wife had a point, regardless of how many times he turned things around in his head, he doubted he would ever be able to think of someway the final result could have been better than what they were living in that moment.
"You're right Luna…" he finally admitted as he kissed her hair tenderly.
"Like always," She deadpanned with a smirk. "Now stop brooding already. The Festival is tonight and you know we have to be at the opening of it."
"That's right, the festival…" Ichigo sighed tiredly.
He'd actually forgotten that the celebrations began that night.
The Festival, that was what everyone called it, it had existed for a very long time, so long few actually remembered what was the first thing they had celebrated. It actually was the creation of Soul Society itself. Then the Festival had been used to celebrate the end of the Quincy Conflict, then their victory in the Winter War, and now it was also seen as a celebration of the King's and Queen's return… It didn't matter that no one actually knew when Soul Society had been created, as dates hadn't been that important back then, or that the Winter War actually ended two or three months before the day of the festival, the only date that actually fit was in regards to the King and Queen's return, though that was actually to the last day of the Festival…a week-long festival. Ichigo and Rukia have always found it funny that their week-long anniversary was also a celebration for everyone else in the Soul Society…
"Come on." Rukia nudged him in the shoulder. "Lets go home, rest for a bit before tonight."
"Ok…" Ichigo nodded and finally got up.
They were on their way out when suddenly Ichigo thought of something.
"Maybe, now that Yuzu's finally here permanently, Hanatarou will finally find the guts to ask me for her hand in marriage." Ichigo commented.
"I wouldn't bet on it." Rukia replied easily. "They've been engaged for months now, and they think we don't know…"
"As if something like that could get past me." Ichigo added. "But anyway, I told you, Yuzu is now here permanently, and I doubt she actually wants to get installed in the manor only to have to move out later on. And I know for a fact Hanatarou purchased his own place a few years ago, when he finally became fourth seat."
"You know you're too well-informed at times?" Rukia joked. "It makes it look as if you've been stalking people…"
"I'm the King of Soul Society…" Ichigo began dramatically, and then in a more serious tone. "But mainly, I'm an older brother, that gives me the right to be well-informed of anything and everything that affects my sisters."
Rukia shook her head with a smile, she really should have been expecting that.
"Still, in regards to Hanatarou." The amethyst-eyed returned to the topic. "I wouldn't hold my breath about him talking to you. You know he gets scared easily. And, I mean, it's well known it was Yuzu who first asked him out seven years ago!"
"That's my sister, alright!" Ichigo chuckled. "I really don't understand how people can keep saying she's nothing like Karin, or I, or Dad. She's exactly the same!"
And she was, even if she hid the head-strong attitude behind a cute face and sweet smile.
"Come on." Rukia told him yet again. "You can worry about Yuzu, Hanatarou and other relationships later."
Ichigo shook his head. He wasn't worried, not really. He knew Hanatarou made Yuzu happy, like Jinta never could, and if to keep that happiness the two wanted to get married, then Ichigo would be happy for them. No matter how cold he acted at times, how much he grumbled and scowled; all he wanted was for those he cared for to be happy. Regardless of what their choices were, as long as they brought them happiness it was alright with him…except when it came to Mitsukai, then he had every right to grumble and scowl and act all overprotective, she was his only daughter after all…
The last day of the Festival, the crowds opened a path for the Royal Entourage to pass. Unlike the first day of the celebrations, this time they weren't wearing their official attires, instead they were all decked in kimonos. The Ishida's sky blue, white and a bit of cream for the girls; the Sados in shades of brown, red and beige; Rukia and Ichigo were in their customary white and black respectively their obis the opposite color. A step behind them walked a nine-year old girl with long orange locks several shades darker than Ichigo, and violet eyes, darker than Rukia's, she was wearing a silvery kimono with a bright-red obi, she was their only daughter: Princess Kurosaki-Nagaken Mitsukai.
As the reached the top of the Soukyoku Hill, places had been prepared for them on the stage, the same stage where the announcement of the King's and Queen's return had been made a decade before.
Some of those places were already occupied by several others like the Hitsugayas: Toushirou in a turquoise kimono, Karin in a steel-gray with garnet accents one, and with them their eight-year old ashen-black haired and turquoise-eyed daughter in an ice-blue kimono: Haruka. Yuzu was also there in a yellow kimono, along with Isshin and Masaki, in a brown and light-red colored kimono respectively. Mizuiro was in a corner, clad in a light-green kimono, he'd been chosen to take the place of the 2nd Hakka after the previous one had chosen to retire and Mizuiro himself had died. Next were the Ukitakes: Juushirou in forest-green, a pregnant Yonohana in amber and their seven-year-old son: black-haired and amber-eyed Kohaku, in pastel-green. The Ichimarus weren't too far from them, Gin dressed in gray, Rangiku in pink, and their six-year-old son, Kane in a light brown kimono that went well with his blonde hair (a shade or two lighter from Rangiku's own) and sky-blue eyes. Close enough for their children to be talking were the Shibas: Kaien, Miyako and their son: Takeshi, all dressed in garnet and brown. The last occupants of the chairs in that stage were the Kuchikis: Byakuya in midnight-blue, Miyuka in violet and their daughter: black-haired and blue-violet eyed nine-year old Yumeko in lavender.
"Welcome spirits to the last day of the Festival!" Ichigo called in a loud voice.
He didn't exactly like having to be the one to talk, but it was part of his position.
"During the last six nights we've celebrated the long and amazing history of our world." Ichigo told them. "Now it's time to make our wishes for the future. Think and plan what each of you want to achieve in the times to come."
It was what that day was about, it actually reminded several of the humans or recently dead ones of the New Years festivals they had attended when alive. The main difference being the fact that this festival didn't take place in the last day of December or the first of January, but instead in April, right after Spring had begun already.
"We've survived so much." Rukia took over the speech. "From the day Soul Society was created, through wars and invasions; we fought, we bled, we survived. Now peace is ours, the past has been settled, and the future is ours. Make wishes for that future!"
The cheering from everyone all around was deafening.
That was one Festival everyone in Soul Society shared in. While it was true those from Rukongai would never fit, the Court had long ago arranged for similar festivals to take place all around Rukongai. It was something that allowed all the spirits to feel they belonged together, even when some had powers and some didn't, or when they lived in different regions, worked in different things. In the end they were all a part of the same world.
The Festival went underway, as food was shared and music played by those best at it.
It was near midnight, when most of the people were getting comfortable to watch the Shiba Fireworks, the best part of the last day of celebration (because fireworks were shot from every sector in Rukongai, as well as the Seireitei, and the mix was enough to light the sky as if it were the middle of the day and in the most intricate patterns of colors and forms…) when Rukia noticed Ichigo was brooding again.
"Ichigo…" Rukia spoke with a sigh as she sat beside him, head on his shoulder. "What are you thinking about now?"
"I'm thinking that there is so much that needs to be done yet…so much…" Ichigo admitted with a resigned sigh. "And I don't think a lifetime, regardless of how long it may be, will be enough time to do it."
"You know that for us to be truly immortal we would need to remain in transcendental state." Rukia commented calmly.
"I know." Ichigo nodded. "But if we had remained in that state permanently, then Mitsukai would have never been born…" he sighed. "It's the curse of being as powerful as we are…"
"It's the same reason why I could never give you a son." Rukia mumbled.
It was something they had discovered after Orihime and Tatsuki both failed to get pregnant a second time, it was simply impossible. The Nakama were all so powerful, their children were to be at least as powerful as them, and had the potential to be even more so. But for that very reason, the pregnancies were very hard on the mothers, as the babies needed reiatsu to feed on along with the usual nutrients for a baby, it made them so weak, they were vulnerable. It was likely the only reasons they survived the pregnancy was because they were Nakama themselves, but that didn't change the fact they wouldn't be able to get pregnant again, their bodies simply refused to put them in such danger again…
The same had been true for Rukia, and they suspected it may be for Karin and Miyako as well, since neither of them had had a second pregnancy either; while their husbands may not be Nakama, they were still close in power to them, and in the Hitsugayas case, Karin was very powerful too. Rangiku herself had nearly died when pregnant with Kane. They didn't know yet if Miyuka and Yuzu were in the same situation. Yonohana hadn't been, though her second pregnancy was considerably harder on her than the first had been. Masaki's case was different, because Isshin had been in a special gigai and she'd technically given birth to humans, with a lot of potential, but still humans.
Still, such circumstances only made the existence of Mitsukai, Yuri, Oscar and the other children all the more special; it made it all worth it.
"It's ok Rukia." Somehow Ichigo found himself being the one to comfort his wife. "I love you, and I love Mitsukai. We both chose to exist this way. And I still believe what I believed back then: I would rather live a hundred lifetimes, instead of a hundred lifetimes' worth with no rest, no stop. I think it would be too hard to live that long, with no rest, having to see everyone we love come and go, most likely not even knowing who we are. At least this way we'll join them on that trip…"
It was what they had decided, to live lives as normal as they could, going through the cycle of death and rebirth, like everyone else. It was likely they would remember the truth ever so often, but at least they wouldn't have to suffer by being left behind as everyone else they knew moved on to the next life.
"And no matter what else happens, we'll always have each other." Rukia added, getting happier. "We're soulmates, we'll always be. No matter how many lifetimes we may live, there'll never be another for us, but each other."
"Together, forever and always." Ichigo agreed. "I promised you eternity once before, Luna, and I promise it to you again tonight, Rukia…"
"Eternity, Sol…" Rukia agreed. "I promise you the same Ichigo…"
The loud noises caused by the fireworks brought them out of their musings just in time for them to enjoy the show. They weren't sure how Kuukaku managed to make the show something completely new every year, but she'd certainly managed to for all the years the fireworks had been a part of the Festival.
"Sing, Heika-sama, sing!"
Rukia and Ichigo turned to look at each other briefly, they had been expecting that already, it was also part of the tradition. Every year, on the last day of the Festival, after the fireworks, they always sang together the same song, their favorite song of all time.
In unison, the couple stood focusing their power so it would carry their voice everywhere, the musicians began the well-known notes of the old melody as the couple danced in the small empty space of the stage before beginning to sing.
"Armies have conquered / And fallen in the end / Kingdoms have risen / Then buried by sand" Ichigo began the first verse.
"The Earth is our mother / She gives and she takes / She puts us to sleep and / In her light we'll awake." Rukia continued.
"We'll all be forgotten / There's no endless fame" Ichigo went on.
"But everything we do / Is never in vain" Rukia added.
"We're part of a story, part of a tale / We're all on this journey / No one is to stay / Where ever it's going / What is the way?" They both sang together.
They had stopped dancing as they sang, but as they let the music continue for a bit, Ichigo took the chance to twirl his wife several times, her laughter complimenting the music beautifully, and Ichigo's own smile too was a sight to see.
They stopped twirling when the time for the next verse came, but they still swayed to the rhythm of the old melody.
"Forests and deserts / Rivers, blue seas." Ichigo took his turn to sing then.
"Mountains and valleys / Nothing here stays" Rukia added with a big smile.
"While we think we witness / We are part of the scene / This never-ending story / Where will it lead to?" Ichigo sang.
"The earth is our mother / She gives and she takes / But she is also a part / A part of the tale" Rukia was delighted when she sang.
"We're part of a story, part of a tale / We're all on this journey / No one is to stay / Where ever it's going / What is the way?" The two danced and sang together happily.
The people knew the end of the song was coming already, and many had begun swaying and dancing to the song, even as Ichigo and Rukia began twirling again, this time not stopping even as their turns to sing came.
Uryuu and Orihime, as well as Chad and Tatsuki stood and joined their friends and leaders as they danced happily and joined their voices for the last part of the song.
"We're part of a story, part of a tale / Sometimes beautiful and sometimes insane / No one remembers how it began." Uryuu and Chad joined Ichigo in that verse.
"We're part of a story, part of a tale / Sometimes beautiful and sometimes insane / No one remembers how it began." Tatsuki and Orihime joined Rukia to sing that verse again.
"We're part of a story, part of a tale / Sometimes beautiful and sometimes insane / No one remembers how it began." On the third and last time all sing sang the lines together.
The men took the chance to twirl their smiling wives once more before pulling them to their own bodies and kissing them soundly as the music decreased. It looked almost like it had all been choreographed, though it in fact had been an idea all three happened to have at the same time, a part of their very good mood.
They were all completely happy with their lives, existences; ones that were most definitely, like the song described, neverending stories.
So, there you have it. First a "Some time" scene that connects all of those with the ending of my "Everlasting Bonds" fic, then the future of everyone (to a level). A lot of romance and families...I know the ending might have been a little sappy, I just couldn't help it.
Oh, and in regards to the theory I present here, about the zanpakutou, it was just something that popped into my mind, hoped that it wasn't too confusing, and even if it was, that you liked it. One of my best-friends pointed out when I was telling her about it that that theory would also explain why Zaraki is so powerful and yet has no shikai or bankai, that he loves fighting so much he couldn't separate that part, and therefore there is no zanpakutou spirit. I have to admit I hadn't thought of that, I made my theory and then supported it with the things that are mentioned there about Zangetsu and Hyourinmaru. It was also a way of giving Karin a slightly different power, the weapon she called on during the battle against Momoko, the naginata, was the equivalent of a zanpakutou, but there was no actual spirit in it, only her own power.
For those who're wondering about a sequel...well, it's not exactly a sequel, but "Everlasting Souls" is a go. Still, seeing as I'm not in a Bleach mood anymore (haven't been for a week now, I'll admit), it'll be a while before it comes. For those who didn't read my previous notes, Souls will deal with outtakes and drabbles, scenes that are in my mind, which I couldn't find in myself to include in the stories, either because they weren't absolutely necessary, or they didn't occur to me until after the parts where they may have fitted had been published. Thus far my ideas include: a more in-depth recount of the situation with Amagai and the Kasumi-Ouji family (with obvious changes as mentioned in this chapter); a Ishida father-son moment when Uryuu informs his father he's getting married, possibly to be a small arc by adding another piece for when Uryuu informs Ryuuken Orihime is pregnant, that a former shinigami-daiko is to be the twin's godfather, and later on, when Ryuuken leanrs just who his son truly is; how Orihime and Uryuu got together, and Tatsuki and Chad (those are maybes, don't have many ideas yet); other possibilities are scenes related to parts of their past lives 8which were only superficially mentioned in this fic); other things that may have happened during the 'breaks' between the third and fourth chapters of Bonds, or the tenth and eleventh of Loves; maybe things related to the children. Who knows, whatever my mind comes up with, and if you have any ideas you're free to make suggestions. Of course, those who were my most loyal reviewers have priority...
A special petition for this finale. I would absolutely love it if everyone who's following this fic would leave a review, tell me what you liked the most, what's your favorite pairing, if there was anything in particular you didn't like, and also where you're from (it's a kind of trauma for me, I just love knowing where my readers are from). I know that even though I've never gotten more than eight reviews in any given chapter (most of the times no more than five), there are more people reading this, and if just for the finale I would be honored if you would let me know you read it, and liked it (and if you didn't too).
It's been an honor, and I hope to be able to be here again sometime soon with more Everlasting.
The Black Sun...The White Moon...An Eternal Eclipse...