Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach

The small room felt like its own world; one of deep browns and flickering oranges which danced across the ancestral Kuchiki walls. There were engravings in each of the corners, mainly floral or focused on the change of the seasons, even one of them was detailed enough to draw an onlookers attention for a long period. At any other time even Ichigo might have been distracted by the intricate carvings, but right now his attention was entirely focused on the woman across the table from him.

She too was being lit up by the flame which danced across the room, casting soft shadows upon porcelain face. Ichigo momentarily wondered what he looked like, since he vaguely recalled being padded and prodded with a variety of make-up. All his thoughts felt like they were blurry, hazy, as though everything beyond this point was a dream.

This moment too, felt like a dream. Rukia sat across from him, her form almost ethereal, waiting for him to pledge himself to her, so that she may do the same in return. Even with all his preparation, the ambiance of the ritual was somehow messing with his senses, it felt as though they were being heightened and dulled at the same time. Everything was accompanied by the beat of his heart, which had quickly grown from a whisper to a roar.

Rukia was considerably more composed, but was still finding it difficult to stay calm. This was not just a nice sit down so that they could have a chat about the future, this was their future. Everything felt like it had been leading to this point, this moment, where at last their hearts would be ineffably bound.

There was no way which she could hope to describe the apprehension she felt.

"Lord Shihouin."

The elders voice cut through the atmosphere like a blade, demanding the attention of the young Captain. Their eyes met and a few moments passed before she broke the connection, turning to Rukia.

"This is the name of the man who has requested a soul bonding with you, Lady Kuchiki. Both you and the clan head accepted this man and desire this union, can you confirm this?"

Rukia nodded and replied with the practiced grace of a noble. "I can confirm this. My intention is for the two of us to be bonded."

"Very well." The elder said simply and brought up an old looking jar with a red string tied loosely around the neck.

She placed it on the table, only to reach to her other side and gather a set of small, fragile looking cups. In their hyper-aware state, even the softest clinks and gentle grinding which was caused by the friction between the two porcine surfaces was almost jarring. Instead of sound, it seemed more like they could feel the vibrations which were caused.

Ichigo took a deep breath to attempt to steady his nerves; despite all his battles and life-threatening situations this was by far the one which seemed to be affecting him toe worst. The memory of Aizen taunting him with the fact that his entire life was apparently planned came unbidden to his mind and he quickly shoved it aside. That man had already done enough to damage the world and him personally, he didn't need to also get a place at this sacred event. Even a moments reflection was too much for that man.

If he could still be called a man.

"As we are about to join you together for an eternity, you must first take the time to drink from the same cup. Each of you have your own starts and will, at your end, be still tied to your partner, so too shall you drink."

Unlike the ringing of the porcelain, the elders creaky voice had an almost hypnotic lilt, as though her heart was beating in slow motion just once as she spoke. It was all Ichigo could do to nod, before his preparation came rushing back and he reached out and took the cup which Rukia had left behind.

He chastised himself for becoming so taken in by the atmosphere that he had even failed to notice Rukia's movements. A glance at the slight twinkle in her eyes suggested that she hadn't failed to notice has sluggish movements. That was something which was going to come back to bite him at some point no doubt...though it wasn't like he could do anything about it now.

Despite her amusement at his slow reactions, Rukia herself was finding it quite difficult to stay focused. Everything seemed to be telling her to relax, to just forget about the formality and melt into some form of union. The mental image it painted wasn't a pretty one but somehow the thought was so appealing...the juxtaposition of that against the Kuchiki's typical values was rather strange. It was like this was their one moment where the phrase 'you're only human' seemed like it would apply.

Still, she had a marriage to...participate in, so she waited for the elder to fill their cups to start the next part of the ceremony.

Each of the small cups were filled to just below the brim, before the elder returned the old jar to it's place by her side and sealed the lid once more. Moving in unison, both Ichigo and Rukia lifted the cups to their lips and drank half of the liquid. As it rushed past her lips, Rukia found it hard to describe the flavour of it. It tasted just like...water, if she were honest, but there was something in it that made her think it was something more.

A saltiness, or perhaps it was an almost sour flavour which danced on her tongue for just an instant. Wait, maybe it was sweet?

Not having the time to simply mull over the flavour, she lowered the cup and placed in the center beside Ichigo's half-filled one. The two of them then took the others cup and finished the remaining liquid. Once again Rukia couldn't make out the flavour, it was something she'd have to ask him about after the ceremony. Actually, it was unlikely he had more of an idea that she did, presumably she'd just be able to ask her brother.

At least Byakuya would be able to tell her if it was dangerous or was likely to have any side effects, it was true the Kuchiki had been using it for centuries but that wasn't a massive guarantee in her eyes. It was even less of one in Ichigo's.

"Now that you have made your intentions clear, I ask that first the groom, then the bride, voice their desires for this union. If you only keep one oath in your lifetime it should be this one, lest you be willing to light a fire in your soul what will burn it to ashes." Again the elders words were grave and final, as though her word was absolute.

Ichigo took another breath, this was the moment which it all came down to. The oath, which had to come from the center of his heart. He was never one who was great at expressing himself beyond blunt statements, even whilst he admired those who could, so this was something which he'd spent weeks agonizing over. Even though, at the end of the day, he knew that Rukia knew how he felt, so in a way this declaration of love and hers weren't for the receiver.

They were for the future, for all the times when they couldn't say what they wanted to say, all the times when words failed them.

That was why he had to steel himself now and say what he wanted to say. Before he knew it, he was speaking, his eyes focused on her as the rest of the dim room faded into obscurity. What he had to say was only for her.

"I've never been someone who's great at words, so I'll try and make this is simple as I can. I've always wanted to protect people, hell, anyone who's ever met me can tell you that, it's not a big secret. You were the one to give me the power to protect people, to get me up when I fell down and push me forward when I was unsure."

He paused and gave a small smile. "That's what I thought at first; but that's not why I love you."

The Kuchiki heiress's expression shifted to a more surprised one, which was to be expected – he'd only recently figured out exactly why he felt the way he did. It wasn't because of the obvious things, they applied to most of the people he knew...no, it was something which had been far harder for him to see.

Something which had, if he was honest, been a rather large flaw of his.

"It's because you stand by my side, when I push you behind me you push back. When I try to push my body past the limit you remind me that we are all fighting together...when I try to be a hero you remind me that I am a human."

Ichigo could only say that it felt good to say this to her, to just be...open about something which had been a problem for far too long. No doubt his emotions were being reflected in his expression for Rukia had started to tear up ever so slightly, it felt...good. Instead of having more people to scowl at it was nice to find people to smile with.

Composing himself, he continued to try and arrange his thoughts.

"So here, I will pledge to you that I will stand by you as you grow stronger and encourage you as much as I can. When I can help I will, when I can't I will step back – I will always remember that we can fight as one, that we can live as one." Finally, the young Captain gave a sigh and finished with another smile.

Rukia returned it before she started to think about how she could return the sentiment...how she could open her heart to him. It wasn't that she hadn't been thinking about it before, but his confession has been rather emotional to say the lest.

Drawing the words from deep inside, she mirrored his actions by looking him in the eye.

"I've always been worried about you...everyone is. You constantly take everything upon yourself, especially at the start you always seemed like you must break under that pressure. We, that is the Shinigami, never helped you with that because we needed you. We pushed you, we hurt you and in the end we almost crushed you...but you wouldn't change." Rukia paused, recalling the moment which would forever be burned into her mind, when he stopped the Soukyoku and defied a thousand years of tradition for her.

"But I won't let you be that reckless anymore, I won't let you treat your body as a commodity. Because I love you, you're important to me and I will always be the one who will stand beside you. I will pull you back when you charge without thinking and have your back if you have to fight; I will trust your judgement and hope you will trust mine. Because just as you helped me I will help you." She finished by returning the smile which he gave her after his oath.

He really had helped her, right from the start when he refused to listen to common sense and took on a hollow with a baseball bat, he defied everything which she had been taught by the nobility. It was as though she was finally waking up from a long period of sleep after Kaien's death, he unceremoniously shoved her awake and refused to let her crawl back under the covers. Still, she couldn't tell exactly when it was the she had fallen in love with him.

It had just happened, one day she wanted more. One day she could no longer just be his friend, he was more important than that; he was the most important person. Then they fell into a relationship, and now this...it all just happened so smoothly.

For once, it seemed, her life had finally just simplified.

"Now you have expressed yourself in words, the final part of the ceremony can begin. If both parties could rest their hands on the table." The elder directed, again reaching to her side to get something.

With both Ichigo and Rukia's hands resting before them, she revealed a short length of white ribbon which she deftly set about tying to Ichigo's right wrist. She then repeated the action on Rukia's right, the ribbon now lying flat and taught against the table. Finally the elder rested both of her hands flat against the center of the ribbon, as though completing the circuit.

"If the two of you could close your eyes, we shall begin." She asked, closing her own first.

The couple glanced at each other, neither completely sure what was going to happen beyond the vague descriptions from Byakuya and Hisana. There was nervousness there, but the main emotion was excitement: the joy of finally just being together.

As one, they closed their eyes.

There was a moments tranquility, as a soft lull seemed to fill the room. All that anticipation, excitement, worry; all of it was gone. The simple act of closing their eyes had somehow cleared that jumble of emotions away as they simply waited for the next words which would bind them together . Words which were the most sacred to the Kuchiki family, words which they would hold deep in their hearts until the day their own children got married.

"In the name of the clan Kuchiki, by the light which glows within and guides us towards the greater good, let this couple be blessed in their bond." The old woman recited softly, which was almost a disappointment to Ichigo.

Until she started speaking again, in a much more powerful tone. He almost opened his eyes when he recognized what she was chanting and the way her reiatsu was slowly being drawing to the fabric which connected them.

She was using kidou.

"Moment of one, hearts of two, eyes of a thousand, staring at the imperceptible. Searching for the forge from which the safflower bloomed. Its roots encircling. Darkness be cast out, the blue ember endlessly gleams, hiding forgotten footprints from a moonlit shadow. Embrace, divide, fall again into the mind which kindled itself. In that ever filling space, know the truth of an empty mask."


Unbeknownst to the couple, a red dye seemed to spread into the white ribbon from where the elder was touching it, quickly spreading down the length of the fabric and encircling the wrists of both. Once there was no speck of white left on the ribbon, both Shinigami felt a tug on their minds and they were unceremoniously yanked into their inner worlds, leaving their bodies waiting for their return.

Ichigo opened his eyes with a start, not sure why he'd been taken out of control of his body. He could only assume it was some part of the ritual which he wasn't aware of. Still, he glanced around for the two spirits which were usually there to great him. To his surprise there was only the one...ant it wasn't his.

"Who are you?" He asked cautiously, though he already had a pretty good idea of who she was.

Even if it wasn't obvious by her clothing alone, he had a nagging feeling that they'd somehow met before...

The woman gave him a serene smile. "My, I'm Sode no Shirayuki, a pleasure to meet you, Ichigo Kurosaki."

"Likewise...I don't suppose you have any more of an idea about what's going on than me do you?" He asked somewhat sheepishly. It was a great honour to meet her but right now he was somewhat more concerned with finding out what exactly was going on."

She gave him an apologetic look and shook her head to the side ever so slightly. He vaguely wondered at how even that action added to her rather regal appearance.

"I'm afraid not. Though I must be it's not that objectionable, it's been a while since I've been here and there's a certain sense of nostalgia I'm feeling." Her tone was warm as she looked around, as though she were talking about an old house.

"Wait, you've been here before?" Ichigo questioned, confused by her words.

The zanpakutou spirit gave a small, tinkling, chuckle and smiled at him. "Why of course, who's powers do you think you were using when you took Rukia's?"

"You mean...you were my Zanpakutou then?" He asked, somewhat surprised by the revelation. In retrospect it wasn't that shocking considering how he got his original powers, but still it was something he'd never really considered.

"Indeed, it was quite the novel experience." She replied, apparently amused by his reaction to the news.

It was then when Ichigo thought back to his use of her: how he'd not known that Zanpakutou were alive, how he'd just swung her about like a baseball bat and how, eventually, she'd been cut up by Byakuya. He could only wince at his poor treatment of the spirit, hell most Shinigami were a bit hesitant to let other people touch their zanpakutou let alone...

"I- uh, I'm sorry." He almost choked out, unsure of what words he should use. It wasn't exactly a situation that came up much.

However, the spirit shook her head at him instead of replying in anger. "Not at all, though you were a bit...rough around the edges, as they say, you have a good heart. You, even with no background as a Shinigami, still treated me better than that brute Kenpachi. You fought for my wielder and bled to protect her, for that I am eternally grateful."

She finished with a small bow of her head and it was all Ichigo could do to stop the colour rising in his cheeks. The spirit reminded him of Hisana with all her formality, it was something he found hard to deal with when...well speaking frankly when it wasn't scornful. He could just brush of the bigoted comments of the nobles and keep acting like himself, but when they were being nice he felt the need to respond in kind and he wasn't exceptional at that.

Still, he had to give it a shot.

"Thank you for your kind words, I, uh, I hope I can continue to protect Rukia to your standards." He followed the statement with his own small bow and quickly pulled back up.

"You should know as well as I do that she wants to fight beside you not behind you, but I appreciate the sentiment. It is you who helps her stride forward to increase her own power, for that I will always be grateful, so continue to improve your strength, lest we catch you up." She replied with a sly smile, reminding him that Rukia's was one of the zanpakutou's with the most tricks up its sleeve.

Naturally the spirit would be cunning in its own way.

"Did you see Zangetsu whilst you were here?" Ichigo asked out of curiosity, he didn't really know how his mindscape would have looked before his own powers had awakened.

The older spirit tilted her head to one side and seemed to ponder the question.

"I don't think so...oh, no I do recall seeing a shadowy figure standing in the distance. I didn't approach him though, it would have been rather rude of me after all." She answered, to which Ichigo just nodded.

He assumed there was some sort of code between the zanpakutou spirits which he was unaware of, some set of rules or manners which governed their actions. How they managed to figure this out considering most spirits would never meet each other was a mystery to him, but zanpakutou were strange creatures at the best of times.

"Actually, it seems as though something is about to happen. This should be interesting..."Sode no Shirayuki said slowly, looking down the skyscraper towards the base of the building.

Ichigo followed her gaze and was amazed to see that where there had been just grey streets and the odd set of miscellaneous objects one would associate with a city; snow was steadily starting to build. It wasn't falling from the sky though, instead it was like it was pouring in from manholes and allys. It was like a flood of snow which was steadily covering more and more of the city, the bright sunshine making the snow glow a brilliant white and light up the tall towers.

Whatever was happening continued to intensify as icy tendrils started to snake their way up the buildings around the one which they were currently standing on. The frozen paths were snaking their way up the buildings, but stopped after getting only around half of the total height of the towers. This was true for all except the tower they were standing on, where an slick, icy trail made its way all the way to Ichigo's feet before stopping.

He looked over at the zanpakutou, who seemed to be just as confused as him, though infinitely better at hiding it.

"I guess we should go down there and have a look?" The young Captain suggested, he'd always been one to go in head first after all.

"By all means, though I should advise you to watch your step." She joked mischievously, to which he gave an awkward laugh.

It was all too true that ice was more her element than his, it wasn't like he was bad on it but with no skates and shoes which weren't exactly suited to all terrain movement he had a bad feeling about the whole thing. As he took his first step he remembered his fight with Rukia and decided that it was probably far wiser to just jump over the ice. It wasn't like they were going to be missing much scenery by moving quickly anyway.

The pair soon reached the bottom of the skyscraper, which was somewhere Ichigo had never gone if he was honest. It just never seemed that interesting, he normally just considered it another void like the sky on the other end. Now he was here it wasn't too interesting, well aside from the sudden influx of snow and ice which had spread out on one side of his inner world. On the way down they could see that it didn't extend too far so seemed to be rather localized to the immediate vicinity of the tower they had been standing on.

He took a step forwards towards the street, making sure to keep his feet on a layer of reiatsu just above the ice. Sode no Shirayuki noticed that and gave a small, refined laugh.

"Aha, I recall you using that technique against my bankai...I wonder if that will be enough next time." She hinted mysteriously, causing Ichigo to look back at her in surprise.

"You mean you've still got more to teach her?" He asked, causing her to give a small sniff in indignation.

"Of course, I don't mean to be rude but your bankai is rather simple – but most bankai and indeed shikai have multiple aspects to them and require a lot of work to use well. Of course I am also an ice-type, which is one of the most versatile types." She explained, giving him an apologetic glance.

Ichigo just shrugged and continued forward. "Zangetsu's done fine by me for all the time that I've had him, I guess simple things are just best for me. It makes sense why I still can't use kidou that well...oh well. I've still got my hollow to teach me stuff."

The zanpakutou nodded her head in understanding and as the two finally reached the street she lifted her head in surprise.

"I can feel Rukia's soul through here." She murmured and reached out to touch the crystalline surface which had grown over the tarmac.

To their surprise, it seemed like there was no resistance as her hand passed right into the ice, the material accumulating around the contact point in jagged patterns. She took a step forward and was soon in the ice up to her shoulder without feeling anything which suggested the material was going to resist her. She took a moment to glance at Ichigo and give him a small, teasing smile.

"Well then, see you on the other side." With that she stepped forward once more and was fully encased in the ice.

Ichigo blinked dumbly only to realize something a bit too late.

"Wait, you're an ice-type zanpakutou!" He shouted at the spot where she'd left him, despairing at how slow his brain had reacted.

Of course she'd be able to meld into the ice, Rukia had done so when using bankai after all so it was bound to be something the zanpakutou was capable of doing. However, he was most certainly not capable of such a thing; granted it wasn't like he'd ever tried. It seemed more like common sense, he hadn't tried to fly either but there was a good amount of research that said it wouldn't end well if he did.

Still, he gave an exasperated sigh and glared at the offending barrier, still having no clue as to what it was doing here.

Deciding to throw caution and logic to the wind, he reached out his own hand and pressed against the ice...only to find that he too met no resistance. Again, crystalline structures started accruing around his wrist but they didn't seem to be forcing his hand in or out; they were just reacting to him. He took his hand out, happy to see that there was no resistance there either, only to be left in the same position as before.

There was only one way to go...so he hoped that Sode no Shirayuki's judgement about Rukia being on the other side of this gateway was correct. Not leaving himself time to consider the consequences, he strode forward and straight into the strange material. A cool chill rushed over him and he had the strange sensation of looking through warped glass as everything became twisted by the ice. Before he even had time to wonder how he was breathing he was out of the ice and in the open air once more.

"How long did it take you to follow me through?" The ice-spirit teased, getting a scowl for her troubles.

"Ah, well I apologize for not doing more to assist you, I simply wanted to see how you would react. Though I see you all the time in Rukia's memories it's a different thing to experience it in person. " She explained apologetically, which went some way to placating the moody Shinigami.

"Right...so what is this place?" Ichigo asked, looking around at the scenery.

They were in what appeared to be a large frozen lake, with massive pillars of ice rising out in the distance. It was quite beautiful in a serene way, it was the very essence of the word 'still', yet managed to not feel bleak or empty. The fluffy white clouds floated by over head and Ichigo was surprised to feel a speck of snow land on his cheek. When looked again, it was clear that there was a very light dusting of snow falling around them, melting into the ice as it touched the lake.

"This would be Rukia's inner world, it appears that yours and hers have become connected somehow." The zanpakutou spirit replied serenely, looking away from him into the distance.

Ichigo raised an eyebrow and turned to her. "What are you..."

"Ichigo!" He heard a cry and instantly he followed her gaze to see Rukia jumping across the pillars towards them.

He failed to suppress a grin at the sight of her, though was surprised to see that she wasn't alone. It looked like Zangetsu was following her, but instead of his usual form it looked like he had merged with his hollow for some reason. Since the only time he tended to do that was when things were heading south the sight put Ichigo on edge a bit.

Still he focused on Rukia when the other pair landed beside him.

"Rukia! It's good to see you, you wouldn't have thought we were going through a wedding now were you." He joked, getting a snort of amusement from her in response.

"I agree, it's rather odd. Still I suppose it's not called a soul bonding for nothing then." She mused, to which he nodded vaguely.

"So...you." He said, directing his gaze at the hollow Zangetsu. He'd rather like to address this matter quickly and get it out of the way.

The spirit blinked, seemingly confused before it realized what he wanted.

"Oh, me. Yes, as you can see we fused since this ritual is about the two souls and the two sources of your power. This way we can represent your power as one being, though your hollow was rather grumpy about it." He raised his hand to gently touch the horned mask fragment with a frown. "I can't say I love the idea of it either though if I'm honest."

Ichigo nodded, then moved on to the next issue he had.

"And you're young because?"

This time the zanpakutou seemed just as confused as he was and just shrugged, giving himself a quick prod in the cheek as if to check that he still was. It was strange, the bankai version of his zanpakutou was rather more expressive than the shikai version and when you added the hollow into that mix he became even more so.

"I have no idea if I'm honest, maybe because you're hollow is young and I appear old?" He guessed, which Ichigo could only concede was plausible.

"So this is your hollow and shinigami powers when they are merged?" Rukia spoke up, looking once more over the mismatched man.

"He didn't tell you?"

She shook her head at his question. "I didn't ask, I thought it might have just been a side effect of your hollowfication or something."

Ichigo gave a small smile, it was just like her to be so thoughtful of something she thought might be hard for him to talk about. Luckily in this case there wasn't much to talk about, though Ichigo was somewhat unhappy that this is what he had to look like if he used his powers at their fullest level. But should the occasion arrive that he had to, looks were hardly going to be his primary concern.

"So, Sode no Shirayuki was with you?" She asked, though it was clearly more of a rhetorical question.

"That's right." Ichigo nodded, before adding: "We found an entrance in my inner world which led to here, I guess we could go back through it if you want to see-"

"That will have to wait." Sode no Shirayuki finally spoke, getting an agreeing nod from Ichigo's zanpakutou.

"What do you mean?" Rukia asked, she was rather curious to see what Ichigo's inner world was like.

"This ceremony must be completed rather soon or the kidou spell will lose its potency and we'll be stuck in a sort of half-bond which will be a bit tricky to deal with." Zagnetsu explained, waving his hand around the area in a vague way. "All this will have to wait, we can already feel the link between the worlds becoming strained."

Ichigo and Rukia looked at one another, somewhat alarmed by the news. If they spent too long simply talking to each other's zanpakutou and ruined the whole thing...it was here that Sode no Shirayuki interjected, probably noticing the expressions they were wearing.

"Don't worry, it's not imminent. It'll just be best if we proceed now and have time for pleasantries later down the line." She explained gently, successfully calming them.

"Okay, so what do we have to do?" Ichigo asked, wondering if it was going to be something like as kiss. It wasn't like he was opposed to the idea and after sparing a glance at Rukia it was clear she was thinking the same thing.

However the ice-spirit just gave a soft giggle at their actions and shook her head.

"Oh no, it's got nothing to do with you really, you've already performed admirably. It's simple, we must touch each other." She said, motioning to Ichigo's monochrome spirit.

"Just touch?" Rukia asked, amazed at how simple it apparently was.

Zangetsu clucked his tongue in annoyance at her and crossed his arms.

"You know, it's not like zanpakutou spirits ever touch each other: we are the avatars of your power. We are the beings which are drawn out from the depths of your soul which drive you forward, in some ways we could be considered part of the core of your being"

"So yes, touching your most intimate parts together is quite a big deal." He grumbled, only then noticing that Ichigo was apparently trying to burn holes into him with the force of his glare.

'Why does this version have to be so rude?' He lamented mentally, wondering which version of the spirit he actually preferred: the silent brooding once or the emotional snappy one.

"I have to agree, this is a rather momentous occasion for us since it's the first time we will have touched anyone beside you. " Rukia's zanpakutou agreed, apparently amused by her junior's attitude.

In that moment Ichigo noticed just how mismatched this partnership seemed. On the one hand you had Sode no Shirayuki, who lived up to her name of being one of the most beautiful zanpakutou in the soul society even in her spirit form. From her face to her clothes and personality she was the picture of a refined young woman. On the other you had you had Ichigo's zanpakutou, who was a mishmash of black and white with two different coloured eyes, part of a hollow's mask on his head and a bad attitude.

He didn't often look at himself and think that he was messed up but somewhere along the line something had to have gone wrong for the spirit which represented his entire being to look like this. Either that or he just loved asymmetry.

"Well, now seems as good a time as any." Zangetsu said, causing Ichigo to want to beat his head in at the lack of ceremony.

Luckily it seemed like this was still a source of amusement for the older spirit and she nodded her head in agreement. Moving first, she held out her hand to him as though inviting him to take it and pierced him with her gaze.

"If you would then, Zangetsu." She asked softly, waiting for him to finalize their union.

Ichigo and Rukia watched with baited breath as the younger spirit looked, somewhat hesitantly at the hand, as though deciding on what he should do. It only took a few moments, though they seemed like an age to the two shinigami, before he made up his mind and surprised all of them by dropping down on to one knee before the other spirit.

Just like that he reached out and took her hand, his eyes rising up to meet hers.

Anything further that happened was lost as Ichigo and Rukia were suddenly shunted back out into their own bodies, the world flying past in a blur of colour.

The pair opened their eyes slowly, as if awaking from a dream which had dragged them both in. The place they had been seemed so far away from the deep browns and flickering oranges of the ceremony room, but they were back now.

When their eyes met, they could only smile. It was a small thing, but it was everything for they knew that it was finally done. They were bonded in the deepest way possible, their souls were connected by a link which they could freely explore when the time came. It was a liberating feeling for the both of them.

The red ribbon around their hands melted into the air as it disintegrated as reishi, leaving them free to return their hands to their sides.

"The ceremony is complete, please rise to meet your families and well-wishers." The elder instructed with a warm hint to her voice.

The couple did just that as they, hand in hand, stood and opened the door to the sound of crying and cheers from those who finally got to see them as husband and wife. Those who were there to see the start of a union which would change the face of nobility...

And still, most of those tears were from Isshin.

The End

*Sakuratoride or cherry blossom fortress: because love is something which should be both strong and beautiful.

(A/N): Aha it's done!

It's been a long journey, not as long as was originally planned but quite long enough I think! I hope that all of those who read this far have enjoyed it even though it started out so poorly written, I believe I have improved greatly over my time writing and hope it has also helped you to enjoy my work.

Though I say this is the end I actually want to do a few epilogue chapters at some point since I maintain all stories are better when they end with an epilogue showing the couple with their children...which is exactly what I plan to do! Still, for all intents and purposes this story is complete!

Thank you for putting up with my terrible release schedule for these last few chapters and thank you again for all the kind words from those who have written reviews. It really does mean a lot to me, I can't really explain it but it does.

I don't really have anything else to say other than gush over how grateful I am for the support I've received so I'll just go – though be on the look out for the epilogue chapter and new cover photo I plan to doodle for this fanfiction when I get the chance!

See you one last time!