Disclaimer: Do not own, spoilers abound, and unbeta-ed.
"Fool of a boy," she had said, cold and harsh. "Do you really understand that little?"
Those words stung him into silence.
(Rukia - )
Kurosaki Ichigo died when he was twenty nine.
When his eyes opened, the first thing he saw was his body (wrapped with bandages) that was lying on the bed, connected to various tubes and the machine that went, beeeeeeeee-
He just sort of stared and went, oh, I died.
The second thing he saw was Rukia perched by the window grills of his hospital room, one leg dangling mid-air as she leaned against the wall.
He couldn't tell what was the expression on her face; she was looking out the window (and didn't seem at all bothered or annoyed by the shrill sound of the machine like he was), and the grey-ivory light of the early morning was soaking into her skin and black shinigami robes.
She looked like she had been waiting.
And for some reason, he hesitated in speaking. He hadn't seen her since the time he completely lost all his powers.
"It's been a while, Ichigo."
(a decade or so.)
Her words were soft. He couldn't tell if she was happy or sad - he could detect something strange, but it was unreadable.
And before he could say anything else, the door was shoved open with a doctor and nurses rushing in.
The noise and buzz that they were making while they tried to revive him felt strangely muted as he stared at his own body three steps away from the bed; the doctor pressing his locked hands to his chest, pushing, and, "Don't die on me now, boy! Breathe, damn it. You're too young to die, you hear me? Breathe!"
He hadn't even noticed Rukia removing herself from the window grill.
"Do you remember what happened?" her quiet voice drifted towards him.
Ichigo tore his gaze away from the bed - his dead body - to her.
She was eyeing him with unreadable dark violet eyes that bordered on blue that he hadn't seen for the longest time.
It took him a moment to remember her question, because he could feel his breath catch at the sight of her. Rukia.
He forced his mind back to reality (he's dead? he's dead dead - Rukia - ).
"A fire," he said vaguely. He couldn't quite recall what happened, exactly though, aside from scorching heat, running through a hot blaze, and feeling the smoke suffocate him.
"You died a hero for a couple who is grateful to have their daughter safe and sound, Ichigo."
He felt himself swallow, throat strangely dry even though he shouldn't be feeling it. (Or should he?)
"Well, I - "
Rukia sighed, softly, and it was enough to make him pause. Her eyes closed, momentarily, and she ran a hand through locks of ebony hair, as if world weary and resigned both.
Then she looked at him again, a hand moving to rest on the handle of her sword like it was an unconscious gesture that she had repeated thousands of times -
"You are a fool, Ichigo," she said. This time he did detect a sad undercurrent in her voice.
But it wasn't as if he could react at all, because by the time he noticed, Rukia had already connected the end of Shirayuki's hilt to his forehead.
"Wha - "
A bright, white light engulfed him.
And he knew no more.
Smoke and ashes wasn't a scent that she had come across very often - at least, not when it came from cigarettes. It was one of the strange human customs she had regarded with distaste. Far be it for her to understand a human's addiction to something as foul-tasting as that, despite all that she had learned about it through the materials she had read.
But, even so.
She had been surprised when she first smelled it off Isshin as he sat himself on the chair - next to his son's bed. With arms crossed as he leaned against it and stared up at the ceiling.
Isshin had been smoking.
The idea of the older Kurosaki smoking confused her. She honestly could not recall a time when Isshin had lit a cigarette, and Rukia wondered how often he did so.
Did it start after she left Karakura? Before? She supposed she wouldn't know - it had been past a decade since she last saw him, after all. Whatever happened between then and now, or even before and in the future, had nothing to do with her.
That didn't mean she could stop herself from wondering if it was something he had picked up after seeing the condition of his son, however.
The thought made something in her clench.
The sound of her name startled her, and she glanced up to look at Isshin, surprised beyond words.
He was staring at her, his expression light, a corner of his lips upturned.
"Come here," Isshin beckoned with a hand, patting at the chair beside him. "Sit beside me."
Her mouth opened and closed.
She stared for a few more seconds as his smile grew.
It was another few seconds before she was composed again.
"You can see me? Kurosa - "
"Call me Isshin," he said firmly. Then he waggled his eyebrows. "Or daddy, if you prefer, my third daughter."
Her lips twitched.
He patted at the chair again, a silent request to come over.
The man who was usually exuberant was nowhere to be seen, instead replaced by a calm, gentle nature that reminded her of her captain, Ukitake. Not gentle gentle, but it was a fatherly look, and Isshin - she suddenly remembered - was a father.
She had no idea Isshin could look like that.
Rukia hesitated for a moment, but glided down from the window she was perched on, her sandaled feet pressing to the floor soundlessly - and obediently sat beside him.
The Shinigami glanced at the bed where Ichigo remained asleep and motionless, his breath light and almost non-existent, tubes of all sort attached to him, and the rhymetic beep that came from the strange machine -
And looking at him like this again made her want to curl her hands into tight fists.
"You must have questions," Isshin said lightly.
"But, will you hear my request first, Rukia-chan?"
He wasn't looking at her any longer, eyes now set on his motionless son.
His gaze didn't give anything away. Isshin looked thoughtful, the corner of his lips remained upturned, but that was it.
Yet Rukia couldn't help but feel that Kurosaki Isshin knew his son wasn't just dying.
He knew Ichigo will die.
Why else would he ask a favor from her, a shinigami who had nothing to offer the living world, much less one who had not seen his son for the longest time, and one who was here to greet his death?
She could feel something in her twist, and all she wanted to do then was hurl items at Ichigo and rant at him for being so, so stupid -
Her eyes closed, and she breathed in; reigning in her temper.
She was startled when a large and warm calloused hand landed on the top of her head.
It was both reassuring and calming.
And she was vaguely reminded of Kaien, then her brother, Renji -
Only, this one was so much more - fatherly. It made her heart stir strangely. Was this how a father's presence felt like?
It was odd how this bothered and comforted her at the same time. She was a shinigami. A Kuchiki. And a soul that was well over a century old; old enough enough that memories from her earliest years were vague and blurry.
"What will it be, Rukia-chan?" Isshin asked gently, shaking her out of her reverie.
She hesitated, glancing at the motionless, sleeping boy again; and suddenly aware that Ichigo was so much younger - twenty-nine, by Soul Society's standards, was still just a boy.
A foolish, naive, idiotic boy.
And she owed him her life, and so much more.
She inhaled, deeply.
"Anything," Rukia then said, tone soft but full of promise. "So long I have the power to fulfill your request - consider it done."
The slight smile on Isshin's lips grew by a fraction.
But to Rukia, it looked sadder than she had seen from him the entire time he was here.
"You might regret saying that so quickly, Rukia-chan."
Isshin's words were weary, somber, and amused all at once.
And yet it made her feel as if ice - ice that felt more like snow - was melting into her skin.
He was silent, for a long moment, and Rukia recognized it as a cue for her to back out. If she wished to.
But she really hadn't even needed the moment to decide what she would say next.
After all, she wasn't just Rukia.
She was Kuchiki Rukia.
"Once given," she said quietly and unwaveringly, "my word is final."
It was Isshin who inhaled, this time, as if he expected and did not expect it both.
"Kuchiki to the bone," he murmured, and Rukia could detect both pride and sadness in that soft tone.
It made something in her twist.
Her hand - the one that gripped Shirayuki tightly - was trembling.
She breathed in, slowly, and sheathed her sword.
From the corner of her eyes, she could see the doctor shaking his head, running a tired hand through his hair, and sighing.
"Time of death - 6:52 AM."
Complete silence enveloped the room, the machine with the never-ending shrill sound turned off moments ago.
Slowly, the doctor and the nurses - that worked frantically moments ago - filed out of the room.
And Isshin stepped in.
Rukia eyed him, for a moment - and again, his expression gave away nothing - before she turned to look at the still body lying on the bed. Ichigo.
It was as if something was squeezing her heart so tightly she thought it would die.
"It's done," she said quietly, breaking the silence.
A large, warm hand landed on her shoulder.
It was both comforting and heavy - heavy enough that she thought she'd be crushed by the weight -
"Thank you, Rukia-chan."
She closed her eyes.
She didn't cry.
-Part I End-
A/N: Hmm. I never thought I would drabble in the Bleach fandom. But I guess I just did.
If this first chapter feels a little rough around the edges, it probably is. It will probably take a bit of time for me to reconcile my writing style with Kubo's style. But, we will see how it goes. I'm also fairly concerned about characterization - I am loath to make them ooc, even if I'm writing them for the first time - so, should you encounter any oddity at any time and anywhere in this story, please do not hesitate to tell me.