Spoilers for chapter 459 and 460.
I do not own Bleach; though I fervently wish I owned Byakuya...
The song "Heartlines" belongs to Florence + The Machine.
"Your heart is the only place I call home."
The world is awash with a mixture of gray and indigo, predawn painted with stillness. Below the vast dark canvas, Seiretei stands quiet and solemn, glowing faint yellow and orange and silvery-blue, animated lights that will soon be extinguished before the morning's fire.
Unlike most shadows at that hour, someone stirs in the fading night, waking dawn. Her room she leaves dark, the only lighting comes from the long, dim glow that crawls on the floor. Although it's the illumination she's got, she has no trouble with navigating her way around. She has spent hundreds of years living in this mansion, after all. And this room is all too familiar, the polished wall and wood, their scent that is both home and strangeness.
In the silence of gloom she sits, awaiting what, she isn't certain. Maybe dawn, she muses to herself, licking the roof of her mouth. Maybe she's waiting for the first blush of morning, pink and violet and gold and how they make the cherry blossom trees outside her window look even more beautiful.
Maybe she's just waiting for first light. She could scarcely sleep last night, but rest is not in her mind, not when time moves and it'll just be hours before the sky is set afire by morning, before she's there and through the gate that will bring her to another world.
They are going to Karakura town today – a place she knows so well, a place she visited so often in her dreams. Despite being another duty, the thought has excited her… and made her anxious as well. As reported by Urahara Kisuke, it appears that the famous (former) Shinigami representative Ichigo is in a bind and needs some sort of help, to which the Soutaichou granted.
She isn't sure what makes her restless though, perhaps it's a mix of everything. And nothing.
Sighing, Rukia leaves her futon and pads across the room and notices that the sky is no longer murky. The bashful sun peeks over the horizon, its fingers reaching across Soul Society and embracing everything and everyone in it with a brand new day. Beautiful, she thinks, but the sunrise in Karakura even more so. A small smile plays across her lips, almost floating on memories.
By then the Kuchiki mansion is already roused; she can hear the distant clatters in the kitchen, the noise of doors sliding open and murmurs of greetings being passed. The hour and day grow boisterous, yet she's still in her room, pondering. Only when she hears Renji shout does she snap out of her trance. Taking a deep breath, she gets her Zanpakutou and runs a hand through her hair.
It's not the first time the motion makes her stop dead on track – as if there's something amiss, something oddly wrong. Her hair is short now; she cut it when she got her badge. A sign of strength, renewal, resolution, perhaps, but for a hundred years her hair had been the same, and this change – however small – is strange.
They say that the longer hair you have, the more precious memories you have. Rukia wondered if she'd done the right thing back then, as raven strands fell across her shoulders, onto the floor. If she wanted a change so badly, she could try a longer hair. But she didn't. It took hours before she finally decided that those strands scattered on and around her were her past, her wavering will, her mistakes, her doubts, her old self.
Renji had been shocked though. And rambunctious as ever: mouthing his surprise in a loud string of questions and demanding confusion. She had kicked him then, smirked, and strolled off, leaving the poor guy alone, quizzical. Her brother however didn't hint any sign of disclosure; a nod, and that was all the response she got.
But the 'change' didn't begin and end with her; the whole Seireitei changed – has been changing, and this time, Rukia knows it's for the better.
She takes her badge and stares at it for a while, and then tucks it as she makes for the door.
The memories are all stored here, and in her heart.
The faintest zephyr blows, black robes rippling and figures shifting. The breeze has made Zaraki Kenpachi restless; the 11th division captain glances around, tapping his foot, grumbling and apparently not hiding his discontent and impatience. "Can we go now?" He asks for the twentieth time that day, swinging his sword back and forth.
"We have to wait for Yamamoto-Soutaichou…" Rukia's voice trails off as the wind picks up and brings jet hair to her face.
"Bugger that bloody old man, my fight can't wait."
"We are told not to leave without his consent." This time Byakuya speaks, the tone in his voice brooks no argument.
Zaraki snorts. "Pft, I'll have none of it, I tell ya." Steel flashes in the sunlight as the brutal man points the nameless sword at his comrade. "Or maybe you can entertain me before we go… What about it, Kuchiki? I bet my blade will like the way your blood screams for mercy on its edge."
"None of us shall bleed today, not by the swords of our kin." A booming voice echoes from behind them, and they turn around only to find their Soutaichou marching towards them, each step deliberately slow. His figure seems to loom over them when he stops just meters away. "Sheathe your sword, Zaraki-taichou."
The 11th division captain begrudgingly obliges, but not without disapproving expletives that the wind fails to drown. The old man takes no heed to that. Rukia swallows and straightens, subconsciously adjusting her fukutaichou badge – a habit she recently developed mainly because the badge's a bit too big for her small arm. She has folded her shihakushou up and tightened the badge, and it has served her well, but her right hand will always find a way to touch it, as if making sure that it's still there.
A costly badge, she notes grimly to herself, but worthy and well-deserved as others liked to claim as they patted her back and congratulate her the day she got it. It was a lucky fight, the one against that Espada, her voice would submerge in a sea of mocking doubts then, but Ukitake just laughed, shook his head, and bent to smile at her.
Do you think that's the only reason why you got the position? Rukia had blinked as her captain continued, many other things. Many, many other things. If you deem yourself unworthy of the title, if the badge's a burden instead of pride to you, then take up your sword and get stronger and better until you feel you deserve it.
And she had. She had trained and tried to learn from past battles, clinging to memories and people and moments she cherished; if there was a reason to get stronger, it was to protect her loved ones. Ichigo had taught and shown her that.
Mounts of papers she had endured, a task not as easy as it sounded, and she could understand why Renji came to abhor it so much. She had never yielded, had sacrificed a lot in the process, but she had vowed she would never look back.
So here she is now with a road she's chosen behind and before her, winding and short and long, and the vice-captain badge no longer heavy against her arm.
Taking a deep breath, Rukia opens her ears to what the Soutaichou has to say before the senkai gate is opened, before they depart for the world she once knew and still knows and has always dreamed of.
She just watches, absentminded, as the candy shop owner twirls the striped hat in his hand, an enigmatic smile skipping across his visage. He then puts the hat back on his flaxen hair, grins broadly at Byakuya who has done what the blonde asked of him.
"Good, good! Your turn, Abarai-san, and quick, if you'd be so kind."
Renji groans and steps forward. Across from where she's standing, Zaraki Kenpachi and Hitsugaya Toushirou stand side by side, a contrast plain to see. The tall man is as impatient and brusque as always, voicing out his discontent in curt words, but Hitsugaya pays him no mind and directs his gaze skyward, where the stars (few though as they are tonight) shine a cold light on the prodigy's silver hair.
He's still and firm and cool like ice. Rukia's hand goes to the hilt of her Zanpakutou. Our power is the same yet different… She expels a sigh and averts her eyes upward, drowning in the blackness of Karakura's night sky. The starlight is dwindling; she wonders if it's going to rain soon.
"—san, it's your turn. Now put your reiatsu in there."
The jovial voice rivets her attention. Rukia stammers, "aaa," and approaches the former captain of division 12. For the briefest moment, her violet eyes meet Isshin's who's been by the blonde's side all the time. No words exchanged, not even a jest, but the old man gives a nod, and Rukia thinks it's almost grievous.
Somewhere far away, a thunder crackles and lights up the somber sky. By the time she's finished, the queer sword in Isshin's hand is giving off a ghostly shine as darkness thickens and closes in around them. The first drop of rain touches her nose, and Rukia knows there's more soon to follow.
The scream is loud, desperate, heart-wrenching, and most of all, inhuman. It seems to go on and on, wretched and broken and full of anguish, a dreadful chorus not sunk under the heavy torrent battering at the town.
Her heart skips a beat, and then another when the scream punctures the air sharp like his sword once was. It does stop eventually, but the despair is still palpable, and Kurosaki Ichigo kneels and cries while the rain continues its persistent pour, washing away what remains of him. Until there's nothing left. Nothing but a hoarse voice that rings hollow in her ears.
Her fingers coil around the hilt of her Zanpakutou as they approach him from behind, well hidden from sight.
"Are you ready, Rukia-chan?"
Rukia turns at the voice. "I…"
Isshin manages a small smile. "Now, now, don't falter. It's all yours."
She wanted to ask if it was alright, if it wouldn't be best for the father to do this job, but… as the shining sword glimmers in her hand, she becomes more resolved. Her grip tightens, an affirmative bob of head, and Urahara exposes them to the world.
Rukia takes one step forward and then another. The sword in her hand is very light, has no weight perhaps, but it feels so heavy… with memories and unspoken words and goodbyes and lost months. Before her, Ichigo is soaked to the bone and helpless and powerless, and it only takes one quick stab of the sword in her hand to make him stand strong on his feet again.
You've been through a lot, Ichigo. Another step, a rueful smile. A lot of pain and burden you have to deal with and bear… She raises the sword. But no more.
Rukia thrusts the sword into his chest from behind, and she can glimpse his face, wet, so very sad, betrayed, broken, hazelnut eyes dimmed. He trembles, his lips quivering. "Dad… not you too?" His voice is just as deep and empty and vast as the glowering, sullen heavens overhead.
"Look closer, you should be able to see their form by now."
She can see it. She can see the white light reflected on his half-dead, half-alive eyes. And suddenly Rukia feels stronger than she ever was in Seireitei, full of confidence, her chest swelling up with a carousel of emotions. And when Ichigo finally sees her (no, not seeing through her), not just some flash of light or a blurry figure, something flickers in his eyes.
When he mouths her name, she can almost taste it; honeysuckle sweet and as fresh as spring. His voice is crystal-clear this time despite the rain droning in the background, and for what seems like eternity, there is only him and her and the rest of the world doesn't exist.
The sleepless nights, the unspoken words, the longing, the heartaches, the dreams, the waiting—they blur and fade, just like the rain that's beginning to let up.
They can see each other clearly now, or maybe that's because the stars and the moon have reemerged.
Afterward a sudden surge of power bursts and Kurosaki Ichigo is no longer weak and crying; his eyes have regained their shine, his hair its conspicuous luster, and determination is painted on his countenance.
He turns to address her for the second time, letting down his sword, and she decides that she likes the way her name rolls on his tongue—deliberate, almost tactful, and warm like summer. It's been too long.
Rukia heaves a happy sigh, seventeen months of emptiness dissipating in the chilly night air. Her smile remains as they stare at each other, questions and answers swimming back and forth in an ocean of mingled purple and chestnut.
And it lingers, the smile that knits the lost months and time together, the string that keeps them together while apart.
"It's been awhile, Ichigo."
A distant voice sings a familiar melody, bittersweet and beautiful, this time to both of them:
a/n: ...huh, yeah, I'm back. It's been forever since the last time I wrote a Bleach fanfic, but here I am now. I really miss writing for this fandom, though I admit my main reason of comeback is obviously Rukia... and IchiRuki (I can no longer ignore them).
Some people have been asking me to write something of their epic reunion, so I did. Originally, I started writing from Ichigo's POV and then realized that I'd made too many of that already (poor depressed, angsty Ichigo); so I settled with Rukia.
More fanfics coming from me after this, hopefully. In the meantime, enjoy! Thanks for reading, and please tell me what you think. Reviews would be greatly appreciated.