A/N: I have a long list to thank for reviews: Shiso no Kitsune, curio cherry, tiggerbleach, Eradona, Thunder Claw03, animegamemaster6, darklover, kalthurin, TheCresantMoonWolf, Dark Inu Fan, Lalaith Quetzalli, bubbleboss1022, hitsugayatoushirou1220, kurukurupa, Dragon and Sword Master, Carrie96235, KitElizaKing, and Assault Godzilla. And thank you to everyone who added this or its author to their lists. Okay, here it is folks, the last chapter. After reading the last scene you're probably going to want a large glass of water to wash down the big ball of fluff. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Bleach characters, manga, anime, movies, etc. They belong by copyright laws to Tite Kubo et al.
Gifts for a Princess
Blowing Out the Candles
The trio of Shinigami stood outside the Kurosaki Clinic waiting for their friends and enjoying the spring weather. The cool breeze had subsided and the sun shined brightly, despite the early spring day. Ichigo straightened his jacket and reached into the inside pocket for the money bag Byakuya had given him. Dividing the money, he nudged Rukia lightly to give her a share of the smaller bills before tucking away the remainder. The daiko figured he had plenty in his wallet but he'd keep some in reserve just in case.
"Where's the rest of it?" Rukia demanded, knowing her brother had exchanged far more than he had given her.
"In my wallet or still in the bag. I don't need to be flashing that kind of cash around. We don't have a lot of crime around here but pickpockets and purse snatchers do exist."
"Oh," she murmured. "That reminds me…" Without warning she kicked his shin and stomped on his foot while her fellow lieutenant looked on. "That's for taking it from me in the first place."
Ichigo was muttering curses under his breath when Orihime and Tatsuki joined them. Both girls looked at him strangely but didn't comment. They were used to him nursing his lower appendages around his girlfriend. "So what did you do now, Ichigo?" the martial artist finally asked.
"He took the money Nii-sama entrusted to me so I punished him."
"You know, I'm starting to think you enjoy it," Renji finally stated. It wasn't the first time the thought had occurred to him.
"You think I enjoy having her tiny feet leave black and blue impressions on my shins?"
"I don't know. You've ticked her off enough times to know the outcome and yet you still do it," the other man shot back.
"Same goes for you and you've known her longer."
"Shut up, idiots, we have to think of a place to go," Rukia reprimanded. "Is the ice rink still usable?"
"Not unless you want to recreate it using Shirayuki-san's powers," Ichigo answered, not surprised when a flare of reiatsu from his girlfriend indicated both females' objections.
"Oh, what about the new game center?" Orihime suggested. "I heard there was supposed to be bowling, arcade games, batting cages, and karaoke. That should give everyone something to enjoy."
Ichigo had to admit her idea had merit even though he wasn't very enthused. However, he'd seen the way Rukia's eyes lit up at the mention of the arcade and knew he'd willingly go along with it if she wanted to. Often in the past she had enjoyed the games (at his financial expense) and it made him happy to see her play. The way her eyes would widen in delight had often touched his heart and he wondered how he could have been so blind to his feelings for her for so long.
"Bowling?" Renji asked, pulling Ichigo from his thoughts.
"Yeah, there are ten pins and you try to knock them down using a ball."
"Seems simple enough," the redhead mused. "I'll go along with it," he agreed.
"Yeah, it's been a while since I've gone against Ichigo in anything so I'm looking forward to beating him again," Tatsuki seconded.
"As long as the others agree, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't go." Ichigo caved as he knew he would when Rukia nodded enthusiastically.
"Where are we going?" a new voice asked excitedly, its owner stopping just before the orange haired war hero clotheslined him. Apparently he had learned something before he left school.
"The new game center by the mall," Tatsuki answered, ignoring Mizuiro's slight protest.
"What a chance! Will the lovely Rukia Kuchiki sing for our delight?" he asked.
Rukia was tempted to put on her school girl act but decided to give the boy a straight answer for once. "If there's anything I know, perhaps I will." The karaoke machine was likely filled with music from the latest artists and she wasn't so sure she'd know anything.
"All right, so if Chad and Ishida agree, it's a plan."
"What insane idea have you gotten into your head now, Kurosaki?" the Quincy questioned. He sincerely hoped it wasn't a trip to some other dimension because they had to save the world again.
"It wasn't my idea, it was Inoue's," Ichigo retorted and had fun watching the archer's expression soften.
"If it is Inoue-san's suggestion, I'm sure it's perfectly acceptable." Ishida cleared his throat and looked at the healer. "What did you propose, Inoue-san?"
"I thought it would be a good idea to go to that new game center."
Gazing at the others gathered around, the dark haired boy nodded. "Yes, that was a good idea. I have not been there but it should offer enough entertainment for our diverse crowd." Something had told him to stay far away from the complex so he'd purposely avoided going towards it unless he had to go to the mall.
"Thank you, Ishida-kun!" Orihime smiled brightly, flustering the male completely.
"Oh, for crying out loud, just confess already," Ichigo muttered under his breath. Rukia was the only one close enough to hear and she elbowed him for his comment.
"Leave them alone," she hissed. He would have protested but Chad appeared and with his agreement, they set off for the center.
Seven Karakura High School graduates and two Shinigami stood in front of the Karakura Game Complex a half hour after leaving Ichigo's house. They stared at the mass of teenagers coming and going, wondering at the attraction. None of them could really remember the last time they took a break from studying, Hollow slaying, or outright work to have fun.
"Well, let's go," Ichigo said, acting as their leader and striding forward despite the sudden apprehension he felt.
"He doesn't feel it, does he?" Ishida asked Rukia, still eyeing the building suspiciously.
"Probably not," she answered with a sigh. "He might have regained his powers but his ability to detect anything but his friends' and captain level reiatsus is still sketchy at best. I mean, he's gotten better at telling when Hollows are around but that's probably because he has one of his own. I think his spiritual pressure is so heavy that anything that isn't just as strong as his "resting" output is undetectable. We have yet to establish just what his maximum level is now that he's back to normal."
"In other words, he's just as idiotic as ever."
"True, although if he concentrates, he can tell. This morning he was able to figure out his mother was there even though she was wearing a gigai meant to hide her identity. Family seems to be the exception to a very strange set of rules in regards to him."
"Oi! Are you two going to talk all day or join us?" Ichigo called, annoyance heavy in amber eyes.
"We're coming, Kurosaki. We were simply having a small discussion about reiatsu dectection." Ishida brought up the rear, allowing the petite Shinigami to go to her boyfriend and soothe his irritation. Which she did, with a small kick to the shin. A shin that had already been abused that day if his cursing was any indication.
"Ishida-kun?" Orihime questioned, coming to stand abreast with him.
"Ah, just thinking. Let's go. I have a sudden desire to beat Kurosaki at something besides Hollow slaying."
"Okay," she replied, hooking her arm through his and leading him inside.
Three clerks gave them identical smiles and welcomed them in unison, making several in the group shiver with dread. "What can we do for you, today? Do you have something in mind or would you like the VIP treatment? Perhaps an 'All-Access' pass to every level and game?"
"Give us nine of the passes," Ichigo decided, without waiting for the others to offer their opinions. Ishida and Chad pulled out their wallets but he shook his head, ready to hand over the money Byakuya had given them to play with. "Save your money, guys, this is on Byakuya."
"I do not wish to be beholden to Captain Kuchiki," Ishida said.
"Nii-sama doesn't expect anything in return," Rukia assured him. Seeing that he was still unsure, she lowered her voice. "For some reason, he was in a good mood despite Asano's antics. I have a feeling he wishes me to use the money to aggravate Ichigo, although I'm not sure how that would happen."
"Then it would be ungracious of me to deny him that," the Quincy relented, all for aggravating the daiko. "Go on," he said.
About to hand over the needed cash, Ichigo frowned when he saw that the clerks had begun to stare at them in trepidation. "What's wrong?"
"You know Captain Byakuya Kuchiki of the Gotei Thirteen?" the male croaked, swallowing hard.
"What do you know about my brother?" Rukia demanded angrily, suddenly on alert. Very few people in the Living World knew his real identity.
"Yare, yare, Jura-kun, you've frightened some very important visitors. There's no need to be alarmed my friends." Urahara appeared out of the back office, a grin on his face. For once he was dressed in something other than his green haori and hakama, his face shaven and looking far too awake for their liking.
"I knew there was a reason I avoided this place," Ishida said and sighed. Being in an establishment of Kisuke Urahara's usually meant trouble.
So much for avoiding that on his graduation day.
Fifteen minutes and a long explanation later, the "Substitute Group" and their friends were busy enjoying the newest fruits of Urahara's labors. With golden VIP wrist bands that gave them access to every game and activity for no extra charge (barring the video games that took coins), they wandered around, stopping to explore the arcade first. The first floor of the complex was divided between the games and the batting cages with a bank of elevators in between to take visitors to the other levels. The bowling lanes were downstairs in the basement, a full alley's worth of lanes gracing one end while a snack bar and shoe rental occupied the rest of the space. Above them was a pool and racket ball courts, the latter taking up two floors as well as there being locker rooms to change in. The fifth floor contained several laser tag zones and one paint ball area while the sixth and final floor housed the karaoke rooms. Each level sported areas to rest and eat, manned by a mod soul that had been made especially for that purpose.
"I can't believe Byakuya financed this place," Ichigo said, taking in the high tech equipment.
"I persuaded him that it was a good way to keep Kisuke out of trouble and prevent him from experimenting on any more dangerous or deadly inventions," a cool feline voice said from behind him. A graceful dark skinned woman came alongside the daiko, stopping when he gave a start. "Hello, Ichigo," Yoruichi said.
"Hello, Yoruichi-san. I haven't seen you in a while."
"I've been helping Soi Fon train her men when I haven't been getting this place up and running. I'm in charge of security," she explained, her black suit more alluring than authoritative. No doubt the only thing she had to do was crook her finger and all the bad boys followed her willingly.
"Ukitake-san said you were permanently exiled from the Soul Society," the orange haired teen returned, eyeing his mentor critically. "You've been playing hide and seek in your cat form again, haven't you?"
"Soi Fon appreciates the training, even if she has to outwardly uphold the judgment. Ginrei Kuchiki is working on an appeal but I don't hold out much hope for it being accepted in the next century. At least I can trust Soi Fon to handle things in my former squad."
"For what it's worth, Yoruichi-san, I think you did the right thing." Ichigo pretended he didn't see her start of surprise. "I mean back then when you left with Urahara-san and the Vizards. Aizen would have gotten you out of the way in some of other manner if you hadn't and you wouldn't have been able to gather the information Urahara needed if you'd been killed."
"You've thought about this a lot, haven't you?" she asked before sending a glare to a couple of rowdy teens from another school. They blushed hotly but quieted under her stern gaze.
"Yeah, I didn't have much to do without my powers. Dad filled in some of the blanks too."
Yoruichi smiled, throwing an arm around him jovially. "Just for that, I'll personally escort you around. Kisuke told me Byakuya-bo is fitting the bill so let's spend some of his hard earned money."
Grinning, he pried himself away from her side. "I can live with that."
With the Goddess of Flash as their personal guide, the group of friends spent several minutes battling it out in the arcade, Ichigo and Renji ordered by a violet eyed midget to get her the largest Chappy doll possible. A crowd formed around them as they threw baseballs at targets to gather enough points. In the end they managed to win both large rabbits, Ichigo's the larger of the two simply because he was more familiar with the game than Renji.
Yoruichi looked on with a fond smile, her heart having a large soft spot for the gang in front of her. Even those that didn't have actual spiritual powers had her respect as they had confronted Aizen and survived. "Ah, to be young again," she murmured to herself.
"You talk as if you're old, Yoruichi-san," Ishida said beside her.
"Having Kisuke around can make a woman feel old, Ishida," she confided, remembering the fight to wake him up that morning. "I would have been at your ceremony this morning if he had gotten up on time. Congratulations, by the way."
"Thank you. You missed meeting Kurosaki's mother," he said lowly. "She was allowed to come for the day."
"Ah, Masaki. I'll talk to her another day." Yoruichi smiled, her expression turning into a grin when the Quincy was called to the batting cages. "Go on; let's see if your talents extend beyond the bow and arrow."
Ishida moved towards his friends, rolling up his sleeves as he went. "Are you challenging me again, Kurosaki?"
"Sure, let's see if the master archer can out bat a member of the baseball team," Ichigo agreed. The others stopped what they were doing to watch, most just shaking their head.
"I have ten on Ichigo," Keigo called.
"That's a poor bet," Mizuiro protested, finally getting into things. "Make it a hundred yen and you've got a deal."
"All right, a hundred," his friend grudgingly agreed.
"Now, now, children, I can't let you gamble," Yoruichi scolded, pulling a five thousand yen banknote from her pocket. "Unless you let me in on it."
"Sure, Shihoin-san," Mizuiro said, collecting the money with a boyish smile. Even though he'd like to go out with the mature older woman, even he knew that she was way out of his league.
"Hmm, should I?" Rukia pondered out loud, only to hear a growl from her boyfriend.
"If you are, you'd better be betting on me," Ichigo demanded.
"Why? Isn't the object to bet on the one that's most likely to succeed?" she asked with fake innocence.
"Never mind that, I'm your boyfriend. Out of loyalty, you're supposed to bet on me!" he informed her hotly.
"Is that so?" She smirked playfully, enjoying the growing anger. Patting his cheek lightly, she stood on tiptoe long enough to kiss his jaw. "I'm always on your side, you know," she said softly. "However, as I am unaware of your expertise in this sport, I'm afraid I'm going to have to make a judgment call."
Ichigo looked at her slacked jaw briefly before picking up a bat. He quickly read the weight before choosing another and giving a practice swing. "You go ahead and make your 'judgment call.' In the meantime, I'll beat Ishida." Catching her chin in one hand, he tilted her head up so that she had to look at him. "And when I win, you'll owe me."
"Ooh, you talk tough, Kurosaki-kun," she egged, tilting her lips into a smirk.
"Tch," he uttered before walking up to the batting box. "You ready, Quincy?" he shouted over to the archer who was busy calculating the distance from his place to the pitching machine.
"I've been waiting for you to stop flirting with Kuchiki-san, Shinigami," the former council president returned.
The game was on.
Mizuiro was several thousand yen richer by the time they moved on to the next level of the center. Neither Ishida nor Ichigo had won as they'd each hit the same number of balls, going through the routine three times before Yoruichi called it quits on account of the spectacle they were making. The playboy had changed his bet, deciding to be the "house" as he saw an opportunity to make money off of his friends. Keigo had whined about the change, especially when the spectators that had gathered had begged to be let in on the action.
"So midget, who'd you bet on?" Ichigo asked, wiping his forehead with the towel some helpful assistant had offered him.
"Neither of you. I knew that you'd lose your concentration the longer it went on and wouldn't be able to beat Ishida even though you had more experience playing the game, and Ishida would use his superior ability to analyze the situation and at least stay on par with you even though this is probably the first time he's picked up a bat out side of physical education."
"How did you know that I'd lose my concentration?"
"You hate being an object of attention. The more people that grouped around, the more irritated you became." She smiled, patting him on the arm as they got onto the elevator. "The best bet was no bet at all. Sado agreed with me and stayed out of the fray. Renji just lost his monthly bar hopping money to Kojima and the girls were undecided so they placed a ten yen wager on you both."
"You didn't bet…"
"See, I told you I'm always on your side." Rukia laid her head on his chest briefly when he squeezed her tightly to him.
"Yeah, yeah you are." She felt a light touch on her head and smiled to herself.
"Good thing for you," she teased.
Ichigo just stared after her as she got off the elevator. "Aa…"
By the time they arrived at the karaoke floor, they were hungry, tired, and in some cases, sporting wet hair where they'd had to shower due to the paint ball war they'd gotten dragged into by some of their former classmates. Even Yoruichi was rubbing the water out of her long purple locks and had ordered one of the attendants to bring her a hair dryer. There was no way she was spending the rest of the evening with damp hair. If for some reason she had to transform, she'd end up looking like a drowned rat with wet fur.
"I'm exhausted," Orihime said, collapsing against the couch closest to the doorway of the room they'd entered. "It was fun though."
"Yeah, you should have seen the look on Ichigo's face when I blasted him with paint," Tatsuki cackled, stretching her long limbs before sinking down beside her ginger haired friend. Chad merely nodded, having been witness to the incident. His Shinigami friend had been pretty surprised when the martial artist snuck up on him.
"Someone's been teaching you how to suppress your reiatsu," Ichigo complained. He glared at his mentor but received an entirely genuine look of confusion from gold eyes.
"If she's learned how to hide her presence, it wasn't from me. Maybe I should have Soi Fon scout her for the Stealth Squad."
"Nah, she's a better fit for Zaraki's division," Renji countered, rubbing his thigh where she had shot him twice.
"Ah, guys, I'm not even dead yet. Can you refrain from drafting me into the Shinigami military?" the dark haired girl pleaded.
"Sorry," the two Shinigami chorused.
"Force of habit," Renji admitted. "I'm so used to the others being in the Soul Society, I forgot that you still have lives to live. Ichigo says he's going to Kyoto and Ishida's taking on Tokyo, but where are the rest of you headed?"
"Mizuiro and I are staying in Karakura to attend a junior college. He wants to meet more women and my parents insisted on an education where my grades weren't in the toilet." Keigo set aside his towel, staring at the opposite wall lost in thought.
"It's not just to meet women," Mizuiro protested but no one really believed him.
"I'm going to Nagoya," Orihime admitted. "My aunt invited me to live with her while I attend school there so that we can get to know each other. She's been supporting me since my brother died so it's the least I can do."
"I'm going to continue being an assistant instructor at my dojo while I participate in competitions around the country. I'll take a course now and again at the local college like Keigo and Mizuiro when something catches my interest but for the most part, I'm done with school," Tatsuki added.
Everyone looked at Chad, waiting for his answer. "Here," he uttered, going silent until Yoruichi pinched his arm lightly. She had to use a bit of shunko to make him feel it. "School, work."
"I'm not surprised," Rukia said, leaning back against Ichigo's arm that he'd flung across the back of the couch. "You're all moving on to something that suits you yet I have the feeling you'll all keep in touch. It's a good thing, to keep those bonds when you can."
"I'll call Ichigo everyday just so he doesn't forget me," Keigo declared, whipping out his phone so that he could demonstrate.
"Trust me, Keigo, once they've met you, no one can forget you," Ichigo said. "Even if they'd wanted to," he continued.
"Same goes for his sister if Ikkaku's stories are anything to go by," Renji snickered, remembering the third seat's ravings about the Asano female.
"My sister is crazy," Keigo agreed and sat there stupefied when everyone save Chad, Orihime, and Yoruichi laughed.
Rukia sat up as a thought occurred to her. "I have gifts for you, from the soutaicho." She opened her purse and took out several phones. "These are soul pagers and have direct lines to the Soul Society. They will alert you to the presence of Hollows, and other spiritual entities, showing you their level of reiatsu. I know some of you don't have actual powers but you should be able to tell when something is after you. Since those of you who don't have powers are staying here in Karakura, you already met the resident Shinigami at the end of the war. If for whatever reason he doesn't show up, you can contact the Gotei directly, or Urahara and one of them will send aid immediately. For those of you who do have powers and are moving away, orders may be sent to you or you can report in any suspicious activity you may come across."
"I have no need to have dealings with the Soul Society," Ishida protested.
"Says the one who already has a phone from Urahara," Ichigo pointed out. "Just take it. Look at it this way, if you find something strange and you don't get told about it first, you can act all superior when a Shinigami comes to find out what you know."
"That's the usual way of things," the Quincy shot back but accepted the other phone anyway.
"You can call the Soul Society, Urahara, and each other but that is the extent of its actual calling ability."
They all took the device, some warily while others tucked it away without comment. Rukia smiled at them, happy that they'd accepted the responsibility as well as the gift. It had taken a lot of convincing on her part to get the captains to agree to allow them that much contact with the other dimension.
"All right, all right, enough of the somber mood. You're probably all starving so I'll go arrange some food. You guys go ahead and rest or sing your hearts out, whichever you prefer." Yoruichi smiled at them and left, feeling that her tour guide role was done.
Now to have a little fun with them.
It was about the time that Orihime sang the same song for the fourth time that Ichigo realized everyone was pretty much hammered. He stared critically at the pitcher of "soda" and vaguely remembered that Yoruichi had offered it to them with a wide, cat-like grin, just as she had the first three times she'd served them drinks. "Now I know why your brother calls her a demon," he said to Rukia. When he didn't get any response, the war hero looked down and found her leaning against his side, snoring softly.
"She never could hold her liquor," Renji confided, his speech somewhat slurred too.
"Huh, maybe we should call it quits, before the rest of us pass out."
"That's probably for the best. If Sado passes out, I don't know how we're going to get him home."
The gentle giant was staring off into space, his gaze unfocused. Although he'd only had a couple of glasses, it was clear that the alcohol Yoruichi had snuck into the beverage had hit him hard. "True," Ichigo said before standing. Once he'd stopped swaying, he glanced at the clock, surprised that it was nearing nine thirty at night. They'd started their adventure at the game center shortly after one in the afternoon.
"Yo!" he shouted and immediately wished he hadn't. The sound reverberated off of the walls, echoing around the room and in his head. "We should call it a night, guys," he suggested, noticing that his childhood friend had passed out and Orihime was tilting dangerously towards Ishida's lap. The Quincy for his part sported red cheeks but none of his shyness when it came to the healer. The alcohol had really brought down his barriers.
"You're trying to spoil our fun," he protested, gazing with rapt attention at his seatmate.
"The fact that you even said that is proof that we need to stop. Yoruichi-san spiked our drinks."
"Really?" Ishida asked distractedly. "Good for her," he cheered, laying Orihime's head in his lap.
Keigo and Mizuiro ignored the conversation in favor of picking another song. They'd been singing their hearts out for the last twenty minutes. "Sing with us, Ichigo!" the former tried only to be given a glare. Instead of frightening the brunet like it usually did, Keigo fell into hysterical laughter.
"What a mess," Ichigo groaned, wondering why he and Renji were the only ones still sober enough to think straight. Leaning over to touch Orihime's hairpins, he was grateful when the presence of his reiatsu woke the flower spirits up. They flew around the room briefly, clutching their heads as if in pain.
"What the hell happened and why are we out without the girl's say so?" Tsubaki demanded angrily before wincing.
"Never mind that, can you get everyone sober enough to walk home?" he asked the two healing spirits, trying not to scare the more timid of the two.
"Our powers are affected by Orihime's condition so it might not work," Shun'o warned, his own head feeling fuzzy.
"Understood but we're pretty vulnerable like this," Ichigo said, catching one of the females when she started falling towards the dip on the table. Any other time the sight of drunken flower spirits would have been funny.
"Okay, we'll try," they answered, going first to their wielder. They worked for several minutes, the glowing shield growing brighter as the alcohol was removed from Orihime's system.
"Sorry, that's as best we can do right now," Ayame said before fading back into her dormant form. Shun'o nodded and the they returned to sleep off the rest of whatever had been put into their drinks.
Orihime sat up slowly, holding her head before lifting it to meet Ishida's. "What happened?"
"I'm not quite sure," the archer admitted. He'd been caught in the glow too and his drugged mind had cleared as a result.
"We're drunk, that's what happened," Ichigo informed them crossly, losing his balance. "Your flowers managed to clear up some of it for you two but the rest of us are still suffering. We'll have to call cabs for everyone."
"Oh, no, cabs are expensive," Orihime protested, shaking her head and immediately regretting it.
"Don't worry, Byakuya left plenty. I'd rather spend the money on getting you guys home safe than having you try to walk home."
"All right," she agreed.
Ichigo gathered Rukia into his arms, ordering Renji to go back to the Soul Society with the two monstrosities she called Chappy dolls. The red haired lieutenant agreed readily and hoped that he could go straight to the barracks without coming across his captain until morning. Preferably after he'd taken something for the hangover he was bound to have.
They prodded Chad into moving, the armored young man easily lifting Tatsuki up even in his inebriated state. Ishida tore the other two away from their play and gingerly the group made their way to the elevators. Once back in the lobby they had the remaining clerk call cabs for them, deciding that standing outside would help clear their heads.
A cold wind did exactly that, jolting Chad out of his stupor and making Keigo and Mizuiro shiver. Rukia stirred but didn't wake, burrowing deeper into Ichigo's embrace for warmth. The first of the cabs pulled up and they insisted that Orihime and Tatsuki get in, the former gracing them with a thankful smile. Ichigo juggled his girlfriend so that he could hand the healer enough money for the fare. Ishida shut the car door when they were safely inside and told the driver the two addresses.
"Hey, Ishida," Ichigo began, giving Chad several bills to see Keigo and Mizuiro to their apartments, as well as himself.
"Yeah?" the Quincy acknowledge.
"I have a favor to ask," he said. "I know you're moving farther into the metropolitan area but you and Chad will still be close enough to come around every once in a while. I'd like to ask you to look out for my sisters when you can. I'll talk to Chad later but this might be the last time I see you face to face before I leave for Kyoto. Karin is able to handle the small fry but Yuzu still can't really see Hollows and she's pretty defenseless."
Ishida paused in opening the cab that had pulled up to the curb. He faced Ichigo and narrowed his dark blue eyes thoughtfully. It was the first time he remembered the Shinigami daiko ever actually asking for a favor. The archer knew how much his sisters meant to him and because he bore no real ill will, especially towards the twins, he nodded. "Sure. Who's who again?"
"Karin has dark hair and a temper like mine. Yuzu's got sandy brown hair and appears very sweet but she can get mad when the occasion calls for it so watch out if she's in a bad mood. They're really growing up into typical teenage girls so your help probably won't be appreciated after the fact."
"Don't worry, Kurosaki, I can be discreet when I need to be. Good night," Ishida said, nodding to the sleeping lieutenant and her partner.
"Night, and thanks." Ichigo watched him leave, heaving a sigh of relief as the last cab pulled up. He placed Rukia gently in the back, giving the driver his address as he settled in beside her. He prayed the girls were in bed so he wouldn't have to listen to them fuss. And with any luck his dad would be hold up in his office doing paperwork.
It was nearing midnight by the time Ichigo settled into his own bed. His sisters had descended on him mercilessly for coming home drunk, and his assurance that he wasn't half as bad as some of his friends hadn't won him any points. The only saving grace of the night had been the notable absence of his dad and he thought maybe he'd been waylaid in the Soul Society from bringing his mom back.
Karin and Yuzu had coaxed a confused Rukia into the bathroom, helping her bathe and dress for the night in a pair of the latter's pajamas just like she used to wear when she was here before. They'd apologized for not having a third bed set up in their room that night but had promised to correct that in the morning before their dad began work in the clinic. For the time being they'd rearranged Ichigo's closet, bring a smile to both Shinigamis' faces as the memories came back from her time spent hiding from his family.
Turning to gaze up at the moon, the nights that he spent wishing he could see the woman it reminded him of came back to him full force. He'd changed his sleeping position many times in those first months, undecided if he wanted to gaze at the white orb every possible moment or never again. The daiko had known that they were compared to a Black Sun and White Moon but he'd ignored the monikers, preferring to think of them as just friends instead of two parts of a whole.
"Ichigo…" Rukia's rich alto interrupted his thoughts and he turned to find her standing at his bedside.
"Can't sleep?" he guessed, the brilliant light coming in his window illuminating her face.
"It's too cold in the closet and your sisters took the extra blankets."
Without a second thought he moved over, lifting his covers so that she could slide in. Feeling her cold feet, he hissed and mumbled under his breath before tucking the blankets around her tiny form. "You're an icicle, midget. Why didn't you say something earlier?"
"I was fine until the warmth of the bath wore off." Drawn by the heat of his body and reiatsu, Rukia snuggled as close as possible. She felt his sigh as he drew her into his embrace and smiled into his chest. "There was a time when you would have freaked out about sharing your bed with me."
"Yeah, well, I was young and stupid."
"And now you're older and stupid." She laughed softly at the sound of protest he made.
"I have to be smarter than I was back then," he argued. "I fell for you, didn't I?"
She felt tears prick at the edges of her eyes and decided to blame it on the alcohol still in her system. "Ichigo…"
Feeling the dip in her reiatsu, he turned so that he was leaning over her. "Don't cry," he said, making it both a demand and a plea. "I hate seeing you cry." If her brother's blade hadn't almost killed him that night she was forced to go back to the Soul Society, seeing the tears in her eyes as she walked away probably would have.
Rukia smiled, sighing against his lips as he kissed her and losing herself in the passion that began singing in her blood. "You're still drunk," she decided, knowing flowery words weren't his thing, despite the love sonnets he read.
"Probably," he agreed. Lifting his head to gaze at her, he became serious. Amber eyes blazing with an intensity usually saved for battle, he cupped her face and kissed her fiercely again. "I'm going to say this once so listen closely because I'll probably never say it like this again.
"Aishiteru," he whispered, his throat closing on the emotion he felt.
Violet eyes studied him, tears leaking from the corners. She pulled him tightly against her, unable to think of a response. She didn't need grand gestures, flowers on special occasions, or even him bending down on one knee. Rukia knew he loved her. Smiling as he relaxed into sleep, Rukia twined her fingers with his and settled herself against his broad chest. With one last sigh, she returned the sentiment with just as much emotion as he had given her. "Aishiteru."
And like a candle that is extinguished on a birthday cake, the wind blew clouds over the moon, shadowing a room where two lovers slept in peace.
A/N: I really wanted to add a funny epilogue to this about Ichigo entering his dorm but as I finished the chapter I realized that this was it. The story didn't need anything more and to go from this beautiful, emotional scene to a "Ha-ha" moment would just ruin it. I hope you enjoyed the story and now I am definitely going back to "TKA."
And for those of you who didn't know, the phrase "Aishiteru" is an emotional way of saying "I love you" in Japanese. The Japanese don't say it often and Ichigo would probably only utter it two or three times in his life max, but I think it fits at the end.