Chapter 28 – Epilogue

Chapter's music - Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift feat The Civil Wars

"Can't you stop that? I can't hear that music again!" the man was saying, while observing his younger sister rocking his daughter inside her arms.

"But, Katsuo-nii, it is my lullaby! If it was mom, you wouldn't say for her to stop…" Hanako replied, her teenager's eyes flashing with victory.

"Of course not, but you're not mom and I don't want my daughter learning that song and then asking for all your weird food!" Katsuo replied, praying the baby away from his sister's arms.

"Please, don't fight!" came a tired voice from behind them and turning around they saw the weary new-mother walking down the stairs.

"Kaoru, you should be resting!" Katsuo said, closing the distance between them and kissing her temple.

Kaoru smiled and yawned. "I woke up and you weren't there… neither of you, and I wanted to see where my girl was…"

"Don't worry, Kaoru, mom is coming and she will take care of your husband!" Hanako said, with a smirk and Katsuo rolled his eyes.

"If I didn't know how much you love each other…" Kaoru said, observing the teasing looks between the two siblings.

They turned to her simultaneously and flashed equal smiles, so much like their mother's that she felt overwhelmed for a moment. The baby squeaked and Hana ran to help her brother soothing the youngster.

The doorbell rang and Hanako, leaving the parents cooing over their child, ran to open it. At the threshold her mother was waiting, her arms full of food and other necessities, her father behind with some other bags and behind them a jumping couple.

"I want to see her, I want to see her!" Rukia said, running through the small gap between Orihime and Ichigo and almost making them fall. Ichigo scowled at her, while supporting his wife and would have said something if Renji didn't push him aside to follow the black-haired woman, cutting his bad mouthing.

When they entered the room, the two newcomers were crying over the newborn, noticing how similar she was to their own daughter; for Ichigo the girl had totally her father's baby face, but when he tried to say that Renji elbowed him accidentally in the stomach…

The proud grandparents were fawning over the baby, while Katsuo, Kaoru and Hana observed from some distance.

"Do you ever regret leaving Soul Society?" Hana asked softly, when Renji's hair turned the most interesting thing for the baby.

Kaoru looked at her, noticing the girl's worried expression. She smiled, knowing how much the girl cared for her wellbeing.

"I miss them, they are my parents after all, but being a shinigami, never getting old after I reached my maximum potential, training with a sword… being away from Katsuo, it was never my plan… I won't say it wasn't one of the most difficult decisions I made, but I can't regret it when I look around…" Kaoru said, while the laugh of Orihime filled the room when the baby patted her cheek softly.

It was three years ago, two days after her twenty first birthday.

She spent an entire evening discussing with Katsuo what their future would ensue, when, from nowhere he got over one knee and popped out a box from his pocket. She didn't know what to say beside scream like a little girl, reaction that made Katsuo laugh for weeks after that.

However, when the excitement decreased they looked at each other and knew that a crucial decision had to be finally made. One of them had to abandon their world…

"I want to go to the world of the living…" Kaoru said, surprising Katsuo with her decision.

"What about your parents? Your friends? Won't you miss them?" Katsuo replied, not wanting to make her take a decision she would later regret.

"They can visit us… my friends too… but I want to grow old with you, I want to see our kids get older and have their own babies, I want to have that future… I want to fight against time and win with every memorable day, I want to create a story with you with each of my wrinkles…" she said, cocking her head to the side and smiling.

Katsuo sat there, mesmerized, feeling like his heart would burst through his chest, thinking that he never loved her more than he did in that moment.

Her parents looked at her like she was speaking in a foreign language and Kaoru would swear she saw her father's eyes tearing before he could suppress it.

"You want to leave?" Renji asked, his eyes wide, while the words felt like they weighted tons over his tongue.

"Katsuo asked me to marry him and I want to live in the world of the living. I want to grow old! And you can visit us whenever you want! Please!" she said, feeling her eyes stinging. "Don't be mad or sad! I love him so much! And I love you with all my heart!"

Rukia looked from her husband to their daughter and getting up, without a word, closed the distance between them and squeezed Kaoru against her body.

"I know how it feels to love someone more than your own life… At first, when I said to onii-sama I wanted to marry Renji he was so mad… because he didn't believe he could make me happy, but I knew he could, I knew he was the only one for me and I know that Katsuo is the one for you… You suffered so much… and now you deserve this happiness!" Rukia whispered, her tears running softly through her pale cheeks.

When mother and daughter parted, Renji stepped forward and engulfing his daughter in another hug, left the tears run freely, with no worries over his cool exterior. Kaoru fisted her father's robes between her hands and hugged him back with all her might.

"My baby is so grown up…" she heard him saying, while bawling his eyes out. And then, from nowhere, he tensed and looked around. "Where is he? Why did he let you come here, alone? He should be with you, asking for my permission! I knew that strawberry didn't raise his kid properly!"

"Renji, you ran from onii-sama for a week when I told him about our engagement!" Rukia replied, making her husband cough and say he had no recall of such thing.

"Katsuo went to tell Ichigo and Orihime. We thought it would be better if we spoke alone with our parents…" Kaoru said, not wanting to admit her own fear of Renji's reaction if Katsuo was in the same room.

"I know how that feels…" Hana sighed and her brother's eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"You know…? What do you mean with I know? Are you dating someone? Is it some guy from your school?" Katsuo asked, feeling an instant distaste towards the unknown boy.

"What?" another male voice roared from behind them. They didn't notice their father that, curious about his son's expression, decided that that moment was perfect to eavesdrop his kids' conversation. "Who is that bastard?" Ichigo asked, scowl in place, more pronounced than ever.

Orihime looked at her daughter, at hearing her husband's raised voice, with an innocent expression over her face that didn't deceive anyone, especially her husband who turned to her, waiting for an explanation.

"You knew about it? Orihime, why didn't you tell me? I'm your husband, you should have told me! I want to meet this bastard who thinks is good enough for my daughter!" Ichigo roared to an unfazed Orihime, that only blinked at him passively.

"First, you're my husband, but she is my daughter and second, I don't want you to treat him badly!" Orihime said seriously and Ichigo's face fell.

"Orihime!" he whined. "She is too young!"

"Dad!" Hanako snapped, her cheeks red. "I have a boyfriend and you already know him and you like him, so cut it out!"

Renji started laughing and when Ichigo turned his angry glare in his direction, the red-haired raised his hands in a sight of surrender. "I was just thinking if it was Shiro… you know, Ishida's boy… that would be funny…" and he laughed openly.

Orihime's eyes widen, looking to Renji, that realizing what he said released a "Oops!". An uncomfortable silence fell over the room; they could hear a needle drop or the smallest of sighs coming from Hanako's lips.

Ichigo's hand grabbed Orihime's shoulder when he felt his world shift under his feet.

"S-Shiro… I-Ishida's boy…" he repeated in a hollow voice.

"Hello!" someone said from the front door and it was with a dooming feeling that a boy with black hair and blue eyes appeared; a metal cross hanging from a bracelet in his wrist.

"Shiro-kun!" Orihime squeaked like a mouse and when Ichigo's face turned up, the boy felt the waves of reiatsu coming from him.

"I would advise you to run…" Renji said, the corners of his mouth trembling with suppressed teasing.

And when the boy really run, Ichigo ran behind, with Hanako screaming with both of them, Orihime raised a shield to protect the boy, making Renji laugh, Rukia shake her head with mirth and the two new-parents try to calm their baby down, that with all the commotion started crying.

And while all that happened, Orihime couldn't stop herself from thinking that they would never be a normal family, with peaceful Sunday lunches and calm vacations. There was always running around, laughs, screams, fights, some zanpakutou in the middle or even the need to call her powers to stop a father from killing his future son-in-law, but even with all that craziness around her, she felt the luckiest person on earth. Her family, all she was able to win with hard work and sacrifices made all that serenity overrated, she choose the madness of her own life over anything else and would walk over flames to protect any of them, especially if it meant keeping all of them together and happy, be it a Shinigami, Healer, Vizard, Quincy, Fullbringer or Human, all of them belonged inside her heart and until her last breathe the Healer would heal, the Protector would protect and the Fighter would win…

Forever and ever…

The End

Yes, my dears, it is the end...

It was an amazing journey, meeting all of you, receive your comments, know what you enjoyed most, bash Aizen together or fawn over Ichigo, love the sweetness of Orihime and the inteligence of Hanako, laugh with Renji and Rukia's antics and cheer Kaoru and Katsuo... And in the end, see our not so traitor former captain end with his true love.

I hope you all enjoyed the story, that the emotions I tried to convey really touched your heart and that, just like for me, the time we spent together through these words was well spent.

Love you always,