Breathe Into Me

Slash. Parry. Thrust. Swing. Thrust. Thrust. Parry. Slash.

The never-ending cycle of battle had allowed him to almost completely lose himself in the motions he had executed countless times. He had forgotten why he was fighting and who he was fighting. Faces blurred together. The only things he focused any attention on were the weapons in gripping hands.

In all the monotony of fighting, he felt something swirling just beneath the surface of his consciousness waiting. Waiting for what he did not know since he couldn't remember who he was or what he was doing other than acting and reacting to attack and defense stimuli.

Sounds were garbled and senseless to his ears. Smells of battle were nonexistent. The feeling of sweat and blood slowly leaking down his body and straining muscles didn't bother him. His brain had shut down any conscious thought and functioned only on instinct.

A gentle tugging at his peripheral vision caused him to automatically wrest his gaze away from his opponent. That one look brought everything back into focus for the space of about two seconds.

The figure lay inside a small crater that it had created when it fell. Limbs were splayed haphazardly but in such a way as to imply the figure might well have been asleep safe in bed. A dress covered in brightly colored polka dots was covered in dust and slowly drying liquid life.

However, it was the face which arrested his attention. It was lightly veiled by long hair, but the features were immediately recognizable. A small trickle of blood had seeped out from the slightly open mouth. Eyes that had sometimes shimmered with tears but then quickly reverted back to sparkling in happiness, compassion and kindness now looked at him without comprehension. Without recognition. Without a trace of life.

In that moment, one word snaked its way through his wall of detachment. Through his final defense against complete oblivion.

Failure.

He had failed.

There was nothing he could do to change it now.

He had failed for the last time.

There was only one way to end the misery and pain he would surely experience from all this in only a matter of seconds. Give up control once and for all.

And so he allowed the darkness to assume command of everything. Meanwhile, he would fade away into nothingness, not caring about what happened outside. It held nothing for him now.

Just as he began turning away, a faint voice caused him to stop for a moment. He knew the voice. It had called to him many times before, but never like this. Something about the tone was different, but he didn't know what it was. So he listened again.

The second time it spoke, it was a little less faint, but still not quite distinguishable. So he listened harder, but still he couldn't quite understand it.

Closing his eyes and focusing all his remaining energy on understanding the voice, he was finally able to understand, but not necessarily comprehend what it was saying.

The voice was telling him to stop. Stop what?

To stop doing something. He wasn't doing anything.

The voice said he should not give in, told him to fight. He had been but now he was tired. He didn't want to fight anymore.

Just as he was about to completely ignore the voice again, it said something that made him hesitate.

"She wouldn't want this!"

The darkness surrounding him tried to muffle the words and ease him back into the nothingness, but he forced himself to listen to the voice.

"She would tell you not to let it control you!"

Something tugged at his memory, but the darkness was beginning to overpower him.

"She would cry to see you hurting yourself like this! She couldn't bear to see you in pain!"

At these words, he paused for a moment before struggling harder in order to gain control once again, if only for a moment. The voice's words were stirring blurry images of memories that could only become clear once he asked the question burning in his mind.

Wrenching control with the remnants of his strength, he forced the words out of his mouth as the darkness closed in around him.

"Who…would…?"

All it took was one word. The voice spoke in a soft tone and seemed to caress the word.

"Orihime."

The darkness engulfed him.

However, the moment the voice said the name, the tiniest spark ignited and quickly turned into a roaring flame that caused the dense enclosure of nothingness to release its hold and retreat in defeat.

Now he turned to face the one to whom he had relinquished the power. They stood facing one another in silence before the other one spoke first.

"You do know what's waiting for you out there. The moment you dethrone me, it will all come back. All the memories, all the responsibilities, all the emotions…all the failure. Are you sure you're up to dealing with it?"

Taking a step towards him, the other one said, "You may win without my help, but this time she won't be there like a lighthouse beacon calling you in from a storm. You won't be able to ask her forgiveness for breaking your promise once again. You won't ever be able to forget how you failed."

He paused for a moment and could sense the darkness slowly gathering and beginning to seep towards him.

Looking the other one in the eye, he said slowly and firmly, "So be it."

He closed his eyes and opened them again to find himself once again in control and on the battlefield. As he moved forward to engage another weapon-wielding opponent, he felt something like a second skin slowly disintegrate from his body.

Once again, he allowed himself to become immersed in battle motions and steps that had been practiced so often his muscles seemed to react without the slightest mental effort. However, this time, he did not allow himself to become completely lost within himself.

When the battle eventually came to its natural conclusion, it took a minute or so to collect his wits. He was bone-tired as well as emotionally and mentally drained. The touch of a hand on his arm caused him to look down into a very familiar violet gaze.

The large eyes searched his countenance for a time before the memorable voice inquired, "Is that you Ichigo?"

A pause, a deep breath and then he replied, "Yeah Rukia. It's me."

Rukia reached up to place her hand on Ichigo's shoulder as she said, "You really had me worried for a while there. You had us all worried."

Nodding, Ichigo said slowly, "Yeah, I know. I heard you calling to me."

Neither felt the need to speak for a few minutes as they looked out over the ground in front of them at fallen enemies scattered around them.
Then Ichigo turned to Rukia and said, "Take me to her."

Rukia looked up at him with another searching gaze, then nodded and silently led him across the battlefield.

When they arrived, Ichigo looked around and saw others heading towards the crumpled figure as well. Uryu, Chad, Tatsuki, Renji, Rangiku and Toshiro were picking their way through the rubble and all were sporting an assortment of wounds scattered across their bodies, but none paid any heed to those. They all reached the spot at approximately the same time and all stood silently for a time taking in the sight of their fallen friend. Unconsciously, the eight of them had created a circle so that it looked as though they were keeping vigil over the body of their friend.

Tatsuki moved first to kneel next to the body and take one of the still hands in between her own. Then she gently reached over and brushed the tangled hair aside in order to gently close the eyelids over the sightless eyes.

Once the eyes had been covered, Rangiku let out a soft laugh and said, "Now she looks like she's asleep. She was so adorable when she slept and would say the cutest things."

No one said anything for a time after that. There were no tears shed, but those were bound to come at any moment.

Taking in the calm features of the young woman lying before him, Ichigo thought that he could almost hear her voice once again. She was calling his name as she so often did. Her voice had called out his name in tones of sadness, anguish, happiness and all other emotions in between.

This time her tone seemed to be gentle and soft, but worried.

Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to become lost in the echoing sound of her voice…

When he opened his eyes again, three facts flashed into his mind in quick succession. One: that he was lying on his back. Two: that his body was unusually sore and uncooperative. Three: that Orihime was looking at him in concern.

The next moment, Ichigo bolted upright in startled surprise only to smash his head against something solid yet soft which caused him to slam back down onto the bed. Obviously, Ichigo's head had connected with Orihime's, which caused her to squeak in alarm before switching to yelping in pain as she flopped over backwards onto the bed.

The two of them groaned and nursed their throbbing wounds for a minute before Ichigo groaned, "What happened?"

Forgetting about her own head, Orihime sat up quickly and bent to examine Ichigo's injury as she said, "I'm so sorry! I was trying to wake you up because it looked like you were having a nightmare, but nothing was working!"

Shaking his head to rid the cobwebs from his head, Ichigo asked, "I was having a nightmare? About what?"

Orihime smoothed his hair away from his perspiring forehead as she said, "I have no idea, but I woke up to you twitching and moving around restlessly. Then you started thrashing around and claiming that something was all your fault. That's when I started to get worried and tried to wake you up."

Ichigo was about to ask Orihime why they were sleeping in the same bed before full comprehension finally dawned on him.

Orihime was his wife of two weeks. Earlier that evening he had had to go out with Rukia and the others to deal with some particularly nasty Hollows. The battle had taken longer than expected and after having spent the earlier part of the day working around the house and outside on the garden and lawn, it was no wonder his body was so sore.

The whole incident with the Hollow taking over his body and Orihime dying had just been a dream. A really realistic dream, but a dream nonetheless. This knowledge caused him to gingerly raise himself into a sitting position, gently grasp his wife's arms and pull her firmly against his chest.

At these actions, Orihime, who had been trying to inquire about Ichigo's health, stopped talking and simply sat quietly in his arms for a time.

Raising her hands to grasp Ichigo's shoulders, Orihime said in a hushed voice, "Tell me everything."

She didn't demand, command or manipulate. It wasn't in her nature. She requested and he complied. There was no rush or pressure, so the entire tale took a while to unfold and once it was finished, Orihime didn't say anything or move at all for a while.

Finally, she dropped her hands from Ichigo's shoulders and moved to stand up from the bed. She gently extracted herself from Ichigo's embrace, stood up, turned to grasp Ichigo's hand and nonverbally asked him to follow her to which he silently agreed to do. Orihime led him outside their bedroom onto the balcony that jutted out from the house the two of them had purchased just before the wedding.

The night was starting to show signs of early morning and sounds of nightlife were starting to fade away. They stood looking out over the expanse of Karakura Town where people would begin to stir in order to complete another day's events. As they stood, Orihime leaned her back against Ichigo's chest, to which Ichigo responded by wrapping his arms around his wife's shoulders.

Orihime broke the silence by saying, "Ichigo, I want you to listen and don't say anything until I'm finished. All right?"

Drawing in a breath, Ichigo let it out slowly before he said, "All right."

Nodding her head, Orihime paused for a moment and then began, "You are a powerful man, Ichigo. Since you were fifteen, you have faced challenges and obstacles that would be impossible for some people and yet you have met them head on. You've not always succeeded at first, but when you set your mind to something, there were very few things that could keep you from accomplishing your goals or the mission you had set out to finish.

"You have also been exposed to extraordinary amounts of pain and suffering both physically and emotionally. You've wrestled with your own insecurities and even battled literally with your inner demons and personalities. In the end, you were always victorious. Your body has been crushed, battered, maimed and beaten in any way one can possibly imagine and you have endured it all because your main focus was to protect others even if it meant throwing yourself in harm's way."

Orihime stopped to take a few deep breaths and Ichigo knew she was probably remembering all those different battles and he wanted to say something to her. To protect her from those memories. However, he had promised to let her talk and he knew that she wasn't done yet.

When she had composed herself, Orihime reached up to hold Ichigo's arms as she said, "Even despite all the strength you've acquired, all the battles you've faced and all the times you've saved the lives of others, there is one thing you will never be able to do. You will never be able to completely vanquish death. It is the one thing you will never be able to control. As a Soul Reaper, you know this. Death comes to everyone at some point. There will come a day when I will die and there will be nothing you can do about it."

She increased her grip on his arms as she said, "Don't ever forget what I'm about to say Ichigo. I am not afraid to die. I don't know how, I don't know when I will die, but when it happens the only thing I hope is that I will meet it with courage.

"It may be that I will be killed in a battle against Hollows or some enemy of Soul Society or something like that and you may want to blame yourself for not protecting me from whatever danger took my life. However, the moment those thoughts start to enter your mind, I hope you will think back on this night and what I'm telling you right now.

"If I die in battle, then so be it. It was my choice to follow you and our friends and do whatever I could for you all in battle and have done so before. I made that promise years ago just like you did when you took on the responsibilities of a Substitute Soul Reaper.

"It is only natural to grieve for a loved one like you did with your mother and I did with Sora. However, over time we learn to move on with our lives. Love ones who have passed on remain alive in our memories and someday we will be reunited. However, you are never truly alone."

Nodding towards Karakura Town, Orihime finished softly, "Even if I die, Karakura Town would still be in need of a protector. Your family and friends would be there to support and help you. We may have children in the future who would need their father to raise and love them. Don't ever forget that."

Ichigo let out a long breath he seemed to have been holding and looked out on the horizon. The first signs of the sun making its way into the sky were becoming more pronounced now. For some reason, his mind drifted to the saying 'It's always darkest just before the dawn' before his eyes came to settle on the top of his wife's head.

Would this woman ever cease to amaze him? Most of the time, her personality was sweet, caring and gentle but just now her tone had carried a certain firmness and steel that reminded him of just how strong she could really be. Over time, she had worked her way to hold a place in his heart as a trusted friend before he had allowed her constant affection and kindness to take root and blossom unconsciously into full-blown love. He had not fallen in love with her at first sight, but rather it had grown on him over time. Now, he couldn't imagine anyone else occupying her place in his heart.

However, Orihime was right that he couldn't be so afraid of losing her that he lost focus and purpose. The day that happened would likely be the day when he truly lost her and everything else that mattered to him and that was something he would not allow.

Leaning down to kiss her temple and wrapping his arms more securely over her shoulders, Ichigo said, "I promise that I won't forget, Orihime."

Orihime let out a breath before she said in her sweet voice, "I love you."

The corners of Ichigo's mouth softened as he replied, "I know. I love you too."

Their lips connected as the sun finally made its entrance. The darkness of night receded so that the couple kissing on the balcony were bathed in light rather than shrouded in shadow.

Thinking back on his dream, Ichigo was struck by a thought. Even when his Hollow had taken control of everything and he had been ready to completely give up, it had been the sound of Orihime's name that had given him the strength to pull himself together.

He could save her from Hollows, Arrancars and other enemies, but she could save him from himself. She could be the light to lead him safely home. She could be the breath of air that gave energy to the rest of his body.

In this life and the next, he would love and respect her as she deserved. This he promised himself.

Author's Note:

This was another story I came up with because I was losing my mind trying to hack my way through 'Danser' and I just decided to devote about two hours or so typing up something else entirely.

The idea for this came from a couple of places that I can actually remember, but I'm sure there are plenty of other stories that I've read that I just can't remember at the moment that have similar plotlines to what I've done. The one I can think of right now would be akito kyo's The Storm. It was a great two-shot and I highly recommend reading it. The other source was the song 'Breathe Into Me' by Red. Just the whole feeling of desperation and the idea of nearly giving up when something pulls them back is kind of what I was going for...I think.

Obviously, since this only took a couple of hours, I'm sure there are going to be things in here that don't quite add up, so if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Hope you guys enjoy it!