I think this chapter for me was the hardest to write, which is why it took so long. Sorry for that, by the way.
Lyrics are from Wreckless Eric's song, Whole Wide World, which I don't own.
Why am I hanging around in the rain out here
Trying to pick up a girl?
Why are my eyes filling up with these lonely tears
When there's girls all over the world?
When he had been younger, Ichigo never understood why his father didn't fight, even though he had the abilities of a soul reaper. When hollows appeared, wreaking havoc on the world of the living and slurping up human souls, he sat on the sidelines, watching it happen, simply having faith that the Soul Society would send fighters to take care of the problem.
Ichigo couldn't comprehend why, but he accepted it calmly, because as crazy as Isshin could be, he meant well. And, well, he was his father. He had a goofy streak, but he loved him.
Of course, he'd try his best not to admit it.
But the longer the years ran on, the more Ichigo began to understand. While his Soul Reaper friends barely aged, stuck in a different time, in a different body, the years continued to wither him in the curse that he knew as mortality.
Ten years after meeting Rukia, he still felt young and strong. He bound through the streets dressed in his reaper clothes, defying gravity, destroying hollows, enjoying his fortitude. He loomed over Rukia, even more than he had before. His muscles filled out, and when he hugged her, she felt so small and fragile in his arms, even if one of her punches left him scathing.
He told her he loved her, but even then, she would sometimes hesitate, staring at him blushingly, and say, don't you want someone who's alive? Someone who can give you a family, a life in this world?
She meant to take care of him, but it always irritated him to no end. He didn't want anyone else. He wanted her. And nothing would change that.
Twenty years later, and he still could run and jump with the best of them. His human form felt slower, but his soul form never seemed to change. Sometimes, though, he'd notice weaknesses about himself he had never felt before. New wrinkles on his face, a stubborn beard, and pain in his back all caused him to sigh. Not because he ever really minded growing old, but because while he continued to grow, she stayed so young.
I don't care, she sniffed when she caught him staring at himself in the mirror. I'm still smarter and more mature than you. That's not going to change.
Thirty years passed, and his breath shorted out on him sometimes. His face began to harden and wrinkle under the years of battles and stress. He worked in his father's clinic, because Rukia insisted he participate in his human life as much as possible. By now, he looked older than Byakuya. He hated going out in public with her, where people would ask, is this your father? She told him time and time again she didn't mind. He knew she didn't, but he did.
His life felt divided into two parts – the time when she was there and the time she left. He worked even when duty called her away, but everyone could tell. Perhaps old age made him mushy, but he missed her when she left. She completed a part of him.
And while she left, he focused on his family and his friends. His father grew older, and began to have problems with his breathing. Both his sisters fell in love and began to have children of their own, with Yuzu also working in the clinic and Karin playing professional soccer all over Japan. Chad moved away, and so did Tatsuki and Keigo. Orihime and Uryu had their own children, and she visited him at least weekly.
All in all, he shouldn't have been lonely. But the older he grew, the more he wished he could have her around.
After forty years, he blew out his knee while running. Not in his soul form. He had been jogging down the street, slipped on some leftover rain, and basically destroyed his right knee. Rukia came and saw him the day after his surgery, leaning over him and smirking as he winced in pain. He couldn't even put any weight on his damned leg, and she had to help him to bathe and use the bathroom.
It's not anything I haven't seen before, she snarked. He shrugged, embarrassed, because his old body looked spotted and wary, while her skin still felt warm and soft and smooth, they way his must have when they first met.
That was the longest she ever stayed since they were kids. For nearly three weeks, she remained by his side, until he healed enough to use crutches. That time she left felt the worse of all. He got so used to having her around, that he moped around for days. Then his father died, and he forgot some of his old problems for new ones.
Fifty years later, and she showed up at his doorstep one day, as she always did, looking pensive and sad. When he asked what was wrong, she wondered if he ever regretted choosing to be with her, and only her. Her face showed guilt, because she hadn't been able to age with him, she'd never been able to provide him with children or a family. He was pretty sure this counted as a soul reaper's mid-life crisis.
At that he smiled, reaching up to touch her face, her young face, with his wrinkled hands. He was sixty five, and while he still walked, and even ran (with a knee brace) relatively easily, he found himself suddenly having to care about things like colon cancer and erectile dysfunction and all the awkward health issues he didn't like talking to her about, although she enjoyed bringing it up, just to see him squirm.
She never changed.
Actually, that wasn't true. She changed a lot, although not on the outside. With every battle she gained new wisdom, with every year she spent watching him grow, she did her best to grow too, because she knew he didn't want to leave her behind.
And at her silly worries, he smiled back. This is only one life, he assured her, although she bit her lip. She always would feel bad about changing his future, changing what should have been a successful, long, human life. She told him, though, she would never change the past, and that's what made her selfish.
I would never do it differently, either.
At age seventy five, Rukia forced him to retire. Not from being a reaper, he had to give that up awhile ago, but from the clinic. While lying next to him in bed, she wondered why in the world he thought he could take care of other people while he was in pain.
Because I'm smart, that's how, he retorted, and she nudged him with her elbow. She didn't hit him anymore – not like she used to. He's pretty sure if she hit him that hard in his old age, he'd break a bone.
To her, it didn't matter. For him, the rest of his life could be rather pointless. All he was going to do would be get old, have a bunch of heart problems, and then pass away. He never had any kids. His other friends, Orihime and Uryu and Chad and Tatsuki all were getting on in their years, too. He didn't see them as much anymore – just Orihime and Uryu, who insisted (mostly on Orihime's part) on weekly brunch.
Yuzu and Karin would be grandparents soon. Ichigo loved his nieces and nephews, and his sisters, and he never said it out loud, but they all knew. In death waited for him a future he wanted so badly, that only the years stood in the way.
Don't look so glum, Rukia told him when she helped him stand and stretch out his joints. I'll be with you the whole way.
When he turned eight six, he suffered a heart attack.
He didn't die, because Orihime happened to be there with him, and called the police. Through their instructions, and because she luckily had a defibrillator, they managed to keep him alive long enough to reach the hospital, and get proper care.
When he opened his eyes, he felt so old he could hardly stand it. In his heart-attack induced moments, he imagined being young and strong again, without the barriers of death, where he could wield Zangetsu and run without worry over his joints, over his heart.
In the hospital, both Yuzu and Karin visited him. They brought their children, and some of those children brought grandchildren, and for a few days, Ichigo had no time to reflect on the past or the future, because he genuinely enjoyed playing with the kids and listening to his nieces and nephews as they discussed work and love and life. Both sisters had been excellent mothers, Ichigo noted. Some of the children were hardheaded, others sweet, but they all had good hearts.
After a few days, though, they had to return to their lives. They had so much future on their hands, and for the first time, looking back, Ichigo understood just why Rukia felt so bad about her intrusion. In the end, he had no children to call his own, and for brief moments, he wished he had spent more time living in the present, than looking to the future.
But that night, he woke when a small, slender body slipped into the bed next to him. Hospital beds aren't very big, but luckily, she was very small. She curled up at his side and placed a kiss on his wrinkled cheek, twining her hand with his. He could feel her – in her soul reaper form. If the nurse walked in to check on him, she wouldn't see.
And with Rukia lingering there, by his side, he knew why he anticipated death so clearly. Because his fate had always been twined with it, in ways most people weren't. Even out of the few of his friends who also interacted with Soul Society, he could never pull himself away from the world. Blame that on his own short-sightedness, or blame it on the midget. Either way, with her sitting and breathing and dreaming at his side, he could no longer regret his choices.
Hey, he called out to her, because he knew she wasn't sleeping. I love you.
She shuffled, and he could feel the wet of her tears passing through his shirt. Concerned, he lifted an old hand to wipe them away, and she smiled through the dark.
Idiot, she hiccupped softly. I love you, too.
Then why are you crying? he wondered, hoping he hadn't done something wrong, something to upset her.
She shook her head, snuggling even closer to him so her head lay on his shoulder. It's never easy to see someone you love die, she murmured against his neck.
And he did die. At five thirty in the morning, on a Monday. He always hated Mondays. His heart flat lined, and the nurse rushed in. The doctors tried to save him, but not for long. He was old, he was ready to go. They covered his dead body with a sheet, recorded his death, and called his sisters.
They would cry for him, he knew, and he felt bad about that. Even if they would be reunited in death, he understood that it's never easy to see someone you love die.
And although the nurses wouldn't see it, he stood up and out of his body, wondering at his new weightlessness as Rukia watched him move from his body. Always, even when in soul reaper form, he had the burden of life on his shoulders. Now it disappeared, and he felt suddenly ethereal.
His expression must show on his face, because Rukia laughs, tugging at Sode no Shirayuki. Do you need me to perform konso? she teases, and he scowls as he finds the familiar steel of Zangetsu resting against his back.
Why don't you race me? he taunts back, and she quirks an eyebrow in interest. But before either of them can run, they step forward and embrace each other, in the way he had always yearned for.
In this life, he knows he can be something different. He knows his waiting period is over, he no longer has to sit and stare out the window to wonder when she'll be back to make him whole again.
He's not as young as he used to be, but his hands no longer look old, and his skin is firm and glows with the health of youth. Even our souls age, Rukia mutters, before pressing her lips to his.
If there's one thing Ichigo has learned over the years, it's that he only has one soul mate. Others may have more, but for him, she holds everything he could want. He broke down soul society to save her once, and he'll chase her through worlds if he has to.
For now, she takes his hand and they race back to soul society, because they are young and free and she shines so bright, he never wants to look away.
I'd go the whole wide world
I'd go the whole wide world
Just to find her.
I'd go the whole wide world
I'd go the whole wide world
Find out where they hide her.
So the song's from Stranger than Fiction (awesome move), but I wrote this while watching Up.
So when a human dies, do they automatically appear in Soul Society as they appeared in life? Maybe, but for the sake of fiction, let's pretend souls can age however the hell they want to.
It's been fun, and I want to thank everyone who has been awesome and reviewed, despite my long absences! You guys are the greatest!
Now go forth, and read more stories!
Until next time!