A/N: I have returned.


15th of December

It has been a little over two months since the last entry I made, not out of laziness or lack of interest, but the sheer amount of work and exhaustion, both physical and mental. Every progress I made with any patient has been documented and I found that I couldn't pour my thoughts into personal life. I can, however, say that situation at home has slowly been improving, so much so that grandfather commented on the renown Kuchiki stubbornness that flows through my veins. Brother, on the other hand, still refuses to speak to me, always using some proxy to speak to me and never beyond the bare minimum. Grandfather says that in time he will come to accept my choices, but for now, I should let him be… Grandfather has more optimism than I do.

Today was the first time I decided to visit Ichigo's family. The reason why it took me so long was that I wanted to make some sort of progress, to at least come before them with some news, some sliver of hope. I dared not to appear before them with nothing to show for, because I am not the first, second or third doctor who attempted to treat him, and I feared that they would see me as just another one who will abandon him. No parents wants to count those notches.


Brisk air was carrying what few leaves were still on the streets. Winter was at the door, bearing with itself the gift of cold days and even colder nights. Few were walking the streets, and those who did wore warm clothes, scarfs wrapped around their necks. The prognosis was for snow, but the white cover was yet to come and bring joy to young ones, and while many were waiting for those joyous days, one carried a heavy expectation… It was enough to make her stomach clench into a knot. The taxi pulled over and from it, a lone figure emerged, petite, hugging the coat she was wearing. Before her stood a tall house, the front yard was short with a gate on which was a sign upon which "Kurosaki Clinic" was written. She was in the right place.

With deep inhale, Rukia crossed the street and approached the clinic, still collecting her thoughts, trying to figure out what to say first, what to reveal, and what to hide. Her toes were cold, not from the brisk winter air, but from her own nervousness. During her time at the hospital, while she was still studying medicine, she was mentored on how to approach the family of patients, what to tell them, how to give them the bad news. The key, according to her mentor, was to never get involved. The sight of a grieving family is most certainly a heavy one, but one should never linger on it. It was the only way to survive in medicine. But how was she going to detach herself from this one when already she poured every bit of her strength into helping one man who was deemed beyond help?

Once more she took a deep breath and filled her lungs with cold air and approached the front door, pressing the ring button twice. It took several tries, each half a minute apart for the doors to finally open and a rugged-looking man to appear. His hair was ruffled and his coat wrinkled. The man only barely resembled the image she had found on the internet… This was doctor Kurosaki? On the image, he was not this thin nor messy, but the resemblance was still unmistakable.

"Good morning!" He greeted her with a rather wide smile once he managed to get a good look at her. It was not difficult to notice that her petite cuteness had a strong impact on the first impression. There was even a bit of stale smell that he emitted, likely spent the whole night up, and only recently managed to wake up. At least that explained why he thought it was morning "Do you have scheduled?"

"No… um…" Rukia stuttered for a moment, collecting her thoughts. He read his articles during her studies, one after she swallowed them with undivided attention. Among the medical community, his work was among the finest and she could see where Ichigo's intellect came from… But this man looked nothing like the renown Ishin Kurosaki who wrote about bold and often radical treatments. This looked like a back-alley doctor who either lost his medical license or just barely manages to keep one. Still, when she looked into his eyes he saw that of Ichigo and her toes curled out of sheer anxiety.

"That's alright." He cut her off, still maintaining his smile "I think we can squeeze you in a schedule. So what's the reason for the visit?" Doors swung open and he was trying to tuck his arm into the sleeve of white coat "If you are having some personal problems, I got a good ointment, a bit of my own recipe.

"N-No… it's nothing like that!" Rukia quickly shook those words away. A faint blush already adorned her cheeks, something that the man could not miss.

"Well, we could stay and guess all day but that won't get us anywhere. So let's go insi-"

"It's about your son." Rukia interrupted him and saw him become as still as a statue, arm half-way through the sleeve. The pleasant smile that he kept on his face has disappeared within a single second and grim visage took its place. He slowly finished putting on his coat.

"Come in…" He said in a lower tone and walked away from her, allowing her to enter the room. The clinic, if it could be considered one, had all the bare essentials and only a little bit beyond that. The strong smell of antiseptic was there and despite its modest appearance, everything was clean. But more importantly, it was warm and that was reason enough for her to take off her scarf while Ishin walked over to one of the cabinets. Above it was his medical diploma. To the left a reward, to the right a certificate of distinguished service with five more next to it, decorating the wall as if they were but common paintings. Even Aizen's office had fewer rewards… and he was running an entire hospital.

Still, she wanted to speak but thought that she should at least wait until he finishes whatever he was doing. Her head tilted and she tried to peek. From the cabinet he pulled out a bottle and poured the dark liquid into a glass, emptying it in one go. There was no need for her to wonder what was in that bottle… for whatever its chemical composition was, it was meant to numb him.

"About-"

"How did it happen?" He asked grimly "Did he suffer?" It became quickly clear to her that he was waiting for the bearer of bad news and she was the one meant to deliver it. Her fingers tightened into her palm. How demoralizing it would have to be to wait day after day for your son's death, knowing that it is not an illness or disease that took him, but his own actions. And the last thing he wanted to know was if he suffered.

"He is still alive." She said, drawing his attention onto herself. His eyes, though still tired, lit up if only just a bit "Ichigo is doing well… all things considered with him…" Another short explanation and another minuscule sign of hope appeared in Ishin's eyes. Even without her asking, she knew that the man still nurtured a fool's hope that she will say that he is cured, that by some unexplainable miracle he has recovered and is looking for a ride to come home. She doubted that he would even question how it happened… as long as it did.

"Please, allow me to introduce myself first-" Rukia cleared her throat, removing her gloves "My name is doctor Rukia Kuchiki and I work at Hueco Mundo hospital."

"Kuchiki…" He mimicked that name "You wouldn't happen to be related to-"

"He is my older brother." Rukia quickly answered, already knowing what he was going to ask. It wouldn't be the first, nor the last time she was asked the same question. She wondered if that is the new way of greeting in this town.

"Well you picked up all the beauty in the family." Ishin managed to chuckle at his weak jest, now fully turning around while still holding a glass full of, what looked like brandy "So, doctor Kuchiki, if you haven't come to finally tell me of his death, why did you come to this little clinic? Doubt I can offer anything that you can't get at better clinics."

"As I said, I want to talk about your son, Ichigo." She said, still nervous "For a few months now, I have been his doctor."

"You don't look older than mid-twenties." Ishin added, his voice slightly more relaxed. It seems the weight has fallen off his shoulder and with that came the keen eye and sharp intellect "Fresh out of medical faculty, am I right?" She nodded "First job?" Another nod "And you took his case. Seems like you like to work with impossible cases."

"I don't think it is impossible." She answered "As long as the hand of deities do not intervene, anything made by a man is possible to be solved." This brought a smile onto Ishin's face, a rather forced but still genuine.

"You sound just like him…" Ishin said softly and moved a few steps closer, leaning against his desk upon which stacks of papers were placed, threatening to topple over and spill on the floor.

"We talk frequently." Rukia added "I would like to say that it is a conversation, but most of the time I am merely there as a spectator while he talks."

"Yes… he always was like that…" Half of brandy from his glass was already gone "Able to keep the crowd captivated with just a few words. He didn't talk a lot, but whenever he did, scores of people would listen. I like to think that he would've been a great speaker if it weren't for… for…"

"I understand." Rukia finished the thought, understanding what he wanted to say. It had to be difficult for him to speak of it, and if the circumstances were different, she would've pushed the subject aside. But she came exactly because of that very subject and she knew she had to press on "That's the reason why I came here today. He doesn't want to speak about what happened and when I manage to… to trick him into it, his personality shifts rapidly. But I still want to know, if I am to help him, it is not something that can be overlooked."

Long silence fell between them. The same struggle that she saw in Ichigo's eyes was now in his father's, though without a second personality embedded into his mind. No, this was simply a fight between man and his own nature, trying to summon enough strength and remember something that should've been long since forgotten.

"Ichigo… lost his mother early in his life. He was unfortunate enough to be present at the moment of it happening. The man was after her money… nothing more, nothing less. What happened there, I do not know myself but, by the time police arrived, he was… he was…" voice caught up in Ishin's throat. His lips quivered and he was ready to break down. But he didn't. "He was under her. There was blood around her and they say that she was trying to protect him. An entire life ruined… over measly couple-thousand yen… And he was strong, you know. He cried and cried… but once his eyes dried up he somehow managed to pull himself out of… what I thought would be a mental trauma that would block him from ever becoming a young man."

"There are many cases of autism that start with such strong emotional trauma…" Ishin explained, once more pouring into his glass. By now, he should've been inebriated and stuttering, but his voice only became clearer "And I thought he would retract into his own world and never leave it. But he never did… in fact, he broke through that trauma and bit by bit grew into a… into a solid, young man. He was so… so determined… and I never saw him cry since…"

"What about his sisters?" Rukia asked, finally taking a seat on one of the chairs that were welded onto a three-seat bench "Yuzu and Karin, correct?"

"Yes." Ishin grinned and nodded "They were a bit more delicate case and took their mother's passing with a lot more difficulty. But… it was Ichigo that pulled them along. Not me. At the time, I was still working at hospital. The new situation made sure that I can't continue like that anymore so I resigned. Took whatever money I had saved and made this." His eyes looked around at the modest interior of the clinic. Rukia mimicked that motion and carefully analyzed everything that she could see. It was a bit old-fashioned, but everything seemed to be in rather good condition. The cushion on the bed where patients were examined had pale spots, but nothing was punctured or patched. He took good care of the clinic. A stark contrast of the hospital where Rukia worked at, where machines and furniture were new, courtesy of Aizen's inexhaustible connections… but this place was warm. Cozy even.

"I needed to be closer to home, closer to family. While I was down here, he was up there, making sure that girls are never alone. I thought… I believed… that those dark days were behind us. I was even more convinced when he came to me and announced his decision to study medicine. There was… fire in his eyes, passion. He stormed through those years and pulled everyone along who was willing to follow him. Ichigo is… was… a natural leader, you know."

"But then that night came…"

"That night?" Rukia asked.

"Yes. A few months prior to it, I received a phone call from a police investigator. The case of Masaki's murder has been reopened. I remember the name they gave me… Fisher… his name starts with G… I forgot what it was. It's irrelevant now… but a series of similar cases have been attributed to his name. There was… something about Ichigo when he heard about it… Something clicked I think… That should've been the first sign I should've caught…"

"Sign?" Rukia asked, leaning slightly forward "Sign of what?"

"That I should've intervened and not let him get involved. You see, he recognized the man, he swore that he was the one, but it was almost two decades ago and he was a child back then… His attorney claimed that the testimony of a man who was a child back then should not be taken as key evidence. It made sense… regardless of how much I would protest. But Ichigo… Ichigo swore that he was the same man whom he saw that night… We appeared at the court on the day of the trial and due to the lack of evidence… with only Ichigo's testimony being present… He was set free…"

"How did Ichigo react?"

"Calm." Ishin said, his voice was filled with dread, akin to an ill-remembered horror of the past "I thought he would've jumped the railing and lunge himself at the man… Hell, I wanted to do that." He chuckled, rather morbidly and took another swig from his glass "But Ichigo? He was completely calm. I still remember his face as if I am looking at it right now. It was as if he just… heard weather report out of boredom. The moment that gavel hit the wood… he just starred, emotionless. That… that should've been the second sign that something was wrong."

"Did he say anything?" Rukia asked and Ishin waved his head.

"No. Not until we got home. It was evening when he decided to leave the house, told me that he is going to see a colleague of his… I believed him. I didn't even got worried that he didn't come home… I thought he was with Inoue… uh… his girlfriend at the time. I thought that… maybe he can tell her what he couldn't tell me. You should know that kids don't have an easy time relaying their feelings to their parents." Rukia nodded, a thing that she knew far too well from her own experience, let alone books.

"Next thing I remember, the phone woke me up. Police informed me that Ichigo was in custody for murder. The shock… I don't think I can conjure proper words to explain. As he told me, he tracked the man down, followed him, and when they were alone, he assaulted him… then proceeded to tear his chest apart with a piece of broken glass and his bare hands… The images were… too gruesome for me to convey them to you, and I would be grateful if you don't ask me about them."

"What happened after? What did he say?"

"Nothing. After that, he slowly regressed into the state you saw yourself. I visited him several times and every time he looked worse than before. I pulled every connection I could, cashed in every favor I could and still I could not help him. Now… well… now I am just waiting for the day someone will call me and tell me to retrieve his body…" Another long moment of silence. Wheels of his chair quietly rumbled and he sat down, scratching the stubble on his cheek.

"Tell me something, doctor Kuchiki…" Ishin spoke, not daring to look her in the eye "Is… is there even a slight chance that he could turn around?"

Rukia's eyes shot up and she looked up at Kurosaki's bowed head. At least on that question she had an answer "Yes." She said and his eyes closed. Whether it was a lie for comfort or an ill-devised truth, it did not matter to him. He heard what he so desperately wanted to hear "I will not lie… his case is without medical precedence. It may take a long time, but I firmly believe he can get better." She continued, and it was the right moment to give him that bit of conclusive 'proof' that gave her courage to come "He talks, often. We do not have a lot of time before his 'demon', as he calls it, returns… but in the moment of lucidity his thoughts are more clear and I like to believe that he just needs someone to talk to him… like to a human being, not like a sample under a microscope."

"Please…" Ishin begged, lifting his sorrow-filled eyes "Please don't give up on him, doctor…"

"I will not…" she stood up and walked over to him, placing onto the table a piece of paper "But… I need you to sign this. It is a promise I was made to give."

"This…" Ishin frowned as he read down the permission for euthanasia "You are asking me to sign my son's death… Why are you handing me this?"

"I promised Ichigo, that in the event nothing can be done, I will at least give him a painless death." Words did not seem to comfort Ishin's mind. His fingers clenched the paper, wrinkling it, threatening to rip it "It is because of that promise that we are able to talk. I hope that it will not come to pass, but… I want him to trust me, and for the time being, I beg of you to do the same. Please… trust me."

Once more he looked up into Rukia's eyes. Trembling hand reached for his pen. It was heavy, heavier than the whole world itself. The first line, first letter. Another. Death placed its pale hands onto Ishin's shoulders, watching as he signed his own son's death, one letter at a time. When he was done, he simply pushed it aside and Rukia took it.

"If it is alright with you…" Rukia said, folding paper and placed it into her pocket "I would like to come again and talk to you about him. I know that-"

"It is alright, doctor Kuchiki…" He slowly stood up. For better or worse, he felt at ease, even though his lower jaw was still trembling as if he was on the verge of seizure "You managed to succeed far more than most could… more than I could. I just want him to… not be in pain anymore…"

She offered a simple nod and walked away, followed by Ishin who opened the door for her. She took a few steps and then turned around "If it is of any consolation…" His eyes looked up as she spoke "Ichigo speaks often of you. He remembers a lot, about you, about his sisters. I like to think that he too believes there could be a way to come back home." That was the first time she saw man's eyes water up. Throughout the entire time he told the heavy story, not once did he let a single tear fall down… not until he heard this. It was not a lot, she knew that… but at least now she had an ally in this fight… and that was more than any other could say.