A/N: Ichigo and Rukia are the protagonists of Bleach, so I'm rewriting canon accordingly. Cover is an edit by grimmjows_ on Twitter!

Day 3 prompt: star-crossed lover's high


A voice.

A voice was calling to him.

In this unending dark, someone dared to call out. He couldn't make out who it was. All he knew was that something was wrong. Missing. Dully gnawing at him like those cursed chain links from when he nearly Hollowfied.

Who was it? Who wanted to rip him away from here?

This place was…

It was…

Ichigo squinted at the soft sunlight that bled through the screen doors. It didn't take him long to pick out familiar reiatsu flaring around him. Byakuya stood near a cluster of others he did not recognize. Inoue was with another group. Renji's agitated reiatsu bounced back and forth nearby.

Rukia stood alone.

A pristine back garden awaited him beyond the door, not a leaf nor a branch out of place. Carefully pruned bonsai sat along the back wall. Neat bushes lined a stone path leading to another intricate gate across the way.

The Kuchiki mansion.

How did he get here? He couldn't even piece together what led him to this point. The last thing he could remember…

No, not even that. It was as if he'd simply appeared here.

A servant shuffled past, bowing her head to him.

"Wait!" He grabbed her shoulder. "What's going on? Why am I here?"

Anxiety briefly flashed across her face. "I-I'm sorry, Kurosaki-dono. I must be on my way."

He let her go and she walked much faster in her panic to be rid of him.

The servants flitted back and forth, none slowing down long enough to answer this simple question. Eventually, he parsed out the closest reiatsu to him. Renji was only a few rooms down. He'd ask him then.

Ichigo threw the screen door open without so much as knocking. "Oi, Renji!"

Renji nearly jumped out of his skin. "What the hell, Ichigo! Don't scare me like that!"

"Sorry," Ichigo said as he studied his new attire. Renji wore a pressed montsuki haori-hakama instead of his Shinigami uniform. "Why're you dressed like that anyway?"

Much to his surprise, Renji flushed. "Does it look that weird? I mean, this marriage is happening so fast, I wasn't sure if any of it would turn out okay."

"Whoa, you're getting married?" Was that why he was here? To attend Renji's wedding? "That's great! Do I know them?"

Renji frowned like it should have been obvious. "Did you hit your head or something? I'm marrying Rukia."

Just like that, Ichigo's world split apart. "What?"

Renji wasn't listening. At the very least, he hadn't heard him. "I'm so happy Captain Kuchiki gave me his permission. I wasn't sure he'd approve. After all this time, I never thought that Rukia would even—"

"No."

And this time, Renji heard him. "Huh? What do you mean no?" There was nothing else behind his awful, vacant grin. It was like he couldn't see past his own giddy thoughts.

"Rukia can't. She wouldn't."

The rest caught in his throat and Ichigo tore away. How awful it was to lose everything within a fraction of a second.

This wasn't real.

There was no way any of this was real.

In his blind rush to find Rukia, he very nearly barreled into someone else. A thin cloth fluttered out of their hands as they screamed.

"Oh! Kurosaki-kun!" Inoue said, her hands flying to cover her mouth. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"

Ichigo looked past her. "I need to get to Rukia. Do you know where she is?"

"I think she's still in her room getting dressed! I was on my way there, too, actually. I just put the finishing touches on her veil!" Inoue's face brightened. "Those strawberry flowers you and Karin sewed were really nice, but I had to add a few flourishes myself!"

Strawberry flowers? Was this some kind of sick joke?

Ichigo slapped a hand over his mouth and tried not to gag.

"Kurosaki-kun! Are you okay?"

He reeled back from her hand on his arm. "I…I need to get to Rukia," he repeated. "I'm sorry, Inoue."

Ichigo ran past her, honing in on Rukia. She was not in her room, as it turned out, but in the back garden staring off into space. The shiromuku hanging off her tiny frame looked out-of-place and wrong. Like a symbol of grief instead of purity and joy.

"Rukia!"

She continued to stare off towards the same point in the distance.

"Ru—"

And there, standing high and proud above them stood the Sōkyoku and the execution stand, fully rebuilt.

"Why…Why is the Sōkyoku back? I destroyed it!"

It was only then Rukia looked at him. Her eyes were cold. Lifeless. Certainly not the eyes of a happy bride-to-be.

"Rukia…" he whispered, the sound soft and unrelenting, "why are you marrying Renji?"

"Because I must." It had the intonation of repeated rehearsals, of swallowed pride and lies she forced herself to settle into.

"No, this doesn't make any sense. None of this makes any sense." Ichigo pushed his bangs back with his hands, scraping desperately at his memory. "I don't know how I got here, Rukia. I can't remember where I was before this. Rukia, you can't marry Renji. You can't."

Rukia smiled, a mournful, pithy thing that splintered his heart. "You needn't fight anymore, Ichigo. You needn't bear such a pointless burden. I chose this."

"What?" He recoiled like she had punched him in the gut. "No. No. Weren't you the one who told me that if I get hurt, then you'd help me? Didn't you say if I couldn't fight, then you'd fight in my place? If I was in pain, then you wanted to help me deal with that pain, right? So why are you standing there and saying all those things as if this isn't causing me pain? As if I wouldn't fight for you every second of my life if I had to."

Tears welled at the corners of her eyes, but she refused to speak.

"It's the same for me, too. I know you're in pain. I know you want to fight this. So please, let me fight for you. Let me protect you from despair." He squeezed her shoulders. "Rukia, I lo—"

She immediately clapped both hands over his mouth and shook her head. "Don't. Don't you dare say such a thing. If you make me happy now, it will ruin everything, don't you see?"

He turned away from her. "I don't understand. I won't! If you don't want to marry Renji, then why?"

A small flash of a memory came back. Happiness. He'd threatened to take it away from them.

Ichigo sucked in a breath. "Yhwach."

"Don't speak his name," Rukia warned, but it was too late.

The dam burst and with it came the memories of his last battle. He, Chad, Inoue, Grimmjow, Nel, Yoruichi, and Ganju finally caught up to Rukia and Renji after being separated for much too long. Countless battles erupted around them. Even so, both he and Rukia had to make sure the other was alright.

Rukia scolded him for worrying about her, but it was halfhearted and lacked its usual punch. She was exhausted. They all were. From endless war and justifying the continued destruction of an entire race of people. The Shinigami had wiped most of the Quincies out two hundred years ago, and now Yhwach, their leader and god, had done the same.

Was it worse than what the Shinigami had done? To betray your own people for your own self-preservation?

They fought and bled and died for a cause that didn't even matter in the end. All so Yhwach could gain even more power than he already had. More of a coward than a despot. Though those always ended up being one and the same in the end.

Inoue took advantage of this breather by healing all of them at once. An orange dome surrounded the group and slowly but surely healed all their wounds and restored their energy. They all thanked Inoue for her hard work, but her attention was elsewhere.

The large tower before them. She must've been acutely aware, as they all were, that one very important person was still missing.

The members of their group had branched off one-by-one until only he and Rukia remained. Aizen had used his zanpakutō to direct Yhwach's attention off them and then…

"We were about to defeat him, right? Why can't I remember the end of it? What happened to us, Rukia? What is this?"

A single tear spilled down her cheek. "We were not strong enough to defeat Yhwach. This is a future where we fail."

Ichigo shook his head. "No, that's impossible. Not if I was with you. Not unless—"

He turned around and was once again met with an endless void. No matter where he looked, pitch darkness awaited him.

"Ichigo."

Yhwach's voice did more than just fill this space. The very air overflowed with his presence. It was like he had been dragged to the bottom of the ocean.

"You," Ichigo spat despite the harsh air." Where the hell are you, bastard?"

"I am everywhere. I am the world. I am your future and everything you are."

"Come out and face me!"

"Did you not like that glimpse of the future I had shown you, my son? It is only a courtesy to let you taste it before I take your powers from you."

"Fuck you!"

Yhwach's laughter pounded in his ears. A frothy mess of black ooze and eyeballs clambered up from the dark to latch onto his right foot.

Ichigo tried to step back, only to find his other foot stuck in another roiling black mass. He reached behind him for the familiar weight of Zangetsu, but there was nothing. Desperate, he landed blow after bare blow with his fists. This did not deter it from clambering up his legs, his torso, his arms.

"Goodbye, Kurosaki Ichigo. I did appreciate the small challenge you presented me for a time."

Is this it? Ichigo wanted to scream. All my battles, everything I fought so hard for. Was it all for nothing?

The black mass crept up his neck, savoring its ascendency until the last minute. Ichigo shut his eyes. He would not face his end. It was far too painful to bear.

"Ichigo! Get up, Ichigo!"

His eyes fluttered open. "Ru…kia?" he choked out through the black ooze.

Bright light poked through the endless void above him. The ooze wriggled, confused, then chittered in outrage when something tugged him out and up toward this light.

Ichigo sat up with a gasp then immediately doubled over. A hole roughly the size of a large hand was carved into his chest. Just as suddenly as it had come, however, stray bits of Yhwach's cloak broke off to fill the wound.

The pain disappeared, and with it, the fogginess in his head. Yhwach stood frozen above him, an arrow pierced directly through his chest. Ishida stood a few feet away, bow drawn as if he anticipated firing more arrows to ensure his victory.

"Get out of there, Kurosaki!" he yelled. Ichigo scooped up the otherwise incapacitated Aizen under an arm and leapt towards him and Rukia.

He set Aizen down at Ishida's feet, careful not to bump his head against the razed stone. Aizen smirked even through the blood. "I don't need your pity, Kurosaki Ichigo. And I certainly don't need to be saved by the likes of you."

Ichigo scoffed. "Just shut up and stay down. Rukia and I will handle this."

Aizen was much too stubborn to follow orders. He grunted as he pushed himself to his feet, clutching his stump of a left arm to staunch the bleeding. If Yhwach could truly see everything, then he must have caught a glimpse of Kyouka Suigetsu's release at one point in time. It was only a matter of using it against him that was the trouble.

As it turned out, the progenitor of the Quincy was not as omniscient as he claimed. Odd to think that if not for Aizen, he and Rukia both would have been dead by now.

Rukia stood upon a secure pile of rubble, her bankai form pure white and awe-inspiring in the light. She glowed. There was no other word that fit more.

She stared straight ahead without acknowledging him, a trail of ice pouring forth towards Yhwach.

Ichigo vaguely recalled Yhwach gaining the upper hand and a black wave enveloping them both. So she'd broken through that barrier without freezing everything else around her? She'd grown so much stronger in such a short period of time.

He wanted to wrap his arms around her, wanted to make this short victory real. Instead, he asked, "Rukia, are you okay?"

"She can't talk to you right now, idiot. Didn't she already explain how her bankai works?" Ishida snapped.

Ichigo blew out a slow sigh. "I know. I just want to know if she's alright after that. It can't have been easy, controlling a new bankai to such a degree."

Her reiatsu shifted slightly, and he knew the compliment had made her happy.

Ichigo turned to face Yhwach alongside her. "Right. I'll lend you my strength, too, Rukia. We'll erase Yhwach's existence together."

Ishida's power was wrapped up in the silver arrow he shot. Now a large portion of Yhwach's reiatsu had been given to Ichigo rather than it being taken from him. A reversal that tipped the tide in their favor.

He'd be sure to thank Ishida later.

"Bankai."

An impossible surge of black energy swirled around him, cloaking him in heavy shadows. The power of the Final Getsuga Tenshō that had once been hampered by Yhwach's influence was now freed. He could tap into this power without the burden of loss snapping at his heels. And now, with Yhwach's power folded into it, he could increase that power by an unimaginable degree.

Rukia's reiatsu also soared to impossible heights, enough to rival his in its sheer strength. White energy first clashed then melded with his. A huge vortex of their reiatsu swirled about them, eclipsing the sky with their might. Like ying and yang, ice and fire. The black sun and the white moon united.

Ichigo raised his sword, aiming it directly at Yhwach's frozen form. "Mugetsu."

That awful future he saw would not come to pass. He and Rukia would make sure to rewrite it all here and now.

The energy shot forth and encompassed the Quincy Emperor. All at once, relief fell over the Soul Society like a sigh.

"Hey, Aizen," Ichigo said. "Is this all…real?"

Aizen scoffed. "You've never seen the release of my zanpakutō. Of course this is real."

He nearly sank to his knees. It was over. They won.

Rukia released her bankai, slow and steady. A cold wisp of air spiraled from her lips as she thawed. It was then Ichigo wrapped his arms around her tight. He had to be sure. Had to know if their victory was not some sick fantasy carved from the depths of his heart.

She hesitated for only a moment before returning his embrace. A strained noise escaped his throat. She was here. Rukia was here and alive and so, so warm in his arms.

He pulled back just enough to cup her face in a hand. A faint pink flushed across her cheeks and it made her look all the more wonderful.

"Rukia, I love you."

Long before this, all the wars and the blood and the fighting, he might have been embarrassed to say this aloud to himself, much less in front of others. But after seeing what could have been without her, he did not care about such trivial matters anymore.

"I love you, too, you fool," she whispered.

They did not need any more words. It only took a glance, a moment of trading unspoken agreements. He wanted to kiss her then and there, but now was not the time. Not with Aizen bleeding but free next to them.

Not when they were surrounded by so much death.

And still, he had to make sure.

"Please don't marry Renji," Ichigo said.

Rukia frowned. "Where is this coming from?"

"I had this weird vision when Yhwach tried to take my powers. I was at your brother's place and Renji was…He was going to marry you. Nothing in the Seireitei had changed. The Sokyoku had been rebuilt. Yhwach was defeated, but he wasn't gone. We could never be happy again or he'd come back. And the worst part was that you were so beautiful in your dress and you looked so sad."

She shook her head. "That wouldn't happen. This is our future now, Ichigo."

"We shattered fate." He stood up straighter. "Isn't that right, Ishida?"

Ishida shoved his glasses up his face. "Not necessarily."

"Oh, c'mon, can't you let us have this one victory without worrying about the semantics?" Ichigo grumbled. "You Quincy are all the same."

A small smirk tugged at the edge of Ishida's mouth.

"Yeah, well, I guess I need to thank you for reversing Yhwach taking my powers. But I know Rukia and I broke through those awful futures all on our own."

"Yhwach may have been powerful, but he was not as omniscient as he claimed. If he was, Aizen's attack would not have done any damage." Ishida sighed. "The reversal process is always difficult to keep up. All those futures he saw were limited to those I let him see with my power. Without it, I don't think we would have lived."

Ichigo looked away. "There are much worse fates than that if we lost."

Ishida had to know this, too, having once shared Yhwach's mind for a time. It must have been hard, knowing the many ways all his friends could have failed. The many deaths they had endured.

"There were." Ishida threw him a wry smile. "But now we won't have to live through any of them."

Ichigo stuck a hand out to him. "Thanks for keeping us safe all that time."

This time, Ishida's smile softened into something more genuine when he clasped his hand. "If I told you what I was planning, I knew you would hold back. Besides, there's no way you or Chad or Inoue-san would ever agree to it."

Much to his surprise, Ichigo yanked his hand forward and headbutted him on the spot. "You idiot! You'd have made us worry either way! Don't ever do that again, bastard, or I'll really kill you next time."

Ishida rubbed the sore spot on his head. He looked as if he was about to snap at him, but the words stopped before he got them out. Instead, he began to laugh. "Good luck with that, Shinigami."

Before he pulled his hand away, Ichigo tightened his grip. "Wait. There's something I need to give you first."

Ichigo took a deep breath and shut his eyes. "The remaining power of the Quincies should be in the hands of someone who can use it for the better. Ishida, this power should be yours."

All at once, an intense reiatsu flared around them. Ishida grimaced but did not waver. This was his birthright. His revenge to finally see through.

The last Quincy. And the first to see through a new era.

Ishida let go of Ichigo's hand, settling into this newfound power. A genuine smile crossed his face. "Thank you, Kurosaki."

Ichigo smiled as he took Rukia's hand in his. "You're welcome."

He had given up all but one part of the Quincies' power. Among the thousands of Schrifts and reiatsu Yhwach had absorbed over the centuries, Ichigo kept one very familiar power close to his chest: his mother's. It comforted him to know just how strong she was—and enraged that Yhwach would dare take that away from her when she needed it most.

This power was an heirloom, one bright and warm like the sun poking through the clouds. Ishida could have all the rest of it. The strength and love inherited from his mother would burn in his heart to honor her forever.

Several Shinigami captains suddenly arrived on the scene, many of whom concentrated around Aizen. Hitsugaya, Byakuya, and Soi Fon pointed their zanpakutō at him, but he was undeterred.

Head Captain Kyoraku surveyed the rubble and ruin with an unhurried air. "My, my. What a mess. It's going to take ages to get all this repaired."

Aizen eyed the new Head Captain up and down, obviously unimpressed. "You seem awfully lax, Kyoraku. All of you are. Just because Kurosaki Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia erased Yhwach does not mean you have won."

Kenpachi grinned down at him. "Is that a challenge, Aizen?"

Head Captain Kyoraku held a hand out to stop him from engaging in battle, that same relaxed smile on his face. "Kurosaki Ichigo, you bear the power of the Soul King remarkably well."

Ichigo frowned. "Uh, I guess. I was hoping I could grant it to someone else like I did Yhwach's power to Ishida. I'm not suited to be the next Soul King."

"And yet who besides Yhwach has handled this power with such ease?" Kurotsuchi piped up. "The weight of the worlds and the balance of all the souls in existence rests on your shoulders, and yet you stand there as tall and proud as ever. Kurosaki Ichigo, you truly are a fascinating subject."

Rukia tightened her grip on Ichigo's hand. "Ichigo will not be the next Soul King. I will not allow it."

"No, I suppose you won't. But there must be a new Soul King if we ever hope to fix the barrier between the worlds. We cannot continue to let our worlds intermingle for much longer, Kuchiki-san," Kyoraku said.

Without warning, Rukia drew her zanpakutō. "I said I will not allow it. Captain Ukitake did not give up his life just so Ichigo can throw away his."

Ishida drew his bow beside her. "Would Soul Society really confine Kurosaki's soul for all eternity? After all he's done for you?"

The moment the captains' reiatsu wavered, Aizen's reiatsu rose further. The captains surrounding him took a cautious leap back to avoid the sudden blast.

"If Kurosaki Ichigo is the new Soul King, then I will simply take this power for myself. Even in my current state, none of you are a match for me."

The stump of his left arm rippled and immediately a suitable replacement shot out in a rush of veins, bone, and skin. The hole that Yhwach had punched through slowly knit itself together again.

Soi Fon tensed, immediately summoning her shikai. "We need to move now!"

"Stand down!" Kyoraku shouted. The captains all looked to him, bewildered. He was far too collected for the situation at hand. Even as Aizen's reiatsu burnished around him, he merely folded his arms in his large sleeves and sighed. "Do you really think it wise to challenge all of us again, Aizen? With Kurosaki Ichigo wielding the power of the Soul King and Ishida Uryū as the new Quincy Emperor? Did you not see what Kurosaki Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia did to the last enemy of Soul Society?"

"I am grateful that they erased one more nuisance from my path to victory." Aizen spread his arms out wide. "I did not wish to merge all the worlds, but I wouldn't mind ruling over this new deathless purgatory, either."

Kyoraku smiled. "Tell me, Aizen, if you had won and created the Ōken, what would you have done after killing the Soul King?"

"Captain Kyoraku!" his lieutenant hissed, but he paid her no mind.

"What a ridiculous question. I would seize the throne for myself and rule over the worlds."

"Ah, but what about the balance of life and death? Would you allow it to collapse like Yhwach or were you planning to reshape reality as you saw fit?"

Aizen's smug smile fell. "You're being awfully chatty, Kyoraku. Tell me, is this your attempt at stalling until Urahara Kisuke and Squad Zero come to capture me once more?"

"I'm not stalling for anything. I want to understand you, Aizen. I want to know if you would truly be a suitable substitute for the Soul King or if all that power is just for show."

All the Shinigami's reiatsu heightened. After everything they had endured, would Kyoraku really allow Aizen, of all people, to rule over all the realms?

"Because our worlds do need a little retooling. As it is, Soul Society isn't well-equipped to deal with these constant invasions. Hollows run rampant no matter what world they're in. The souls of individuals wind up isolated from their families when they arrive in Soul Society." He shook his head. "Perhaps the Quincy and Fullbringers would not seek out revenge against us if we didn't work in such strict absolutes. Would you dare to change that, Aizen? What was your true goal?"

Before Aizen could give his answer, a crystal spike erupted from his chest. Blood spurted from the edge of his mouth. "What? What is this?"

"Everyone was told that Muken houses the most treasonous of prisoners. At the very least it contains those that cannot be killed by normal execution methods." Kyoraku took the box holding the keys that released him from Muken from his sleeve. "But it also had another purpose. It was not written down, but passed on orally from Central 46 members to Squad Zero and a select few members of Squad One."

The crystalline substance began to encompass Aizen's entire body, immune to his insane bursts of reiatsu or the harsh blows he landed along its surface.

"In the event that the Soul King should be destroyed, those held in Muken would become a viable substitute. Your immortality alone renders you the perfect replacement. And we would still use your power to our will and separate the worlds, as Shinigami long before us did to the first Soul King."

"Damn you!" Aizen spat, the very debris around him crumbling to dust as his reiatsu climbed ever higher. "Damn you all!"

"Looks like you got your wish after all, Aizen," Kyoraku finished. And with that, an amber crystal fully engulfed Aizen in a permanent scream.

The captains all exchanged unsure glances with one another, but Aizen did not break free. The crystal had managed to imprison the Soul King for countless millennia, after all.

Kyoraku turned to Ichigo. "Kurosaki-san, if you don't mind?"

He looked to Rukia. She squeezed his hand once then let go.

"Okay. I'll transfer the remnants of the Soul King to him."

Something tugged him forth, not so much by his own will than by an odd compulsion he recognized as the crystal's own power. The stone was cold to the touch. That wasn't what made him shudder. Being face-to-face with what could have been his own unfortunate fate haunted him. Had he managed to kill Aizen in battle, had no other substitute been available and Soul Society more rigid in its traditions…

The crystal sapped the remainder of the Soul King's power from him. Just like that, it was done. The new Soul King had been instated.

Ichigo sensed the muddled mixture of worlds separate once more. Grimmjow, Nel, Pesche, Dondachakka, and all the Arrancar and Hollows' reiatsu shifted away. Soul Society still had much to repair, but otherwise, every soul was where it was meant to be.

If that was so, then he understood now where he had to be. Who he was.

Ichigo was a Shinigami, and nothing could change that. He and Rukia protected everyone. And that was who they would continue to be for as long as time would allow.

Squad Zero, Urahara-san, and Yoruichi and her younger brother showed up not long after. Kyoraku spoke to them in hushed tones. They would take care of the logistics of moving Aizen to the Soul King's palace. For now, Kyoraku had one last loose end left.

Right as he looked over at Ishida, Ichigo and Rukia immediately tensed. "Kyoraku-san!"

Ishida put a hand on Ichigo's shoulder. "It's fine, Kurosaki. I know I'm not completely innocent. Far too many innocent Shinigami died because of my inaction."

"But—"

Ishida shook his head. "I never said my plan to kill Yhwach was perfect. I knew several Shinigami would die in the process."

"Ishida!" Rukia said, a low warning in her voice.

He paused but did not look back at her. "Thank you, Kurosaki. Kuchiki-san. I'm glad we could be friends."

Ishida knelt down and immediately offered his hands up to be cuffed. "This is not nearly enough recompense for what I allowed to happen. But I hope that in time I can atone for the upset of the balance of the worlds with my life."

For a moment, all was silent and still.

Kyoraku snorted and the tension cracked. "Geez, everyone's so tense today! I'm not Yama-jii!"

Ishida looked up.

"The Quincy have suffered enough under our hands. It's time we learn to coexist peacefully for a change." Much to everyone's surprise, Kyoraku knelt on the ground. "Kurosaki Ichigo. Kuchiki Rukia. Ishida Uryū. The three of you have saved us all. On behalf of all the Shinigami, we are truly indebted to you."

He prostrated himself before them. Soon enough, all the captains except for Kurotsuchi and Kenpachi followed suit.

Ishida looked all around him, startled by their undying respect. The Shinigami and the Quincy working together…His grandfather would have been so proud of him.

Rukia clapped a hand to her mouth. Her brother was one of the first to kneel to her. The man she had come to respect so much offered up his own to her without hesitation.

Ichigo wrapped an arm around her shoulders. The weight of being a savior was heavy. Even now, Rukia did not seem to fully grasp how amazing she was. She saved the balance of the worlds. She deserved every ounce of reverence the worlds had to offer.

"Ishida-kun!" a far-off voice yelled. Inoue, Chad, and Ganju floated down safely on her shield. She jumped off before it touched the ground and ran towards them.

"Inoue-san…" Ishida pushed himself off the ground. His expression became more guarded. "I—"

Suddenly, Inoue tackled him into a hug, tears pouring down her face. "I'm so glad you're okay, Ishida-kun! I felt your reiatsu all the way up in the palace, and I knew it had to be Ishida-kun fighting to protect us! If you were with Kurosaki-kun and Kuchiki-san, it had to be okay!"

Truth be told, Ichigo had wondered if Ishida doubted the strength of their friendships all this time. But now, looking at how Ishida's eyes misted over, he knew that was never the case. He never wanted to betray their trust. He always kept them in his thoughts when he fought.

What he lacked the most was the belief that he deserved it after everything he'd done.

Ishida patted Inoue's head with a gentle smile. "Thank you for having faith in me, Inoue-san."

Both Ichigo and Rukia exchanged a private smile of their own.

Chad wrapped his arms around them all without warning.

Ichigo squirmed in his grip, his face growing red as Rukia was forcibly pressed against his own chest. "Oi! Chad, what the—"

"I'm happy."

"Eh?"

Chad only pulled them closer to him. Inoue began to bawl her eyes out as she continued to cling to Ishida and Chad alike.

Ichigo's expression softened. He and his friends would not have to fight in wars ever again. There would be peace at last.

"Can I get in on that hug, too?" Ganju whimpered as moved tears flowed down his face.

Ichigo's scowl immediately returned. "Hey! Stop that, you stupid pig straddler! Don't you have your own friends to hug?"

"You guys are my friends!"

He broke away from Chad's embrace to try and kick at Ganju. The group broke off one-by-one as they tried to pry the two scuffling men apart. Chad immediately hefted the both of them up and held them apart with his usual unaffected air.

Inoue flailed around as she tried to calm Rukia down from punching Ichigo and Ganju for causing such a commotion.

An odd sort of peace, but one they would not trade for anything. Their future full of bickering and fights and having one another's backs despite it all laid before them. They only needed to seize it.


Ichigo's eyes snapped open. The servants of the Kuchiki mansion bustled to and fro, organizing everything in a rushed blur.

He was late.

"Crap!"

He threw off his sheets to get ready. The most important day of his life, and he just had to wake up late.

Byakuya and his dad's reiatsu closed in on the room.

"Ichigo! How dare you not be ready yet!" his dad scolded when they slid the door open. "Rukia-chan might almost be done putting on her shiromiku and you'd still be snoring away like some lazy bum! I knew I should have woken you up myself!"

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to sleep in. I'll be ready in a couple minutes!"

Byakuya gave him a decisive once-over. "It is fortunate that Rukia has much to prepare, or I would have killed you on the spot."

Isshin's laughter grew more nervous when Byakuya left with that sentiment.

"Wait, that was a joke, right? You're joking?" his dad's voice trailed after him.

Ichigo snorted as he went to close the door again.

"Ichigo!" Renji's voice called out not long after. "C'mon, hurry up! We need to leave for the shrine soon!"

He whirled when the door opened once more, shocked to find Chad and Ganju also peeking in on him. Chad only made it worse when he threw him an encouraging thumbs-up.

"What the hell?" Ichigo sputtered. "I'm trying to change here! Get out!"

"Do you need help? We can help you!" Renji said. "Rukia already has Ishida, Inoue, and your other human friends helping her out! Let us help you get out of those clothes!"

Ichigo flushed an angry red. "I said get out!"

He slammed the door in their faces, ignoring Renji and Ganju's whining.

The montsuki haori-hakama hung in the small closet right next to the tuxedo he would wear later. The Shiba waves swirled over the chest and he ran a hand over the fabric. The last person to use this had been Shiba Kaien.

Knowing the Shiba clan was his family too was one thing. Rukia telling him about her painful past with Shiba Kaien was another. It was an honor to wear this. To be accepted into a lineage and history with both the Shiba clan and Rukia.

It did not take him long to put it on, surprisingly enough. He supposed all that time wearing the Shinigami uniform helped somewhat.

Renji and Chad quickly ushered him towards the shrine while Ganju went to join the seat by Kuukaku and the rest of the Kurosaki family. Both Kuukaku and Karin tried their best to get Yuzu to stop bawling in her happiness, to no avail. Ichigo smiled and patted a patient hand on top of her head.

"Don't spoil her, Ichi-nii. Do you have any idea how long it took me to put on her make-up? Now it's just running down her face," Karin whined.

"Hey, it's fine. I'm just glad you guys had time to come here today."

Yuzu braved a smile. "Of course, Ichi-nii. We wouldn't miss this for anything!"

Kuukaku waved him away. "They'll be fine, Ichigo. Go on and get ready before Rukia comes."

Ichigo took a deep breath as he headed towards the small room where he and Rukia would rehearse the steps one last time. He was pretty sure he got everything down, but when it came to the new vows he'd written, he wanted to make sure he said them all perfectly.

Rukia deserved that much.

His dad caught his eye and waved him over. Upon seeing how tense Ichigo was, he teased, "Getting nervous, son?"

"Shut up, old man."

Isshin patted a heavy hand on his shoulder. "It's alright. I was nervous when I married your mother, too. It's hard getting up in front of your friends and family and being all mushy. Especially with what you have in mind."

Ichigo scratched the back of his head. "Do you think it's too much?"

"It's definitely going against tradition," his dad admitted, "but since when have you ever been one to follow tradition?"

Ichigo tried to hide his smile, but he was pretty sure his dad saw it anyway.

"Now, go make my third daughter happy, will you?" his dad said and smacked him hard enough on the back to make him stumble.

The rehearsal room was pristine. The various sakazuki for practicing the sankon no gi were filled with water instead of sake. He dug several carefully-folded papers from the inner pocket of the montsuki haori-hakama, reading its contents over and over under his breath.

A quick rap to the door alerted him to Rukia's presence and he hastily stuffed the papers away again.

Ichigo looked back right as the door opened. His heart leapt when he met her eyes. There really was no other way to describe it. The tender clichés and songs and poetry—all of it could not adequately describe what he felt for her. Could not match the overwhelming rush of warmth and excitement.

Kurosaki Ichigo was in love with Kuchiki Rukia, and in her power, he was rendered nothing but a fool on his knees.

She smiled at him, a cocky tilt of her reddened lips that made him smile all the wider. "You still need to rehearse, Ichigo? I didn't think this part of the wedding would make you all that anxious."

Ichigo snorted as she stepped lightly beside him. "Oh yeah? And who was the one who downed all the sake when we first rehearsed the sankon no gi?"

A startled blush crept across her cheeks. "You're bringing that up again? Who's the one who keeps forgetting to bow at the right times?"

"You're so annoying."

"Insolent fool."

The two of them exchanged a glance then started to laugh at the other's fake pouting.

"I love you, Rukia."

She waved dismissively. "Yeah, yeah. Save it for the vows, idiot."

He patted the inner pocket of his montsuki haori-hakama one last time. The paper crinkled under his touch.

Ichigo offered a hand out to her. "You ready?"

She placed her hand in his and he ran a slow thumb over her slim knuckles. "Are you?" she teased.

"I've been ready since the day we met."

"Huh?"

Ichigo pushed open the doors and the two headed out to meet their destiny.


The ceremony went off without a hitch. Ichigo remembered to bow at all the right times, and Rukia did not panic and down all the sake during the sankon no gi part of the ceremony. When it came time to read the vows, however, Ichigo set aside the ones pre-written by the shrine maiden and took out the packet hidden in his inner pocket.

The shrine maiden did not bat an eye at this. Ichigo had cleared it with her long before this day. Despite how unconventional it all was, she couldn't deny that Kurosaki Ichigo's more personal vows were far better than the script she had written out.

Rukia looked over at the papers, questions swimming in her wide eyes.

"Kuchiki Rukia," Ichigo began. "It cannot be understated how much I hate the rain. It rained the day Ginjou stole my Fullbring powers. It rained the day Byakuya and Renji took you back to Soul Society to be executed. It rained the day my mother"

He took a shuddering breath. He'd read it over and over again in his mind, but to say it aloud here felt

And then, the sun peeked through the shrine and settled like a warm hand on his back.

"The day my mother was taken from my family."

A slight breeze blew through his hair.

Go on.

"You've always been a stubborn pain in my ass. You yell at me and hit me, and somehow, you drive the rain away. You kick at my despair and sit firmly in my heart to make sure it never returns. Before I met you—before you gave me the power to protect everyone and everything—I always felt helpless. I was never strong enough, never good enough. But because you came into my world, I'll never have to know what that feels like ever again. Because of you, Rukia, the rain has stopped."

"Ichigo…"

His breath hitched when he finally dared to look over at her.

This was not how he expected her to react at all. The deep scowl across her face made him pause.

"Uh, Rukia?"

Rukia suddenly snagged his collar and slammed her forehead against his. "You idiot! You should've told me you were going to do this!"

"Huh? What the hell? Why're you mad at me?" he shouted, pressing his sore forehead closer to hers.

"Why do you think?" She pushed back against him. "If you told me you were going to write your own vows, I would've done the same! Now you're making me look like a fool!"

"Oh, believe me, you're doing that all on your own!" he snapped back. "Headbutting me during our actual wedding ceremony? What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Why, you—"

Ichigo braced himself for a slap to the face or a kick to his shins. Instead, Rukia cupped his face in a hand and kissed him.

A shocked murmur ran through their friends and family. The Shiba clan and Keigo whooped in support, clapping far too loudly for the quiet shrine.

Her lips were smooth and sweet and pulled away far too soon. "Fool," she whispered as her cheeks bloomed pink. "Now we're even."

Ichigo burst out laughing. How could she always make his heart feel even lighter than before? Kuchiki Rukia was tiny and rude and God, did he love her with all his heart.

The shrine maiden cleared her throat and the two turned back to the front. Her mouth twitched as she tried to hide her smile. "If we may continue with the ceremony please, Kurosaki-sama and Kuchiki-sama?"

They exchanged a sly glance before offering their apologies and completed the rest of the ceremony without further incidents. When he slipped her wedding ring on her finger, she gave the most radiant smile.

Rukia was everything to him. She was his world, his future, everything he fought so hard to protect.

Their rain had cleared away at last and he could not ask for anything more.

END


A/N: This was probably the most difficult one-shot for me to write. Canon has so many loose threads in it that even a slight tug will cause the entire last arc to unravel lmao. I tried my best to cover all the plot holes left at the end, but it is possible I missed some stuff.

Thanks for reading and happy Ichiruki Month! I have a few more Ichiruki one-shots planned for this month that'll be way less dense than this, so I hope you look forward to them!

*Also crossposted to AO3 and Tumblr!