Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. But if I did, this would have been canon in the Pre-SS-Arc

To the Wind

Chapter 20

By Advent Wing

Where had she gone?

Unlit lanterns hung in the shadows like overgrown vines, and the dark, once vibrant but now empty stalls seemed more lonely and mournful than any row of epitaphs he'd seen. In his stupor, he stepped on something, and it snapped beneath his feet.

The red and white of the discarded kitsune mask lay sharp against the grey. It was cracked clean into three pieces.

He headed home.

She walked away from the light and noise of the festival.

She didn't know how far she went before attempting to head back.

Key word being 'attempt'. Every step forward she countered with two steps back.

But by the time she got back to the festival she found the place empty. It snapped her out of her funk a little.

Now what?

She'd spent a lot of time on a nearby rooftop, composing herself. Now she was in front of Orihime's place.

Ring the bell?

Or not?

After standing outside for a full ten minutes and unable to figure out if they were asleep or not, she decided to open the unlocked door quietly.

Her feet made no sound as she approached the sound of voices in the midst of conversation…

"…How do you think it went?" Tatsuki asked, her tone laced with worry.

"…Well, I hope." Orihime gazed up at the clock. "It's late."

"Ichigo…really likes her…in his own way. It's so obvious to everyone."

"Yeah." Clothes rustled as she shifted.

"…How do you feel about that, Hime? Do you…still like him?"

Rukia backed up in horror, or tried to – the foot she had placed behind her gave way and she stumbled onto her rear.

"…I…still like him, but not-

The sound of feet thumping away was loud. A framed picture on the hallway she bumped into came crashing down.

The two girls jerked, and Orihime got to the hallway just in time to see Rukia run out. "Rukia?!" Orihime asked, dread filling her lungs.

She flung the door fully open and she watched her fade into the night. "Rukia!"

"Hime!" Tatsuki cried. "What's wrong!?"

Her bare feet touched the ground outside the door.

…But they were already gone.

Welcome home sir.

"Is Rukia back yet?"

No sir.


She's still out there!?

"I…need to find her."

Excuse me? AI EX said.

"I can't leave her out there! She's-

Blaming herself - taking everything herself. I know. I know! His feet pounded a steady beat into the tarmac but he couldn't hear it.

How do I know?! It's what I'm doing!

And he ran into Ishida.

"Rukia!" Orihime cried. "Stop! Come back!" She was feeling dizzy - they had been running for a while. Her legs screamed fatigue. Her figure just kept getting smaller.

Rukia vaulted over the stone fence, and into the park.

Orihime felt her panic turn her insides cold. She prayed she'd make it, prayed her clumsiness wouldn't mess this up! Her hands slapped onto the stone—

She was over, she was clear! She-

Her foot caught.

She crashed to the ground painfully, her forearm hitting the ground first.

Her head throbbed, as the oxygen-debt made itself known…but she had to get up. "…Ah!" Her legs collapsing underneath her as her ankle gave way. She stared at it as it lay amongst the pebbles – suddenly numb to all emotion.

It was swollen.

She gazed into the trees.

"Rukia!—" She called desperately, and the night refused to return the call.

Tears began to pool. "I'm…sorry!" She wailed. "I…I'm SORRY!" …But there was no answer.

Her gaze dropped to the grass as she continued to try and choke out apologies.

"I…" She shuddered, sobbing in earnest now. "I'm…so sorry!"

A quiet voice. "…Why are you apologizing…?"

Orihime's gaze snapped up to see small feet, and then the hem of a black kimono with white butterflies became a teary eyed girl on her knees. "Because…I…should have told you, or…I should have…"

"I should be apologizing…I'm the one…who…came here…put myself…in the middle of everyone! Ruined everything...!" Her lower lip trembled. "I-

Orihime shook her head "No!" she cried, pulling Rukia into a hug.

Rukia sobbed quietly, while Orihime wailed into the night. "No, no, no!"

Rukia told Orihime everything. How she wasn't a human.

How she could be hunted, this very moment.

How she would eventually leave Ichigo.

"It doesn't matter," Orihime said. "All that matters is what you feel, Rukia."


"No. Tell me you can find the strength to tell him once more. To try again, once more, to make him see."


"I can tell you're hurt. But I know you can do it again. I feel it."

Rukia stared into Orihime's resolute gaze.

"Show me the strength I didn't have."

"The strength to pursue love."

"I'm sure you're really tired. Really." Ishida said. "I'm sorry about the time…we wandered about for a while before deciding to come here."

Chad nodded. "Come on in."

Ishida dumped him onto the couch. "Good luck with him."

"Tatsuki phoned," Chad said. "Rukia's at her place. Also, Keigo has a message…for…uh…Ichigo…" he trailed off.

"Which is?" Ishida asked.

Chad coughed, and then continued, making no effort to imitate the much bouncier youth. "You guys faaaaaaaaaaaaaail – is that he said." He deadpanned.

"…Ugh," muttered Ichigo, but in no mood to retort to someone who wasn't even here.

"Ichigo. You're a fool." Ishida said. "I can only hope Chad straightens you out."

"Fool." Ichigo chuckled. "Am I a fool?"

"You chuckle like one. There was an old man who chuckled a lot like you; he lived down the road from my Grandfather…are you an old man, Ichigo?" Chad said.

"Ah shut it! The three of us, we're different from the others! We had to go through a little more, but we didn't drown in it, we came out alright, we did alright—"

"Until today." Chad cut in. "Right?" Silence met his words as Ichigo settled back down. "If you aren't drowning now Ichigo, I wonder what it will be like when you do."

He wanted to declare he had made an okay decision. All he did instead was open and close his mouth. "Shit." He muttered. "Screw it. I wanted to tell her. I made the decision…even if…"

"Even if you lost her?"

Ichigo looked up at that. "…Yeah."

"Then the next step is easy," Ishida said. "You take a shower. Because that's what you'd say to me if the situation was reversed." Ishida glared.

"I want to tell you something…" She had whispered. "Everything."

"I've opened myself more to you than anyone else!"

"Are you afraid of people?"

"Don't leave me…it's still raining."

Ichigo swallowed a lump in his throat.

"It's your problem. A deep, deep problem."

That day, her words had stayed with him.

"I don't have a method of stepping into your heart…not without it getting dirty…"

It'd been engraved upon his soul, along with the smile she had given him.

"So I'll wait."

It had stayed with him.

"When you want to talk…when you think it's alright to talk."

It was because that was the first time of many times, when he had thought to himself…

"Talk to me."

Hey, he realized. Mom. I met someone amazing.

"Ichigo?" Chad cut in. "Shower?"

"…Yeah." He said a heartbeat later. "Shower."

"You've made your decision then?"

"Tomorrow." Ichigo said. "At the stage."

Chad and Ishida smiled.

"What I learned is that living with someone and taking care of another life is more complicated than it looks."

There was a round of applause. The hall contained all the students in their year. They had assembled so that they could talk about their experience.

"And now we'll call up someone else to talk about their experience." Katobeto said. "I'd like to ask Kuchiki Rukia to come to the stage."

Rukia stood up from her chair. Ichigo tracked her with his eyes.

Rukia took a deep breath.

"I learned…that I could love." She said, her voice carrying itself strongly through the microphone.

Disjointed gasps and whispers filled the Hall. The teacher's table was stunned, slack-jawed and silent.

She stared straight at Ichigo, his face was a mix of shock and perhaps embarrassment and…screw it.

"I learned I could love, and that during the time that I allowed myself to, I felt nothing but happiness. And when I told myself to stop loving, I felt nothing but pain." At this point, Orihime began to cry, turning to hide her face in Ishida's surprised shoulder as Tatsuki rubbed her back comfortingly.

"It might not be a big thing to some of you. You all probably think falling in love is easy. It isn't."

"It's paranoia. It's fear." She smiled. "But what makes it worse is that it's also joy. It's the greatest high in the world."

"Most importantly, I learned that I could be loved." She held his gaze. "And so by the end of this project, I decided that I'd let myself be loved…and maybe…" She was addressing no one but him now. "Maybe you could too?"

He stood up, slowly, his chair scrapping against the floor of the now silent hall.

He walked up the stage, looked up at her. There was no one else in the hall. There wasn't even a hall. He had no care for them, they had no place in this. Everything but the girl in front of him could just disappear.

You could say this was his punishment. An apology, seen and heard by all.

"I can't believe what you're doing," he said. "And…this is late," he began in that gentle tone she knew he guarded. "And it was rude…and I was…stupid…and…"

She shook her head no. "It wasn't." She said quietly. "Whatever your answer is…" she felt despair bite into her. "Uh…I can't say I'm not affected but-

A softer semblance of his scowl came back, and he put a hand on his hip.

"You're ruining it." He snapped, and she jerked back in surprise.


"No need to be a smartass alright? Just shut up and listen."

"What!?" she sputtered, and Ichigo took the time to puff irritably.

"I didn't say anything when you confessed right? I can't believe you beat me to it. This was supposed to be what I was going to do."

Stunned, her thoughts fizzing out at what his meaning might be, she could only watch as his ochre eyes softened and his lips parted.

He took the step she showed him.

It was so easy now.

"I fell in love with you too."

Her jaw dropped, and her hands jumped to cover her face involuntarily. She forced them down, and clenched them into fists. "I—!"

He held up a finger. "Not done. I fell in love with you…and it was stupid of me to deny it. Rude of me not to tell you when you told me…I was a coward. And this is a freaking day late…argh!" he snarled, scrubbing a hand through his hair and turning to the side. "Dammit. Things just haven't gone well for me since the week began! Everything I do just seems to backfire on me, every situation seems to have been presented against me-


"The dinner, the car ride, the hotspring-

"Ichigo," she tried again. He said not to interrupt…but….



-It's all been my damn fault some way or another." He looked up, and his face was contorted. "I hurt you. Because I was scared."

She smiled sadly. "You hurt yourself too, right?" She stepped down from the stage with an ethereal hop, her uniform fluttering. She stood before him. "So what are you going to do?" She asked, trying to control the emotion that made her feel like she was going to float away.

The emotion in his eyes returned as he took a step towards her. Breathe! Rukia commanded herself as she took an involuntary step back - her lungs worked disjointedly to comply.

"I'm going to make it up to you." He said, arms pulling her closer.

"Is…is that so?" she asked, her voice failing. She was afraid her legs would go too.


"…How do you plan on doing…that?"

"I don't know," he said, and his gaze was steady. "But I'll find a way."

She pulled back, wiped at eyes that were suddenly moist, tried to regain some semblance of dignity. "…You're going to regret it."

She'd make him pay. But it all felt so right that she felt a pinprick of anxiousness – making it up to her would be easier than he thought and she had to make it seem like it wasn't and - and then her clenched fists went limp as he cupped her cheek.

"You're really going to regret…" she whispered brokenly. "Things might get really bad…and…"

"Regret?" he asked, pressing his forehead to hers. Nose to nose, he promised—"No. I won't. For the rest of my life, I promise here and now that I will make it up to you."

—But then the world just had to come back.

The Hall erupted in a mishmash of hoots and tears, howls and cheers. And the odd whistle too. Ichigo and Rukia turned as one to face the onslaught, Orihmie, Ishida, Chad, Tatsuki, Keigo, Mizuiro – their class, at the head.


Katobeto turned away from the chaos to face the principal. "…Oh god let me explain-

"Isn't it great Katobeto?!" said the old coot of a principal, standing on his chair and waving his stick around.

The other teachers ignored him and rushed into the mob, some to join in, some to try to bring about some semblance of order, most of which was pretty half-hearted though.

Katobeto stared dumbly. "…Great?" he asked, turning a hesitant glance on the two hardly-visible teens, who were in the process of being mobbed by the entire student/teacher population with questions.

Even the so-called delinquents were getting into it. He thought he spotted Chicken-Head sobbing into his friend's jacket. Sobbing.

"Hm." He nodded, dumbly. "…Yeah." He shook his head to clear it, and his eyes softened at the scene.

"…It is."

Did anything else really matter? Really?

"You have a great school here."

The principal smiled.

"This is a great town."

Karakura-cho huh? Katobeto mused.

A great town...but a crazy one, he amended.

"Come on Rukia. We need to go see Urahara."

"Goodbye AI EX." Rukia said. "It just didn't seem right, not saying goodbye."

Goodbye, Sir, Madam. It was an honor serving such a delightful couple. I will strive to serve the next tenants of this house with the same flair and devotion.

"We weren't a couple yet," Ichigo said. "We just became one."

No Sir, you were a couple long before I came around.

And with that, AI EX powered down.

"Make it quick." Ichigo snapped to Urahara.


His gaze sharpened. "Excuse me?"

"The crime of giving a mortal Shinigami powers. Execution."

"For who?"

"Does it matter?"

"No. I'll need to lock her in the closet either way."

Urahara felt like he had been gutted. When he recovered, he said—

"They'll kill you and take her."

It sounded menacing in his head. He comforted himself with the fact that it was difficult to sound imposing when you were trying to hide a large, amused, grin.

The youth turned back, and Urahara felt his will bend as he gazed into ochre eyes filled with pure, honest strength.

"I won't die, and I'll get her back."

The hat's shadow lifted and revealed that he had a thoroughly amused smile on his rugged face. He whistled low. "Wow. You're not worried?"

Ichigo didn't turn around again. "Why should I be?" he called.

The man watched him go, and then…

"…Stubborn." He headed back to the shop that bore his name, in a flourish of green. "Or stupid."

He'd better prepare the basement, just in case.

"Where's Dad?"


"You know Rukia-neechan is up there right?"

Karin looked up. "The attic?"

"No…" Yuzu blushed. "Onii-chan's room."


"Do you think Dad knows?"


Yuzu frowned. "How is this going to work?"

"I'm not sure how this is going to work, but one thing's for certain." Rukia said happily. "I'm not sleeping in the closet."

Ichigo froze. "…Let's talk about that."

"…Talk about what…?"

"…That. Let's think about it-"

Rukia jumped up. "The only person sleeping in there from now on is Kon!"

Ichigo put his hands up defensively. "Alright, I'm just…saying…"

"Saying what?" she demanded.

"…It'll be really hard on me." He averted his eyes away from Rukia's scrutiny.

"What do you mean…oh." She frowned. "But…you…we…slept in the same bed for a week!"

Ichigo didn't answer, and there was silence as Rukia' mind worked and-


He flushed darkly. She got it. "Yeah," he muttered.

Out of the six nights he had slept in her bed…they'd always ended up not doing much sleeping. "My track record ain't that good so-"

"…You worry too much. Here." She said, tripping him onto the bed.


"Settle down." She wrestled with him a bit, before pushing him onto his back. "Stay like that for a while." She then lay beside him.

"…And?" he asked.



After a bit, she turned to him and smiled slyly. "…Comfortable yet?"

He glared at her. "You're just making fun of me."

"Of course not."


"Up." She finished, her grin growing wider.

He struggled to think of something…appropriate enough to get her back…that was taking a while so he just glared. "You think a trip down memory lane is funny stuff huh?"

"Aw." She said leaning in and pressing her forehead to his frowning one. "But it's a little different from before huh?"

"Different." He agreed roughly, his hands hovering over her waist, tightening. "Very."

"Well," she said, slipping off him quickly, "you'll have plenty of time to get used to—hey!" She exclaimed, as he pulled her back down.

"I…Ichigo!" Rukia cried as Ichigo kissed her. "Stop-mph." He didn't give her time to breathe…she was out of it when they parted. "You…said…you'd make it up to me right?" she managed, as he burned a slow path down her nape.

He paused, and Rukia felt herself edge into the bed as she gazed into the same unwavering gaze that unnerved Urahara.


"S…so, from now on…um…you listen whatever I say, all right?"

He considered it. She could have sworn he did. But then Rukia imagined she saw a glint in his eye and then he said—"…I'll find a different way."

"…Ichigo!" she cried as his hands strayed under her…shirt! "Ichigo I will bite your tongue off if you keep using it that way!"

She kicked him hard enough this time, and with a curse he eased off. They lay side by side, Rukia with a hand over her chest, Ichigo with a forearm over his irritated face, both struggling for breath.

Not getting up, she kicked him with her heel.

"Ow!" He snapped, clutching his thigh.

She kicked him again.

"OW!" That one had been dangerously close to his ribs! "Rukia come on-

She kicked him again and again, and kept kicking until he figured she wouldn't stop for a while, so tried grabbing her legs.

She quit eventually, falling into a tangle as they wrestled.

"Happy?!" he snapped.

She turned her head away.

They lay there again, for bit.


"What's wrong?"

"You…really won't regret it? All this?"

"Will you?"

She closed her eyes. "I might. I think I would've left you. To save you."

"But you won't now," he stated a matter-of-factly.

"No," she laughed. "I can't anymore…I think."

She closed her eyes as he pulled her close. "Is it so wrong to want this?" she asked.


Rukia smiled. "Hmm."

He'd ask another day, ask her to tell him of Soul Society. In the meantime, the wind flitted in though his open window, and stole their worries away.

Renji and Byakuya would come.

Rukia would be taken.

But they had this time, and that would have made a difference in the course of events.

They would be together. They chose to be together and would choose to be together.

It was the only way they could have loved each other – by throwing caution to the wind.



Feel free to hum a Bleach Ending of your choice.

I've got Houki Boshi actually.

To all of you who fell in love with this story, and found it to be a lying cheating, scumbag of a significant other, who never calls or writes or-


To all those people, and anyone who reading this, thank you sticking with it for all these YEARS.

I couldn't have done it without readers reviewing and persuading me that I wasn't making an idiot of myself. I wouldn't have this wonderful life experience to call my own.

Thank you.

It would be heartbreaking if I got flames but I'll do my best ;_;

Once more, honto ni, honto ni, honto ni, arigatou gozaimasu.