A/N: For reviewing, I must thank: MugetsuIchigo. He's the only who got to review before this came out. This is it, folks. The last chapter of "COW." Now time to finish another.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Bleach characters, manga, anime, movies, etc. They belong by copyright laws to Tite Kubo et al.

Consequences of War
A Little Joy

Rukia stood in front of Rangiku's full length mirror and stared at her reflection. While the home itself had somehow managed to come through the war in one piece, the mirror was cracked in several places. The woman who stood looking back was dressed in all the finery the busty lieutenant could put together at such short notice, but the tired eyes and frowning lips told the world that all was not right. She had told Ichigo that their friends and colleagues needed the celebration a wedding would bring, but she was of the same mind as her fiancé. There was so much left for her to do as a leader and with the double load she now carried, a part of her just wasn't up to trading vows with him.

"You're thinking too much, my friend," Rangiku admonished. The older woman handed her a small glass with sake in it and without thinking Rukia downed it in one gulp.

"Is this really the right thing to do? I know I told Ichigo it was, but…"

"Are you having second thoughts about tying your afterlife to his?"

"No, and Ichigo's not dead, yet."

"Might as well be. That kid's got more lives than Haineko." Rangiku heard her Zanpakutou screech in protest but ignored the ash cat.

"He's only seventeen."

"Seems to me that you're not much older, relatively speaking. Age is funny here. Toshiro should be a full-grown man if you only went by the numbers. He's still very much an adolescent though."

Rukia raised a brow at the familiarity. Hitsugaya rarely let people call him by his first name and he always yelled when those below his rank tried. She'd never known Rangiku to do so, although, she had been one rank above him in the past. "I do not like to be rushed," Rukia stated firmly, hoping the older woman wouldn't push further.

"Ah. So much of your relationship with him has been, hasn't it? Just because you say the vows today, doesn't mean you have to have a full marriage now. Go at your own pace, Rukia. He still has things to do in the World of the Living. Still has responsibilities there. You have a whole new load to carry because of Ukitake-taicho's death. I doubt your elders can complain much if nothing comes of the wedding night right away."

"They'll try." Rukia took the offered refill and slammed it back unthinkingly.

"Of course, but you have to let nature takes its course. Besides, if they try anything funny, all you have to do is remind them that you have bankai now and will shatter them to pieces should they push too far. Now then, let's get you and Orihime to the shrine. Maybe we'll luck out and beat the men. I hear Ichigo is known for his long showers."

Rukia, a little tipsy from the strong alcohol, nodded without thought. "He once used all the hot water at the Kurosaki home and the rest of us had to wait until the device that heats the hot water created a new batch."

"Kurosaki-san should think about a tankless heater. I hear they're much more efficient and cost effective. Plus, they don't run out like tanks," Orihime mused, her eyes a little glassy.

"Did you get her drunk?" Rukia hissed, seeing for the first time that her human friend was swaying slightly.

"Not intentionally. That's enough sake for you, Orihime-chan," Rangiku said and gave her a glass of water instead. "Well, then, shall we go, ladies?"

"Yes," Rukia agreed and turned towards the door. Haineko and Sode no Shirayuki were placed in sashes while Orihime slipped a fan into hers. The hairclips that housed her spirit flowers had been placed in her hair to help keep it pinned up in the style that Rangiku had fashioned almost without effort. Geta were slowly put on and they carefully made their way through ruined streets.

Several times Orihime wanted to call on her powers to help but had to stop when her friends shook their heads. "You must practice self-care, Orihime-chan," Rangiku told the young woman. "You cannot help everyone, nor anyone, if you try to do it all on your own. You must rest and rejuvenate, or you'll become useless. The soul can only give so much for so long."

"I know, but…"

"You'll get your chance. There is still much to do here, and it will take years before we can call ourselves fully recovered. Even will all you have to do at home, there will plenty of opportunities for you to help. Have you given any thought to what you want to do after you graduate high school?"

"I, well, not really."

"Orihime is number three in their class, you know. Smart as a whip. Bet you could do anything you set your mind to, be it science or art." Rukia grinned at her friend's blush.

"You still have months to go before a decision has to be made. Take your time. Come here during the summer and I bet you'll be able to try all kinds of jobs. We don't care whether you have a degree or your age." The older lieutenant grinned, liking her plan.


"Sure. What better way to get a feel for things? I'll get my captain to sign off on it. He likes you and he does owe you for letting us stay with you the first time around. Since he's so law abiding, Nanao won't bat an eye."

"I won't do what?" the mentioned lieutenant questioned; eyes narrowed behind her glasses. "What plan have you cooked up now, Rangiku?"

"I was just giving Orihime-chan some career advice and offered to help her decide what she wants to do after high school. She really wants to help us rebuild and I invited her to come during the summer to try out different jobs. There's plenty to do here and I know whatever she does will only help."

"Hn. We will discuss that another time. Your gifts are very much appreciated, Inoue-san. Even my blasted uncle has been on the receiving end of them, as have I."

"Uncle?" three voices questioned at once and Nanao sighed, realizing she'd let a big cat out of the bag. "Yes. I have never mentioned this to anyone, but my father was Captain Kyoraku's brother. He took my mother's family name when he married into the Ise clan."

"Some things make a lot more sense now," Rukia muttered.

"Do they? Like what?" Nanao asked sharply.

"Nanao-chan! Have you found the bride yet?" Kyoraku shouted and waved at them from the other side of the square they were standing in.

"That," Rangiku answered for her fellow adjunct.

"Have some decorum, you fool!" Nanao snapped and threw her large book at him. Her hand gripped the sword that now never left her side. "My apologies," she said after a moment and the other women wondered who she was apologizing to.

"Yare, yare, niece. You mustn't treat your beloved uncle that way."

"I regret ever saying such a thing. Let's go, there are others waiting for us," Nanao set off at a brisk pace, only slowing when she realized her kimono was too tight to do so for long.

Kyoraku rubbed his nose where the book had hit him and tucked it under one arm. He'd just keep a hold of it for the moment. "She's been pushing herself too hard. Not enough self-care."

"See, even the nicest people turn ugly when they don't get enough rest," Rangiku pointed out.

"Nanao has been trying to do the work of so many. She's stretching herself too thin. Retsu-chan always knew how to get her to slow down and Juushiro could always get her to smile. I shall miss my dear friends."

"I'm sorry, sir," Rukia murmured, and the others made similar noises.

"We knew the risks, Lieutenant. Now then, on to happier thoughts. Shall I escort the bride on behalf of your brother and captain? They would both be pleased Ichigo is the man you're binding your life to. He was always a great source of pride and pleasure for Juushiro. It delighted him when he found out that Isshin was his father. Said his great power made a lot more sense. That kid is going to take over my job one day, mark my words."

"I hope it is not for many millennia, sir."

"I hope not too," Shunsui agreed and offered his arm to Rukia. "So, have you thought about whose name you'll be going by?"


"Kurosaki will take the Kuchiki name, obviously," an elder from the clan stated, meeting them at the shrine entrance. "He is only from the Shiba branch family after all. There is no need for him to keep the Kurosaki name."

"Ah," Orihime uttered and winced at the thought of her friend being told to give up his mother's last name. "You probably shouldn't say such things, sir. Ichigo loves his name and as it is one of the last things of his mother's he has, he will not give it up without a fight."

"What she said," Rukia glared, trying to remember the name of the man in front of her.

"That's absurd. The Kuchiki clan is still one of the Four Great Houses. He would be a fool to…" the elder stopped abruptly when a sudden freezing wind started to turn him into an icicle.

"Have a care," Rukia warned and walked away when she spotted an orange haired daiko. Ichigo visibly brightened when he saw her, and she smiled softly in return. "Hey, there."

"Hey. You ready to get this over with?"

"Still dragging your feet, Ichigo?"

"Everyone's here so we might as well. Mind telling me why one of your relatives looks like an iceberg?"

"I was just reminding him about self-care. However, he did bring up a valid point. What last names are we to use?"

"I just told the priest that we'd hyphenate. Kurosaki-Kuchiki for me, Kuchiki-Kurosaki for you. That way we don't lose our last names, but we still make the old grunts happy. As for children, we'll figure that out when there's an actual child to name. Sometime in the distance future. One of your elders tried to demand a pregnancy before I left for the World of the Living. I had to remind him how biology worked."

"Would that be the elder who's sporting a nasty burn on his arm?"

"Yeah, I think he needed a lesson in self-care too." They grinned at each other and walked to the altar arm in arm. Their friends and family all found spots to watch and even though the shrine had seen better days, the atmosphere became one of peace. Weapons were laid aside since there weren't supposed to be at a wedding and the couple of the hour faced the priest. Kyoraku stood beside the cleric, smiling almost as widely as Isshin.

"Dear friends and family, we are gathered here today to celebrate joy and love during a time of sorrow. Let us bless these two young Shinigami as they join their souls together…"

Ichigo didn't bother to listen closely to the priest. He kept his eyes on Rukia the entire time, allowing her spiritual energy to mingle with his. They had been through so much together and had experienced the consequences of war as few others had. Family members had died, friends had died, respected colleagues and cherished commanders. Grief had taken its toll, and it would be a long time before either could say they had worked through things enough to be "okay." Acceptance, as Omi-san had said was the key. Accepting had always been the last stage of grief. The cycle might repeat, but eventually people got there. Accepting each other for who they were rather than what powers they had would also be key if they were going to rebuild the Living World, Soul Society, and Heuco Mundo.

Exchanging vows with Rukia, Ichigo mused on the last two years and was glad that he had done what he had intended all that time ago. He had not only changed fate, but he had also shattered the wheel it spun on. As long as he had her by his side, and his friends at his back, Ichigo knew nothing would ever cause that blade to break again.