A follow up to my previous fic, New Beginnings. It would help to read that before this to understand what's going on. At the end of his life, Kurosaki Ichigo reflects a bit, and awaits the afterlif...
by: eternalsailorsolarwind AKA youkai_girl
Disclaimer: Bleach and all of its characters are owned by Tite Kubo, his Japanese publishers, and Viz. I only write fanfics for grins and giggles with them.
A/N: Written for the Week 13 prompt at bleach_community; sink or swim. Is also a follow up to my previous fic, New Beginnings. It would help to read that before this to understand what's going on. At the end of his life, Kurosaki Ichigo reflects a bit, and awaits the afterlife – and Renji. Character death. Ichigo/Renji.
In his youth, Kurosaki Ichigo had seen things in terms of black and white. Everything was “do or die,” or “sink or swim.” Since he had helped save the world from an evil traitor from – literally – beyond the grave, “all or nothing” were words he lived by. He categorized things into either good or bad, and left them there.
Gray began to enter his life after Soul Society had betrayed him; ripping Renji away from him for violating one of their stupid rules. He knew that they really were the good guys, even if it felt like they had just stomped on a vital part of him – all in the name of an “order” that didn't really exist. Losing his lover for twenty-five years wasn't really the end of the world, no matter how it felt at the time. More gray began to color his world as he became more and more lonely without the tattooed shinigami, and then eventually realized that it was possible to love more than one person in a lifetime.
Then he became a father, and life was nothing but different shades and tints of gray. Nothing was purely black or white any longer.
Through it all, Ichigo had kept up his duties as a substitute Soul Reaper to the best of his ability while being a husband, father, and provider to his family. It was his way to keep up with the friends he'd made during the Winter War. His way to find out how Renji was doing and what he was up to. Because no matter how much he loved his wife and children, they were not Renji, and nothing could fill that void but redheaded loudmouth himself.
Rukia had been his main source of information over the years, and was even known by his children who could see spirits as sort of an honorary aunt. It would also be Rukia guiding him to the other side now that he was a dying old man. She'd started all this, and she could damn well finish it. The midget had known of his wishes for years, but had always dismissed it until recently. At least until she'd taken his message to Renji.
“You asshole!” Rukia had slapped him – gently for her – upside the head by way of greeting. “Why did you leave it to Renji to tell me you were dying?”
“What the hell are you talking about? I did no such thing.” Ichigo crossed his arms and scowled, mentally grinning. They'd not had a fight like this in a good couple of years. “I only told him to tell you I needed to talk to you when you got a chance to get to the living world. I bet you made him tell you.”
Blushing, Rukia fell silent and looked away. “Why didn't you tell me when you gave me the message for him?”
Sighing, the old man replied, “Because I needed to be the one to tell him, Rukia. You would have been too upset, and he'd have realized something was wrong in a second.”
She blinked at him for a moment, violet eyes shimmering, “Do you still want me...?”
“Yeah, but it's not going to happen right away. Six months to a year, according to the doctors. And you know me, I'm too stubborn for my own good. It'll probably take me two years.”
He'd been wrong. It took only seven months for his body to fail. Over fifty years of abuse had finally caught up with him. The last few weeks, Rukia had practically lived with he and his wife (though his wife had never known – and he would never tell), spelled only to catch some sleep by some of his friends from the Soul Society. Hanatarou had been a frequent visitor, as had Matsumoto. Even Toshiro – still complaining that he should be called Hitsugaya-taichou – and Byakuya had taken their turns.
In his last moments, as his heart failed and he struggled for breath, surrounded by his family, his eyes were drawn to the window by his bed. He'd asked – demanded, really – that he curtains remain open. Just in case. A familiar pulse of reiatsubrought his eyes to the roof of a nearby building, where a tall, redheaded man wearing a captain's haori over his shihakushostood. Renji was waiting for him.
Kurosaki Ichigo, formerly a substitute Soul Reaper, died with a smile on his lips.
Slipping from his body for the final time, he glanced in the mirror, seeing a man in his early twenties, spiky orange hair a beacon above his black shihakusho. A sword like an over-sized cleaver was strapped to his back. Saying his last farewells to those members of his family who could still see and sense him, he and Rukia left.
Once on the roof, she gave him a hug, her tears at seeing him – if only his body – die flowing down her cheeks. He gave her a lop-sided grin of understanding; dying hurt. Releasing one of his oldest friends, Ichigo looked across to where his former lover waited patiently. Rukia took one look at the taichouand decided to go the other way. To get her equilibrium back, she said as she fled.
Ichigo nodded, though he barely heard her. His eyes were still focused on Renji. Once the petite shinigami had left, he joined the other man on his rooftop. They spent a time in silence, taking in the changes that forty years had wrought on each other. Once finished, they broke out into identical shit-eating grins and crossed the short distance remaining between them.
The embrace, for neither man would be comfortable calling it a hug (even if it was), was both rough and tight; a home-coming for both. It had been too long apart for both, and only the appearance of the Senkaimon broke the not-hug, causing them to step back reluctantly. The doors opened, showing Seireitei on the other side, with a crowd of waiting friends and family.
Grinning as they stepped through, Ichigo joked, “You mean I finally get to use one of these things without being chased by a damn cleaner?”